Family Company Sees Clear Solution to Blurry ProblemWed, 09/05/2018 - 14:18
Demand for eyeglasses is on the rise in Mexico but providing glasses to those who need them is not as easy as simply manufacturing millions of glasses and distributing them, says Marco Machado, Founder and Director General of Augen, a Mexican family-owned company that began its operations by manufacturing lenses and gradually developed the technology to build everything necessary for their construction, from lenses to equipment.
“Every person requires lenses adapted to their eye-shape, since otherwise they run the risk of suffering gradual damage. With the wrong lens, individuals can be prone to headaches. Each race requires a different type of glasses,” says Machado, adding that some companies choose less expensive products at the expense of the client’s sight. “Mexico has excellent doctors and specialists but there are not enough to meet all the needs of the population. Another problem the country faces is that its eyewear stores are not regulated. The market began to saturate 10 years ago with the arrival of Chinese products, which are cheaper but of lower quality. Also, Mexicans often prefer imported products even if the local ones are better. Lenses made in China are often made assuming that the eye is a perfect sphere. Working under this assumption leads to eye problems because the lack of a perfect focus causes optical aberrations that gradually damage eyesight.”
In a study published by Nature, scientists reported that the rate of nearsightedness is growing to epidemic levels, with one-third of the world’s population expected to have myopia by 2020. While there are no recent statistics on how many people have a visual impairment in Mexico, INEGI estimated in its 2014 survey that 16.9 million Mexicans, or 14 percent of the population, had a vision impairment in 2014. “It is estimated that 40 percent of the population living in cities needs glasses, but not all of those who need them use them,” says Machado.
Augen has more than 30 years of experience in the manufacture of lenses and glasses. The company pioneered optic resin processing in Mexico and conducts R&D for the design of new visual solutions, equipment and software.
“Mexico is very different from other countries in the region as the industry was started by small, independent stores that grew into today’s giants like Opticas Lux.”
The company’s goal is to tackle vision problems and take over the glasses market with products made in Mexico. Today, it has about 5,000 clients, most of them optics stores, laboratories and ophthalmologists. About 15 years ago, Augen began a vertical integration process to manufacture its own supplies, which were previously imported from Germany and the US. “We developed our own capabilities to manufacture glasses. We also developed laboratory equipment that now sells in Mexico and exports to Brazil and the US. We are restructuring our equipment division to enter the Eastern European market.”
Augen designs and manufactures free-form surfacing generators, digital free-form polishers, free-form speed polishers, laser engraving systems and speed blockers, essential equipment for the production of lenses. Machado explains that few companies manufacture this equipment; therefore, there is a big market to capture. “The market for this equipment is large but we are only beginning to develop this business line. Most of the products provided by our competition are made in Germany and our products are 40 percent less expensive in comparison.”
Previously, Augen did not work directly with consumers, but that is about to change. The company faced a rough patch until 2013, amid declining sales. Machado revised the company’s strategy and Augen is now looking for financing to open its own chain of stores. “These stores will take advantage of all our existing capabilities and operate under a franchise model similar to an OXXO.”
Machado sees in these stores more than a new business line; they are also a way to provide glasses to those who need them, a long-time goal of the company. Over the last 10 years, Augen has participated in the campaign Ver bien para aprender mejor (Good Eyesight for Better Learning) as a technological partner, through which the company has provided about 250,000 children with glasses every year.