– How do you perceive the new pandemic time in which we live? Normal, abnormal…?
The new pandemic time we live in is abnormal for our perceptions of life before March 2020. At first I thought it was abnormal because it is what it is. Then I became very interested in the virus itself. I read all kinds of sources of information from both Bulgaria and abroad, even fake and fabricated news, in order to be able to put together and plan for myself some working strategy so that I could plan anything in the production of our eyewear.
– Looking to 2020, how has the pandemic affected KWIAT’s business?
Against the backdrop of completely closed and bankrupt industries and thanks to the intuitive quick measures that we took at the very beginning – in March and April 2020, I think we have managed to reduce many times the damage we could suffer and that happened to our colleagues and partners.
We had planned big growths for 2020, as we had to participate in 8 or 9 of the world’s largest international optical exhibitions. In January and February 2020 we had 35% growth compared to the same months of 2019. However, due to the total suspension of work during the busiest months for us in the spring of 2020, as well as due to the almost complete closure of our clients’ businesses, mainly abroad, we ended with a decline in sales compared to 2019. The main problems were due to the inability to travel and meet our customers.
On the other hand, by losing our investments in stands, advertising, travel and the participations themselves in exhibitions around the world, we have greatly reduced our costs and now we are relatively stable.
– You have been on the market for 30 years. Do you think it was harder to start a business today or 30 years ago? Were there times when you thought of giving up?
Our company was registered in Sofia on December 22, 1990. It started operating a month later on January 22, 1991, because then it took 1 month to get Bulstat.
I think there is no difficult or easy time to start a business. Every moment is good, but it is better to start when you are younger. I think that we should not wait for a convenient moment, but when you feel you want to start and how to do.
I have never had moments when I thought of giving up. We have had difficulties during the crisis after 2008. Every crisis teaches us a lot, and if we do not learn from these adversities, it would be very difficult for us to move forward over the years. Actually, after 2008, when we also had declines in turnover because our main suppliers went bankrupt, it took more than a year to make the right decisions about what to do. And in March 2020, we made the right decisions in just a few weeks. The decisions were very difficult, but over time they turned out to be the right choice.
– Where does the name KWIAT come from?
My mother is Polish, my father is Bulgarian. “KWIAT” in Polish means “flower”. Our family name is Tsvetkovi, which translated into Polish is “Kwiatkowski”. That’s why my father chose the name of the company back in 1991. Later, when my wife Edyta and I decided to create our own brand of eyewear, we chose the brand name to be the name of the company, as we were already recognizable by this name in the industry.
– Isn’t it difficult to compete with world-famous brands in the eyewear business?
There are no easy things, but persistence can overcome almost any challenge. However, we have several advantages over world-famous eyewear brands. We are from Eastern Europe, where our subsistence costs are significantly lower. We can produce eyewear of the same high quality as the best established brands of eyewear, but at a much more affordable price. A manager in Italy in our industry should receive 3 to 5 times higher salary.
Also, the board of directors of the companies producing the most established brands of eyewear every year want to increase profits. When that doesn’t happen, managers cut budgets for high-quality materials. For the last 10 years, I have been observing this phenomenon at a particularly increasing pace over the last year. This cannot happen to us. The quality control, warranty and post-warranty service is impeccable from the very beginning, we even upgrade it every year.
Our eyewear is the result of a complex process in the production of smaller batches, a process that combines new technologies and traditional handmade techniques. As a smaller company compared to the world’s giants, we can be more flexible, creative and more sustainable. We produce almost only what we need and make the most of modern recycling technologies. Our alternative production model and advanced delivery process lead to products that in most cases are above the rest in quality and price.
Our customers see this and after short cooperation with us they begin to prefer us over other brands.
However, the competition is very strong everywhere. There are brands in the industry with a history of 70 or 100 years. They have huge budgets for advertising that often exceed their expected future profits. But we do not give up and move vigorously forward in improving the production and supply of our products.
– Tell us more about the eyewear. How do you create the design, the materials…
Initially, we used the advice and experience of colleagues from Italy, Germany, Greece and even Brazil. We have also used foreign design companies to create the models. Subsequently, we started making our own eyewear and over the years, each successful model gave us the courage to continue to create on our own. Currently, the design of all glasses is entirely ours.
We know what colors, shapes and materials people are preferable. We have our own statistics on what sells the most. We receive information about all the novelties in the materials from which the glasses are made. In each subsequent collection there is something new, and of higher technology.
KWIAT sunglasses have glasses of the highest class A, full 100% UV protection and polarization. The materials we use in the production are of lightweight German steel with all the necessary anti-allergic and antibacterial coatings. The plastic is made of cotton, which is processed by the latest technologies so that it is biodegradable. During the process, a mix of antibacterial substances is added, which inhibits the growth of microbes and thus they do not stick on the eyewear. Something that very few brands in the world have. In addition, we use absolutely recyclable packaging for storage and transportation of eyewear.
– What is the business lesson you have personally learned over the years?
The lesson I learned is that the best solution is always to do just the right things, and do it constantly, without losing focus on other activities.
– Share a business case from the company that you will always remember and relate…
In 2010, when in the aftermath of the crisis after 2008, cheaper products were in demand. That’s why we decided to also offer such products. This could not affect the purchase of lower quality materials. It did not work out that way, I was not satisfied with the result of my products, although we won money then, and I will never repeat it.
Now I can safely use each of our products, I can give it to my children, my parents and my closest friends. I am sure of every detail and I am convinced that there is almost no better eyewear for its price almost anywhere.
Such will be all our products in the future. I don’t like making eyewear or any other product just for the money. They are not everything.
– You are in a business that is related to the most valuable thing we have – the eyes. What do people not know about their own eyes and how has consumer demand changed over the years? What are your observations?
To my great joy, more and more people understand that vision is priceless.
People are starting to take care of their vision by paying more visits to an eye specialist. They pay much more attention when they have an eye disease. They start choosing increasingly better glasses to protect them. Thanks partially to our “Children’s Vision Prevention Campaign”, which we have been running every year for almost 10 years, young parents understand how necessary is the simple eye screen every year. Thanks to this screening, which lasting less than 2 minutes, many children in Bulgaria have been diagnosed with a number of diseases or the so needed vision correction during the school years.
– How does the era of the digital revolution enter the eyewear and vision correction business? How does digital transformation enter your company?
All of us, our children and parents in the last 1 year have been forced to strain our eyes more than ever. Unfortunately, statistics show that the vision of the population of our planet is deteriorating dramatically. Increasingly people need glasses at an earlier age, and a number of diseases appear much earlier.
Fortunately, optical companies are inventing better and better offers, lighter, more comfortable and more diverse models of glasses, so as to satisfy every taste and every pocket.
Fortunately, the equipment on which eye examinations are performed is an incredible success and all problems in patients are easier to detect and diagnoses are more accurate.
The digital transformation is seriously entering both the eyewear business and our company. In the past we started drawing patterns with a pencil on a piece of paper. Now this is done directly on the screen and can go into production within days. The process of creating 1 model of eyewear is shortened by almost twice. Online conferences help us to discuss a model, type of eyewear or a production problem within minutes. Before that, we had to organize meetings several times a year, where we could not even solve all the cases. Now, everything is extremely fast and this helps us, especially in crisis situations, to be extremely flexible.
Keeping sales statistics, order control, virtually our entire office is in our phone. We can be anywhere in the world where there is internet access and business can be run from there.
Also, making prototypes, whole samples or individual parts of a 3D printer helps to make more accurate subsequent manufacturing of each detail in the eyewear.
– What do you think about the Y and Z generations? A research says, they are people who dictate the development of markets and trends. What is their influence in the eyewear business?
I think that the research fully reflects the trends in eyewear. All companies try to meet their needs and requirements. We produce models of eyewear for all ages. We definitely have the largest variety of models for these 2 generations. They are also the people who, with their purchases, determine whether a model of eyewear is good or not.
– What is the modern reading of sustainability? And of the management? Have you changed your personal principles of governance over time? Did the pandemic change you?
The only change that the pandemic has caused is perhaps that we need to be more careful in making risky decisions. Otherwise, the principles of governance should be the same as they were 100 years ago. I guess they will be the same or very similar after 100 years. I do not think that the principles need to change.
– What are your personal principles as a manager that you follow? Did you change anything as a result of the changes that the pandemic had on all businesses? Did you learn new lessons for yourself? (please list 3 to 5 with a brief explanation of each)
1. I have always thought that it is better to learn from the mistakes of others than from our own. That is why I often accept the mistakes of others as my own and I try not to allow such a thing, both in business and in personal life.
2. We have to be more careful, to wait sometimes is better so that not to lose something too fast and too much.
3. One can live well with many successes and with less success. We often do not think of this case when we pursue success at all costs.
– What is your message to current and future entrepreneurs?
If they feel they are good in one area, let them improve their skills with perseverance every day in that area. Let them not change their focus and not jump from one business to another.
Source: Almanac 2021