She left her desk job to keep her family's 46-year-old optical shop going

PHOTO: Lam Huili

Lam Huili has been acquainted with the ins and outs of running an optical business since she was a child: Her late father started Kwong Shin Optical in 1976 and the shop has served generations of families since.

Even though the 29-year-old never intended to join the family business, a change of heart saw her giving up a job in performance marketing and entering polytechnic at age 25 to pursue a diploma in optometry to help her parents out.

“In my previous role, I was working for an SME and saw how the founder drove the direction for the business. I then thought it would be meaningful to be able to do the same for my own family business, something that provided for me, and give back,” she explains.

While her parents did not put any pressure on any of their children to take over the business, they welcomed her decision and jumped at showing her the ropes.

“My dad was a very nurturing boss and very willing to teach. Plus, it’s much easier to communicate with your boss when he’s your dad.”

Following her father’s passing last year, Huili now helms the business with her mum. She tells us about the changes she has implemented to the four-decade-old business to keep up with the times.

Advanced technological offerings

Many businesses have diversified and digitised their services and offerings following the Covid-19 pandemic and Kwong Shin Optical is no different.

For one, they have married traditional practises with advanced technology: While many optical chains still rely on machine estimation to determine eye degree, Kwong Shin uses subjective refraction — a clinical examination that involves the use of glasses or contact lenses — for a accurate reading.

Then, they also have machines that do eye health checks, something more commonly performed in eye clinics than in optical shops. This added service means they can refer customers to eye clinics if required.

Huili has also ramped up their marketing efforts by not only setting up a website and professional email address, but also various social media accounts and Google Maps placement.

“There is a lot more to be done but I want to understand the business more thoroughly before introducing changes. We have other plans in the pipeline and I discuss them with my mum,” she says.

Huili and her mother in front of their shop at Bras Basah Complex.
PHOTO: Lam Huili

And she’s been happy to be working alongside her mother, whom she describes as a “natural salesperson”.

“While my dad was more technical and a big-picture person when considering the direction of the business, my mum is very good at networking with industry partners. She’s very outspoken and personable and I learnt very different aspects of the business from each of them.”

Found meaning in her job

Huili does not have any regrets about making the career but candidly concedes that she “misses having Saturdays off”.

“Apart from that, I much prefer the interactions I have working at the shop compared to at a desk job. Together with our other optometrist, I do the eye tests and sale of contact lenses and glasses,” she lets on.

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And she has come a long way: “I used to struggle to find meaning in my work as I felt like I wasn’t giving back to the community directly compared to, say, a doctor or teacher. But since I began practising, I realised being an optometrist is meaningful as eyesight is so important to our quality of life. It’s nice to be in a position that optimises and preserves the eyesight of our customers.”

Have a family business that you’re considering taking over? She has some advice.

“I think most parents will want their children to enjoy what they do, so just ask yourself if you can see yourself doing this for the rest of your life! If you do, that’s great and will surely make your parents happy, but if you don’t, that’s fine too because the business will figure something out.”

This article was first published in Her World Online.