Making a mark in the eyewear segment

Rhea Bhandare, Founder – RBee Eyewear

An entrepreneur, a management consultant and an international-level squash player, Rhea Bhandare is the founder of RBee Eyewear and a partner at Bhandare Eyecare.

Rhea grew up in Mumbai till her schooling then went to the Unites States for her Undergraduate education. She majored in History from the Ivy League, University of Pennsylvania (UPENN). She wanted to get into business right from her first year in college. Therefore, all her summer holidays were spent in various internships which include, HSBC private banking, Ogilvy & Mather client servicing and KPMG Business Advisory. It was during her time at KPMG, when she was in the third year college that Rhea decided to get into Management Consulting. Post her graduation, she worked with A.T. Kearney (management consulting), advising some of India’s largest conglomerates on areas across growth strategy, operations, supply chain management, etc. After few years in consulting, she worked in PR with Burson Marsteller and then the Future Group, in the strategy team.

Rhea is also a four time Indian Junior National Squash Champion. She represented India internationally from the age of 11, winning tournaments across Asia, Europe and the United States. She has also represented India at the Asian Junior Squash Championship and Pre-Common Wealth Games. Her highest rank in squash was 3rd, globally in the Juniors category. She went onto represent UPENN in squash in the U.S. as well. Currently, she plays squash recreationally.

After being in the corporate world for 7 years, Rhea decided to join her family business, Bhandare Eyecare, Mumbai’s leading optical retailers for over 80 years. Joining the family business was not an obvious choice initially but after working in India with different companies, she realized that there was huge potential in the eyewear market in the country and globally. It was while working in the business when she decided to start her own entrepreneurial venture, with the range of her own eyewear range, RBee Eyewear.

While being completely involved in her business, giving back to society is something Rhea is passionate about. She has been part of the Art of Living foundation, founded by Sri Sri Ravishankar for 8 years now. She practices their meditations and philosophy on a daily basis and help organize events for them in Mumbai. Art of Living operates many social and development projects. RBee Eyewear has tied up with one of their initiatives, Gift a Smile that provides free education to children in the slum, tribal and rural belts where child labour and poverty are widespread. Each month, proceeds from their sales are given to this charity.

About your entrepreneurial journey

“While working in my family business of optical retail, I was able to get an in depth understanding of the eyewear industry in India and globally. I realized while there are several high quality luxury designer products at the top end of the price pyramid and a large collection of unbranded mass eyewear at the bottom end, there is a clear void in availability of chic, designer, high quality products at affordable prices. I saw an immediate market in creating my own brand in eyewear. We are positioned as an affordable luxury brand and are priced between Rs. 2000-Rs. 3500. The RBee collection offers a wide range of in-house designed optical frames and sunglasses across many styles (e.g., classic, chic, retro, sports); shapes (e.g., round, cat-eye, wayfarer) and colours.

Initially, we started retailing RBee Eyewear at Bhandare Eyecare stores in Mumbai. Once we saw a huge demand for the eyewear, with many repeat buyers, we expanded with various market places online including Amazon and other popular fashion portals in India. Going forward, we will be launching in other tier 1 and tier 2 cities around India, partnering with only top optical retailers. Online as well, we will expand with only the best reputed shopping portals. At RBee Eyewear, we will be launching a customization service soon, where our customers can get their names/initials printed on the frames along with other fabulous features. This should start within a couple of months. We will be the first in the country to be offering such a service.”

The Inflection point

“When I joined my family business, my intention was to take the company to bigger heights. This included increasing store sales, keeping the most fashionable and highest quality merchandise to create a better customer experience. To do something entrepreneurial came as a result of finding an opportunity in this market segment, which fortunately is a brand extension of our existing business. I realized there were the premium brands, that only a small segment of society could afford, or then the much cheaper quality frames. There is not a single well known eyewear brand in the market that is affordable yet gives a customer a luxury experience.”

Most challenging assignment

“I think the most challenging part of the business so far has been in building awareness for our product online. There are many eyewear brands priced very low but are of a much cheaper quality. On the computer/ phones, with great photography, most products can catch the eye. Due to this reason, this year we will be focused on our marketing efforts, given we have a super quality product with great designs and customer service, that competes with the best brands in eyewear, yet being much more affordably priced.”

Experiences on being a woman entrepreneur

“So far it has been very rewarding. Every day is a new learning experience. Given the business environment in India is primarily dominated by men, I can safely say, over all I have been welcomed and treated well by my colleagues, partners and customers. However, I make sure to have done my due diligence, ask the most relevant questions, be focused on what it is that I want and be accepting of any trials or tribulations I face along the way. This way it is easier to get respect from those around and get things done.”

Challenges faced

Also as mentioned earlier, I have not had any challenge being a “woman” entrepreneur per se. I face similar challenges to any other entrepreneur, where every day is a learning experience. Every business decision is based on trial and error, so one has to be prepared for any outcome. Of course, I do implement decisions based on a good understanding of the situation, but in any entrepreneurial venture it takes time to really know what works for you and what doesn’t.”

How do you believe in making dreams come true?

“I think it is important to know what exactly your goals are and then map out ways on how you want to achieve them. After this is established, one should have the following attributes of hard work, determination, patience, acceptance of rejection, a calm temperament and faith. All of this combined, will make you realize you can make every dream come true.”

Setbacks faced and lessons learnt

“I think setbacks are part of life. I have learnt to just accept them, believe in myself and move forward.”

“Women are the better halves”. Your views on this.

“I believe both men and women have certain qualities that make them better or equal halves in a professional or personal relationship.  It takes the attributes and commitment of both genders to succeed and excel, both individually as well as in a partnership.”