NDIAN-FILIPINO businessman Ramesh Dargani:
Today’s trend is tomorrow’s obsolescence.
But Dargani is lucky: He found a brand that bucked the whims of fashion.
In 1989, he discovered Oakley, the cutting-edge California sports eyewear, in Milan’s biggest optical trade show.
Seeing its vast potential in the Philippine market, he left his business card in the booth. Five years later, he was awarded Oakley’s distributorship.
“We struck GOLD on second half of 1995 with the Eye Wire model. It just hit the roof,” he recalls.
The style had a nosepiece and ear-stems made of Unobtainium, a hydrophilic rubber compound that has better grip when wet with sweat.
“Oakley has been manufacturing winners. We came out with them one after the other,” says Dargani.
Dealing with the best
In his 34 years in optical retail, Dargani says he has dealt with the world’s top eyewear brands. He points out that Oakley has got both function and fashion.
It’s the eyewear of choice of young athletes and veteran politicians.
“Our principals have stopped using demographics or age as target market. The teens want to look cool. The mature ones want to look young. In our board meeting, a 73-year-old member walked in wearing an Oakley. He only took it off after sitting,” says Dargani.
Origin of success
How did Oakley get to be on top of the heap?
Dargani attributes the success to luck, perseverance and solid relationships.
His father, Jiwanlal Dargani, has been influential in molding his values. A Sindhi (a prosperous group originally from Pakistan), the elder Dargani migrated to the Philippines and ventured in optical retail in the 1960s.
With the restrictive government regulations, the elder Dargani chucked the eyewear to establish a hosiery mill using European technology. The business flourished until the mid-1970s.
“When I started, there were a few brands like Carrera. There was no sole distributor for branded names. I brought in Pierre Cardin, Paloma Picasso, Mona Lisa from companies based in Hong Kong and Singapore,” he recalls.
He began his network with optical shops and, subsequently, department stores.
“One of my first customers was Harley Sy. Dealing with a store like SM, I learned a lot about how to satisfy customers,” he says of his foray into department stores in 1981.
“I started selling generic goods, European sunglasses, and I created my own house brands. I learned from SM how to be careful with pricing your products, being aware of competition and the sell-through. It’s like putting legs on the sunglasses so they get out of the shelves.”
Although Oakley comprises the bulk of his business, Dargani also provides ophthalmic frames and other brands that don’t compete with it.
On sales growth, Dargani is mum about figures.
“It’s been growing slowly but surely,” he maintains.
He attributes his success in a fiercely competitive industry to old-fashioned values.
“My dad was a military officer. You can say only two things: ‘yes’ and ‘OK.’
My parents taught me not to break relationships; be careful in handling people and take care of those who work for you. These things are written on stone. I’m also slow to react, but quick to listen.”
With an expanded distribution network and a strong team, Dargani has been able to bring the brand directly to its customers.
“It has become a win-win situation with the dealers. I deliver what I promise—they generate sales and make the margins. When there is high demand for an item, it’s usually hard to get. What is the point if there is a demand for 100 and you only get three pieces. With proper forecasts and negotiations with factories, I would try to fulfill 90 to 100 percent of the orders. At the same time, we don’t take advantage. When there is huge demand, we would price accordingly. We would not be abusive or take advantage of the dealers’ trust. I value their confidence in me. We may not be ‘commercial’ but I value my honor more than money.”
While the tape recorder was off, Dargani candidly described the fiercely intense competition in the industry and how he managed to maintain his integrity.
“I would not do anything dishonorable and not create any lies to patch things up. The hard thing is to give a lie because you have to keep on lying,” he says.
His sterling reputation and air of dignity earned him the prestigious post of president of the Federation of the Indian Chamber of Commerce Inc.