The optical market in Armenia by Jean Patrick Mouradian, Management & Marketing Consultant
If we show a world map and we ask people, “Where is Armenia?” very few will give the right answer. This ex USSR state is a little country in the Caucasus. There is a big conflict with one neighbor, a boycott with another, no access to the sea. The geopolitical situation is delicate. The economy is weak, unemployment is high. The population is 3 million (and about 11 live outside the country). Despite this environment, the medical system is good. Medical universities are well managed, a lot of professors come from all around the word providing a good level of education, and hospitals train eye doctors too.
Now coming to “opticians” or “optometrists”, it is another story. The surprise for us coming from abroad is “there are not any”. There are about 150 optical stores in the country. Anyone can open a store without any diploma or any obligation, and few of them, especially in EREVAN (the capital) look like any sophisticated store you can find anywhere around the world. There is neither an opticians’ school nor an associations.
In a store, often there is one eye doctor, and all the staff is salespeople, they are trained by the store, by suppliers during meetings or seminars. Often the salesforce are women who had difficulties to find a job in their field. You deal with very high educated people coming from universities, teachers, engineers, and so on).
Coming to the technicians mounting the glasses, that is another different story. When I asked the question to Greta, a young eye doctor working in a hospital and having her own private store, her answer is: “I give the job to an outside company, and they provide the equipment for me”. When I asked: “Do you know where he has been trained?” She said: “The only thing I know he is coming from Syria, he was doing his job there, for me he is OK”. I asked the question: “How do you check if the spectacles are OK? And if the patient sees well know with the new glasses?” She sounded little bit upset and said “No sir! That is “objective” we don’t do this way. If it is not OK we change the glasses.” Another eye doctor IKA working in a chain (7 stores) in EREVAN told me, “We have a technician working for us. I guess he has been trained in Russia.”
Myself, I specialized in the optical field. I used to work with Elaine Grisdale at the Varilux University. I am a French citizen, I go to Armenia a few times a year to give seminars or training. I am very surprised how this market is working. Thanks to big companies internationally well-known who give seminars and training to give or keep a good professional level. I do coaching too. I like to do mystery shopping. When I started, I was surprised to find stores without chairs or tables. Often, they don’t welcome you, or stay 2 or 3 behind a desk staring at you, you have to ask. They eat their lunch in the store or sometimes in the back but you smell the food (good smells by the way). Often, they help you with 2 or 3 sales people in the same times, no privacy.
When I met them again, after my mystery visits, I report my experiences. Concerning the welcome phase, they object:” Here, people doesn’t like us to do the first move”. Excuses or “traditional practice?”. When I asked “Why no tables and chairs”, they look at me like I was coming from another planet. When during a briefing I mentioned “Why do you help customers by 2 or 3 saleswomen”. This time the manager answered: “It is my way”. His argument is “If someone forgets something or does a mistake, someone else can correct” (Well it is a point of view…).
After 2 or 3 training sessions for the same 7 stores company in EREVAN (in 2 years), we came back to give let’s call it: “Improvement level”. The main topic was the presbyope and the progressive lenses. Someone took the technical part, and I had the “psychology” of the customer, and how to present the progressives lenses (the sales angle) and answering the objections.
To add some general information : pharmacists sell glasses too, they are a lot of copies (frames, lenses) you can find in open markets, not so many people wears glasses as there is no insurance reimbursement.
Is the Armenian future optical market good or bad news? Let’s be optimistic, it depends to the political and economic situation, the mentality changes: they have been a communism state for 70 years, it still shows in 2018.
Topic: Country spotlight