“I wish for the eyewear industry to become a professional business field, and not just a retail system in Vietnam.” These simple words have been the effort and inspiration for businesswoman Ashley Ngô, chairwoman of the Ánh Rạng Group, and her associates, who have embarked on this mission, with great vision and perserverance, for the last 20 years.
Ashley Ngô is the type of businesswoman that one would easily imagine or encounter on the street: Neat and formal in the way they dress, concise and straightforward in the way they speak. Every word she says from the heart, about the time and effort she’s exerted to nurture her passion for the eyewear industry, and particularly for the Ánh Rạng (AR) Group.
Good afternoon. May I begin by mentioning the fact that AR Group has made quite a lengthy journey here in Vietnam, perhaps since the very beginning of this field. And as it has been a long time coming, it must have been a treacherous and challenging one, correct?
I first came into contact with this field during my time in the US. Though starting out as a part-time job, I eventually realized my talent and passion for it, and decided to pursue it. I took a major course for four years, opened my own business and established two refraction and glasses clinics in the US. On returning to Vietnam in 1990, I found the domestic technology for refractive error diagnosis and eyeglasses products to be quite underdeveloped. That, and the wish to create job opportunities for my relatives as well as supporting the country’s eyewear industry, led me to realize the need for a business solution. Back in the US, I decided to do more research and better equip myself with the knowledge in international business by taking some university courses, while establishing my connection with eyewear corporations from Italy, France, and Japan with the view of shaping and building the path of my plan.
The year 1994 marked the opening of Ánh Rạng Group’s very first company in Vietnam, quickly followed by two more. And, since 2000, as the Vietnam-US economic relationship took several strides, along with the increasing pressure from international eyewear brands to meet their standards and requirements, I decided to return to Vietnam and take over the business. We established another two companies to make a total of five member companies. In 2008, I resized the system, in order to concentrate further in research and development, down to three member companies, including Ánh Rạng, which specializes in eyeglasses. Another was An Thái Bình, which focuses on lenses and contact lenses, equipment and a state-of-the-art lens processing laboratory equipped with HD technology from the Zeiss corporation, as well as wholesale distribution. And finally, An Trần which targets managing retail distribution channels, refraction diagnosis and prescription glasses. These include Eyewear HUT, Mega HUT, Jess Luxury Eyewear and developing a prescription glasses store chain across the country in order to serve domestic consumers at a reasonable price. At the moment, we are the representative of over 80 international eyewear brands, as well as owner of over 30 retail stores and refraction diagnosis centers with international standards, and producer of a number of popular eyewear brands like Essential, Jubilant, El Camino, and Puppy.
In your opinion, what are the potentials and limits for the eyewear market in Vietnam?
With a population of over 90 million people, Vietnam is a high-potential market for the eyewear industry. Moreover, statistics show that nearly 50 per cent of the young population suffer from a refractive error, due partly to genetics, and partly to their using habits in smart technology like computers and phones, which skyrockets the demand in the industry. As well, an improved living standard has given way to the demand for presbyopia and hyperopia glasses as well as sunglasses, as both protection and accessories, which affect people of all ages.
That being said, however, the Vietnamese market still has many flaws. The lack in both quantity and quality of professional service systems for refractive error adjustment and eye protection glasses distribution, and those companies capable of providing original brand glasses at a reasonable price and aiming for the medium- and high-class sections are a mere handful. The fact that fake glasses of unknown origins are swarming the market makes it even more difficult to provide and evaluate authentic products, as the distributor would have to satisfy the demands from international brands while finding a way to approach and consult the domestic consumers on the benefits of buying authentic products. Another setback is that Vietnam doesn’t have many professional and official training facilities in glasses and refraction, which leads to a huge shortage of qualified doctors and technicians. To cope with this, we’ve called upon a group of both domestic and foreign doctors and experts for personnel training. My ambition is to bring the glasses and refraction business in Vietnam to the international level. And that means not just a family-run, handicraft, or makeshift business like many companies are doing at the moment.
It seems to me that you are optimistic and highly appreciative of the Vietnamese eyewear market. Other distributors, however, may also realize the same opportunity and try to make their way in. What is the distinctive advantage for AR Group?
The Vietnamese market is one of the regions of highest interest among the world’s major eyewear corporations over the past few years. Despite its potential, the aforementioned obstacles once made these corporations hesitate. Therefore, the fact that they decided to cooperate with us is a proof of the AR Group’s resolve. As the direct manager of the business, and with my extensive training in the glasses industry back in the US, I am fully confident of my knowledge and the corporation’s strong foundation in both the international and domestic markets. In addition, the AR Group also possesses leverage in its procedures and methodology, which emphasize work ethics and professionalism. We perform and evaluate every task on the priority for quality and human health, and not profits. Both the brands of our partners and our own must obtain a certain level of reputation in the global market and pass the most discreet international standards. In particular for the prescription glasses and lens we produce, we are confident that the material structure and the product shape and form, its curvature and other technical specifications (for prescription glasses) have all undergone intensive research to ensure sight safety and suitability for Asian facial lines. These products are reasonably priced and widely varied, so that every customer has the chance to purchase their own authentic, high-quality, protective eyewear.
The challenge for companies in this industry, therefore, is whether they are adequately equipped with the knowledge and experience to come up with a product that saves all the unnecessary expenses while ensuring all safety standards. That was my mindset in developing Ánh Rạng, and the message I’d like to convey to the consumer community. As a business, especially one that directly deals with the health of consumers, we try your best to contribute permanent values to the community and the society. Whether a consumer buys his or her product directly at Ánh Rạng or through its distributors, the satisfaction about credibility, quality, price and customer services has always been 100 per cent. That is, and always has been my biggest pride.
As I understand, “trust” and “truth” are the most important business philosophies that you’ve brought to Ánh Rạng Group, aside from your passion and inspiration for the eyewear industry. How did you manage to convey such a passion and inspiration to your staff members?
I am a very serious person in this matter. I always shared with my subordinates the importance of our scope of work. When we ourselves understand the value and role of each pair of glasses, then we can we convey that message to the consumers. I require from my staff, as always, an aim for perfection, a sense of responsibility, and a systematic, goal-oriented working style. My management style is to roll my sleeves up and work with the crew, in order for them to get the full grasp of what they do. Sometimes, I would even describe myself as their “secretary,” showing new people the way around and even doing their tasks for them at times. My perspective is, the mission of a leader is to create regulations, foundations and guidelines for work. In addition, I also require a special EQ element for all employees – honesty. If you’ve made a mistake, share with your partner and find a way to fix it. Never try to hide it out of fear, for the truth will always be the truth, and it will eventually come to light.
Being the head of a business group consisting of several member companies and retail systems, how do you maintain balance among the different scopes of work themselves, and more generally, between work and your personal life?
I employ the “decentralization” principle to keep a balance of time in my work. At the moment, my work includes forming a general development strategy for the corporation, overseeing and supervising the progress of each specific task. By decentralizing my power down to the lower management levels, I save myself a huge amount of time, which I utilize to meet with my business partners, discussing the strategy for the next media campaign or a new product. No matter how occupied I am, though, I always find some time to sit back and have a chat with my close friends, indulge myself or call my children. In the future, I definitely have to think of reducing my workload and spending more time in the “backstage,” focusing on more significant problems like market development and applying new eyewear technology in Vietnam.
Would you like to give any advice for young entrepreneurs who wish to join the eyewear industry?
This is a high-potential market with plenty of opportunities, and if you want to be part of it, all you need is determination, passion, and meticulousness. Know your strengths in order to take the longest leaps, and never doubt yourself, because chances await no hesitation. Take your step with confidence and a calculated risk, but not blindness. We have the right to seize every opportunity that comes, but always try to have a contingency plan for every situation.
Three words to describe yourself?
Realistic – Austere – Insightful
Your daily working – relaxing time ratio?
80 per cent work right now, but trying to cut it down to 50 per cent in the future.
Your leisure time activities?
Chatting with friends, those who may not be wealthy, but can always sit back with me and share our funny stories without worrying about business.
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