WWII, the Wangburapha area in Bangkok was the location of the main commercial
activities in Thailand; it was there that the optical retail shops were
situated. During the 50s, there were about 10 optical shops in Wangburapha
close together, as for the regional provinces, optical businesses were
run along side watch businesses, in the same shop. Due to the small
size of the market at that time, the small retail shops simply imported
lenses, frames and other optical accessories, in the quantities they
needed and sometimes sold to other shops, as there was no inland production
nor major trading company acting as an optical product distributor.
Only gradually did this behaviour then encourage the retail shops to
import in greater quantities and act as distributors and later wholesalers.
the last two decades, in Thailand, this industry has taken an upward
turn, wavering only with economic crises. The optical industry in Thailand
has ridden on the wave of a growing economy, population increase, more
widespread access to education (leading to an increase in the student
population), and a considerable surge in the figures for televisions
per household. This has all resulted in an ever-increasing need for
corrective eyewear, not to mention fashion requirements and sun protection
needs. Consequently, more optical stores of a more specialised nature
have sprung up, as opposed to the traditional watch/eyeglass business
and there are approximately 2000 retail optical stores in Thailand today.
The colourful history of the group took a similar path to that of the
trend in Thailand since the War and is detailed below:
Retail Shop to globally exporting Thai Corporation - TOG through the decades
to 1960s - From Retailer to Import/Wholesale Business
In 1951, the eldest brother of the Pracharktam family, Prateep, also a
skilled craftsman in watches, officially founded an optical shop in the
Wangburapha area, Bangkok and called it Nam Silp Thai R.O.P. (NST), literally
meaning 'leading Thai craftsmanship'. The shop was already opened in 1947,
and by 1949 with the help of his brother Kamron, they began importing
sunglasses and spectacle frames from the US for retail and wholesale.
In 1956, Kamron, the second eldest brother, also assisted Prateep with
importing spectacle frames from overseas suppliers, often as exclusive
agent, to begin with, in Germany, Spain, Italy and Japan. They further
continued importing spectacle lenses from the US and Japan, and thus became
one of the first large-scale wholesalers of optical products in Thailand.
Exclusive agent agreements began at this time with Rodenstock (Germany),
now for over 45 years, Indo (Spain) which lasted for over 40 years, which
paved the way for the success of the Thai Optical Group from the early
years onwards. This era saw the beginning of a great number of exclusive
agent contracts to follow, such as the Safilo Group (Italy) now for over
30 years and Murai (Japan) also for more than 20 years. From humble beginnings,
the small optical retailer, Nam Silp Thai, emerged as an import/wholesale
business for lenses and frames, while continuing its original activities.
1960s - From Importing to Glass Lens Manufacturing
Through vast distribution of optical products all over Thailand,
this presented the perfect opportunity to explore the Thai optical market
extensively, and the decision was made to venture into production and
take on the challenge of manufacturing ophthalmic lenses. Prateep applied
his knowledge of the delicate craftsmanship needed for the intricate
mechanics of watches such as for generating and grinding work and dedicated
his pursuits to setting up an Rx laboratory for surfacing and grinding
glass lenses. In 1963, he founded a glass lens factory, Thai Optical
Co., in Nonthaburi, 30km north of Bangkok, the first ophthalmic lens
factory in Thailand. Once production was underway, exports were already
made to Hong Kong and Singapore.
In 1965, TOG was the first company in Thailand to introduce contact
lenses onto the Thai market. In this period, TOG was even approached
by Hoya to cooperate on lens production in Thailand, but this offer
was declined. In 1968, the first branch of 'Better Vision' was founded
as a Limited Partnership and opened in Thailand's first shopping mall
the Ploenchit Shopping Arcade, located on Sukhumvit Road, previously
a residential area for Bangkok's middle and upper classes.
to 1980s - From Glass Lenses to Hard Resin Lens Manufacturing
In the 70s, the business expanded greatly - in 1973, Sarote, the youngest
brother, joined the family business and took under his charge factory
operations and management. During this time, besides expanding operations
on the Asian market, exports also increased to Europe, such as to Belgium,
Germany, France and Switzerland, and furthermore to Canada, Australia
and New Zealand.
Also at this time, hard resin (CR39) lenses were imported from Sola
Lens (Hong Kong) and distributed through TOG's network to the retail
shops in Thailand. The hard resin lenses saw an ever-increasing demand
on the Thai market and thus presented a new challenge and opportunity
for TOG. In order to take up this challenge, in 1981, a new pilot plant
for the manufacture of CR39 lenses was started, and an initial capacity
of 600,000pcs/year was supplied to the domestic market and also exported
to other Asian and certain European countries. As TOG's technique for
manufacturing hard resin ophthalmic lenses from CR39 was developed and
mastered, so too did output and exports increase.
- Expansion of the Retail Chain, Better Vision
This period also evidently showed vast expansion and notably here too
was an increase in retail operations and organisation. In 1982, Sawang,
the fifth brother, saw to the sales side of business, planning locations
for new retail shops as part of the Better Vision chain focusing on
an eyecare service to eyeglass wearers, which until now had been scattered
here and there. A large movement in Thai retailing was taking place,
from retail shops on commercial streets to shopping arcades or malls.
Consequently, in 1985, the Better Vision Ploenchit Co. Ltd. was set
up to manage the different stores and organise them to function as a
whole under one management team but each branch still retaining its
own manager to cooperate with the team. With this improved organisation
and expansion many of the other retail shops in Thailand that were NST's
clients were worried that their prices would be undercut, but had nothing
to fear, as this would not be part of Better Vision strategy.
- Strengthening Hard Lens Manufacturing and Expanding Export Markets
After a decade of experience and growth in Hard Resin lens manufacturing,
in 1991 the Thai Polymer Lens Co. (TPL) was founded and the factory
was opened in the Nonthaburi province Bangbuathong area 40km from Bangkok.
80% of production is exported to Europe, the Americas and other Asian
In 1994, the Better Vision chain was registered as the Better Vision
Group Co. Ltd., to further confirm its identity as a well-functioning
whole, with one identity for all its numerous branches.
Like every other business in Thailand, TOG felt the effects of the Asian
economic crisis, but more so on the retail side and a plan for reassessment
and relocation of stores was set up and put in effect to minimise the
shock and take the company safely through the crisis. Despite the crisis,
in 1997 TOG established the Thai-Italian joint venture, Poly Sun Co.
Ltd, and built a factory next to TPL for the production and export of
high quality hard resin sunlenses, further increasing the scope of TOG's
offer and expertise. Another joint venture, Thai Nissey Optical Co.
Ltd., was entered into in 1997 too with a Germany based designer of
titanium frames to export them to all Asian and non-German speaking
countries through TOG's vast network.
The end of this decade saw a rise in lens output, product diversification
and the opening of new stores.
The year 2000 marked the official establishment of the Thai Optical Group
of companies to further confirm and consolidate the company's identity,
bringing together all of the group's members under one name to present
the entire circle of expertise of this privately owned Thai business.
This serves to the benefit of all clients and to strengthen the group's
position on the global market. The umbrella of the name TOG assembles
commitment, quality and standards of excellence, with
standards guaranteed, Thailand best brands license and support from the
Board of Investment. The 'Sunsensors' line has demanded new technology
and processing, launched already at the beginning of 2001, highlighting
market trends towards more technically advanced products for discerning
eyeglass wearers. May 2002 saw the inauguration of the newest company
to TOG, Thai Optical Eyewear Distribution, offering exclusive distribution
of international luxury eyewear throughout Thailand. Growth, expansion
and new technology are on the agenda for the future, which looks bright
Thai Group of Companies in Ophthalmic and Optical Industry
Over 50 years of expertise in this industry
A privately owned business comprising 6 main companies and other JVs
Business dealings with over 60 countries across the globe
A total of over 2000 employees
Turnover has increased threefold in the last 5 years, with significant
increase from 1999 to 2000
75% of group's turnover due to international activity
growth has been experienced by the group in recent years and is expected
ophthalmic lens capacity of ca. 32.5 million pcs for 2001 set to increase
lens capacity over 42million pieces for 2001 to rise to approx. 52million