Maqsud Ahmed used to live in Aonla in Uttar Pradesh of India. You may have heard of the famous Hindi song 'Bareilly ki bazar mein', his village was the one next to Bareilly. In 1948, with his son Zamir Ahmed, he opened a shop in Patuatuli in Dhaka.
That shop became the original branch of Mehboob Optics, one of the oldest optical shops in Dhaka. The branch in Green Road was established in 1977.
"Back then one did not need LC for business, parcels would come directly from England. Lenses were also made with only glass, there were no other materials used," said Arif, the fourth generation of owners running Mehboob Optics and Zamir's grandson.
The Patuatuli shop had a retail counter at the front and was approximately 7,000 square feet in size. Zamir Ahmed bought a machine from Singapore and set up a factory in Patuatuli. He even brought in a trainer who would live in his house.
"My family had to make sure the trainer did not go anywhere else and teach anything to others. Back then, working on eye glasses was not easy, it was almost like an art. It required a lot of skill and patience. So we had to keep our business methods concealed from competitors," recalled Arif.
With time, their factory grew in size, Arif's grandfather passed away, so did his uncle, and then his father Hafiz Qamar Zamir took over the business.
Mehboob Optics did not become one of the most renowned shops in Dhaka overnight, its owners put in years of dedication and hard work into establishing a genuine relationship with its customers.
"We have customers who have been coming to us since 1980. Many of them have moved out of Dhaka or gone abroad, but they still buy their glasses from us. One of our oldest customers comes in a wheelchair. When we tell him to not take the trouble and send one of his children or his assistants, he tells us that he likes coming to us," said Arif.
"We treat our customers with utmost respect and honesty which is why they remain so loyal to us. We never sell them something worth Tk300 at Tk3,000. This is my great grandfather, grandfather and father's teachings, to treat the customers right," he added.
Due to the pandemic, Arif's father does not come to the shop as often but Arif told us that when he does, his first task is to serve the customer some hot tea, have a small chat with him, and then give him service.
Most of the staff at Mehboob Optics have been working at the shop for years. Some of them have been here for as long as the Green Road branch was established, more than 40 years.
Arif says a doctor from CMH used to come to the Green Road branch and see patients but he stopped coming due to the pandemic. "When he is here, the entire place is brimming with patients. Hopefully he will start practicing here soon as things have almost gone back to normal now."
Although their name is not mentioned, Mehboob Optics is affiliated with a number of shops where they provide eye glasses and many other services. A new branch will open soon in Bashundhara Residential Area in the capital.
During the pandemic, Arif realised the importance of e-commerce and worked hard to strengthen their online service. It worked out well and they had 30 to 40 deliveries every day during the shutdown.
Now they have a separate setting for it and there is one person who looks after it. Items from Mehboob Optics can now be ordered through their Facebook page and website.
"At the beginning of the shutdown, people were scared about ordering eye glasses online but after receiving our services, they are now confidently ordering products online. There is a number inscribed inside the glass, with its help you can order glasses with any frame. If the number gets worn out from use, you can measure your glass with a scale and we can tell you an approximate size from your measurement," explained Arif.
After completing his Bachelor's in Biochemistry from North South University in 2012, Arif took a diploma in optometry and low vision from University of South Asia. He became fully involved in his family's business from 2014.
"I saw that in other countries, you could not just open an optical shop and start a business. Most shop owners know basics like eye glass measurement and how to check lens power. Patients go to an eye specialist when there is an emergency, like a surgery or something. I did not want to do just business, I wanted to know everything related to it."
In Mehboob Optics, there are frames which cost as low as Tk200 and there are also gold plated ones which cost Tk80,000. Original brands are imported on demand.
We wanted to know from Arif what determines the price of eye glasses and what has changed in consumers' preferences over the years.
"Materials like screw, plastic, fibre, acetate etc. determine the price. Brands also differ in price and we also have grade A replicas which differ very slightly with originals. These days, most customers prefer reasonably priced glasses with a variety in designs. There are also some who want only original eye wear. But most want a package within Tk1,000."
Although Arif is the fourth generation running the business, it was no cakewalk for him.
"Optical business is easy in Bangladesh, anyone can start a shop without knowledge about eye glass measurement or focal length. We do not have proper production here, there is no local investment. From raw materials to lens, we have no option but to depend on imported ones from China and Korea. Some eye glasses are made here but they are of poor quality."
Mehboob Optics has its own line of eye wear named "Mehboob eye wear" which was launched a year ago. The designs are sent from Korea but the production is in China, keeping in mind a competitive price range.
Arif wishes to make some changes to their decades old business which would make them a stronger competitor in the future.
"If things go smoothly and according to our plan, we hope to go into manufacturing in future. I will go abroad and study some more on machineries and then hopefully start working on it."
"Do not look for cheap lens if you require eye glasses for a medical purpose. Cheap frames won't hurt your eyes but cheap lens would. Eye glasses have no side effects so they are better than contact lens. You can use contact lens for few hours, especially the disposable ones, for daily use. But contact lens is not suitable for our dusty weather," suggested Arif.