Komal Kumar Of Pearle Vision: Five Things I Wish I Knew Before Opening a Franchise

An Interview With Cynthia Corsetti

Push through. In the beginning, your new business can be overwhelming, but it becomes easier fairly quickly. Part of that for me was wishing I had been more prepared financially — but I got through despite the obstacles.

The world of franchising offers a unique blend of entrepreneurship and established business models. However, navigating the franchise landscape can be daunting, especially for those embarking on this journey for the first time. There are lessons to be learned, pitfalls to avoid, and success stories to be inspired by. As part of this series, we had the pleasure of interviewing Komal Kumar.

With a career spanning two decades in the optical industry, Komal Kumar began her journey in Myanmar at her father’s store. After graduating from university, she immersed herself in the business, gaining extensive knowledge in the optical field.

Komal expanded her expertise by working in renowned corporate optometry practices and managing private optometry offices. These experiences enriched her understanding of the optometric side of the business.

In 2018, Komal ventured into business ownership and opened her own Pearle Vision. This venture refined her skills and provided opportunities to educate others about the optical and optometric worlds.

As a California Licensed Optician and NCLE-certified professional, Komal takes pride in providing high-quality patient care and customer satisfaction. She strives to find frames that are comfortable, functional, and enhance confidence.

Looking ahead, Komal remains committed to honing her craft, embracing new technologies, and staying current with industry advancements to offer exceptional service to her patients and customers.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series. Before we dive into our discussion about succession, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share with us the backstory about what brought you to your specific career path?

I was born into the business in Burma (now called Myanmar) in Southeast Asia, and I’m a third-generation entrepreneur in my family, helping people with their eyes. My grandfather, Tarachand Gulati, had a wholesale business with lenses and frames, working with vendors from India and China. My dad took over the business and expanded to eye care centers in Burma. Optical stores were nonexistent at the time. If you needed glasses, for example, you would try many lenses to determine the best correction for your eyes. My dad, Pradeep Gulati, introduced the lensometer and autorefractor — the equipment most of us are used to when we visit the eye doctor. My dad was one of the first in our country to bring digital eye exams to patients and changed the business from wholesale to retail.

These men were so inspiring to me because I saw that they were changing people’s lives by helping them see more clearly. They also taught me what a good work ethic was. In high school, I helped my dad part-time in his stores and became full-time when I graduated from college. My dad felt it was very important for me to apprentice, and now, with five Pearle Vision shops of my own, I’m glad I followed my father’s advice. My dad made me work up the ranks. I did everything from eyeglass repair and sorting orders, eventually becoming a partner. I worked a total of 11 years with my dad — he was my best teacher!

Interestingly, I have a bachelor’s degree in zoology from Yadanabon University in Mandalay, Myanmar — but I love optical. My parents and I knew I needed to get a degree to get farther in life and to have something to fall back on. At the time, this went against the culture because children assumed ownership of the family business even if they weren’t fully prepared. My parents wanted me to explore new things to ensure I was following the right path. I knew all along I wanted to go into business, but the business college in Burma was too far away. Even though zoology has little to do with optical, I love biology, and in college, I studied English literature, which helped me in business here in the United States.

After marrying my husband and moving to the U.S., I worked in optical in Southern California for a few years before I decided to sign an Area Development Agreement (ADA) with Pearle Vision in Orange County. I opened my first franchise location in Irvine in 2018, then La Habra, Mission Viejo, Westminster, and Costa Mesa.

My rich experiences have taught me the type of leader I want to be as I manage my team, creating a positive culture where people enjoy coming to work every day. I want people around me to be happy. Whether my team or my customers — I want to provide Ritz Carlton customer service with a happy Disneyland experience.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?

I think one of the most impactful stories for me involved finding a brain tumor in a patient. It was a younger patient who came in complaining of constant headaches. During our exam of this patient, we discovered a brain tumor. It was benign, behind the optic nerve, but my clinic’s quick action sent this patient to a neurologist for further treatment. It was then that I realized my business had changed a life. Unforgettable.

Another was a patient who woke up with blurry vision in one eye with halos and floaters. We told him to come in, and we discovered retinal detachment. We sent him to the hospital. Our services helped save his vision. Once again, I felt like this business was very purposeful.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life?

“Nothing that’s worth having comes easy,” I believe that’s taken from Theodore Roosevelt. This resonates with me because I value what I’ve earned and achieved. My businesses are up and running, I’m doing alright now, but it wasn’t always this way. I struggled and fought to get here — it wasn’t easy, at all. There were days that I cried and questioned myself — but I pushed through, and 13 years later, I’m glad I did.

Something else that inspires me is when I hear people say, “The grass is greener on the other side,” I think, no, the grass is greener where you water it — you have to invest in your life!

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

As a business owner, I want everything to be about people. I want a positive work environment for my team. When they’re happy, they enjoy their job, and it shows. I think one of the best things I can do is to teach by example. I want them to understand my vision, and sometimes, the best way is to show them. From a personal standpoint, this story just fills my cup — but it exemplifies the way I want my team to consider our clients, and I want the best service for my customers, which means going the extra mile.

We recently had an elderly patient who was wheelchair-bound and lived in a nearby senior home. He was dropped off by special transportation at one of my stores to get an annual eye exam and updated prescription lenses. When his glasses came in, I thought, “Why would I make this gentleman come here, load the wheelchair, and struggle to get here when I can just as easily bring them to him?” His home was about 15 minutes from the shop, so I grabbed my tools, brought the new glasses to him, and made a few adjustments so they fit just right. The patient made me some tea, and we visited for a couple of hours. It reminded me that this business is all about people. What makes us stand out is putting our clients’ needs first. This wasn’t done as a marketing plan or with an ulterior motive — it was about treating someone with compassion and respect.

It goes back to treating people right and doing all we can to help one another. That was a small thing for me to do for a patient, but that gesture meant the world to him and his family. I see my team replicating that — creating a great experience and a positive culture. Once again, always in the back of my mind, I think of Ritz Carlton service and Disneyland happiness.

Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the primary focus of our interview. What factors did you consider when selecting your franchise, and how did you determine it was the right fit for you?

I was originally going to try and open my own optical business, but as I started to research, I realized that Pearle Vision was completely aligned with my goals and allowed the growth I was looking for. They were very transparent, provided answers to all my questions, and have given me tremendous support. I appreciated their sincere honesty — they were looking to build the brand back up in California and were completely open with me about opening the first store in California, the kind of marketing I would have to do for my store, and the reality of ownership. I appreciated that honesty. They weren’t making empty promises to get me to purchase.

Starting an optical business is challenging. I weighed the pros and cons of opening a franchise versus an independent location and ultimately decided that Pearle Vision made more sense. The resources that come with being a part of the Pearle Vision family are tremendous. With so many moving pieces, Pearle Vision was able to guide me through each step, from lease negotiations to enrolling for insurance coverage.

Can you share a significant challenge you faced while establishing your franchise? How did you overcome this obstacle, and what did this experience teach you about running a successful franchise?

There were lots of challenges opening back in 2018. We were the first Pearle Vision in California, and brand recognition was difficult. We struggled financially through the first two years trying to get established, and it was tough. We pushed through to make payroll and never gave up, even if we had to borrow or dip into our savings. We did grassroots marketing to get the word out and drum up business, and just as we started making some headway — COVID-19 hit.

It was a one-two punch. After the initial shutdown, we safely opened for emergency eye exams only, maintaining safety protocols and just trying to stay afloat. Some of my team had to go on unemployment. It made me feel terrible, but it was something that couldn’t be helped, and everyone else was dealing with the uncertainty.

We persevered and actually opened a second location in the midst of the pandemic. What I learned from all of this is to invest in good people who want to work and grow and keep your focus on what truly matters, which is people. Plus, we focused heavily on community outreach. For example, we sponsored a safe trick-or-treating event during the pandemic that allowed children to dress up in costumes and still enjoy some normalcy during a very disruptive time. This achieved two goals. First, it improved brand awareness as we got our name out. But most importantly, we were establishing ourselves as a business that wanted to be a part of the community, not just a sign on a store.

Looking back to when you first started your franchise, what was one aspect that completely took you by surprise? This could be related to the franchising process, customer interactions, or day-to-day management that you hadn’t anticipated.

Doctor management definitely took me by surprise. California just approved a two-door optical model. Due to this, there was a lot of uncertainty that no one had answers to. A two-door state means the optometrist or OD is a separate business from the optical center. The OD subleases their practice space from the business owner of a Pearle Vision, so there needs to be a strong partnership with the doctor and the business owner to best serve the patient and earn sales. Being the first Pearle Vision in California, I had to learn this step — it was a new concept for me. Through the years and with experience, I’ve learned to create a strong business relationship with the OD for mutual growth opportunities.

In hindsight, what advice would you give to potential franchisees about selecting a franchise that aligns with their personal and professional goals?

Do something you love and be ready to wear multiple hats! As a brand ambassador for Pearle Vision, I tell potential or new franchise owners, don’t expect this to be plug-and-play, there are many layers to this business to be learned. Pay attention to the training and lean on the corporate folks when you need help, that’s what they’re there for. It’s also important to conduct thorough research and look for a brand that provides you with a truthful look at the business without sugar-coating it. And finally, don’t think because it’s a franchise it’s going to be easy — you’ve got to put in the work.

How do you balance adhering to the established systems of your franchise with the need to innovate and adapt to your local market? Can you provide an example of a successful adaptation or innovation you implemented in your franchise?

Pearle Vision believes in open dialogue, which is great because that allows me to implement new ideas that are working locally for me.

For example, Yelp reviews. Yelp is a major part of advertisement in California, but that may not necessarily be true in other states. We rely heavily on Yelp since it works for us and brings in customers. Initially, the brand was hesitant since they had no data on Yelp, but over time, they realized it works and have encouraged us to continue using it.

What are your “Five Things I Wish I Knew Before Opening a Franchise”?

  1. Push through. In the beginning, your new business can be overwhelming, but it becomes easier fairly quickly. Part of that for me was wishing I had been more prepared financially — but I got through despite the obstacles.
  2. Learn all you can. For example, the doctor relationship is a key part of my business. I wish I had understood that more in the early stages, but it was a new law in California, and I had to figure out how to make it work.
  3. Work on creating a positive culture. The right team who believes in your vision is challenging to find. But they are out there, and once you have them, you can retain them by providing comprehensive training, motivation, and growth opportunities. I want to be a good leader.
  4. Work-life balance. What I’ve enjoyed about this business is that I’ve been able to scale at a good pace while still having stability and a healthy work-life balance. It’s important to take personal time to refill the tank and avoid burnout.
  5. Location, location, location. No matter what type of franchise you open, find a site that has the right demographic to feed your business, allowing you to be involved in the community.

As your franchise has grown, what have been the key drivers of its success? Looking forward, what strategies do you plan to implement to ensure continued growth and sustainability in an ever-evolving market?

The key drivers of my success have been relentless patient care, along with word-of-mouth advertising. Even though the market keeps evolving, patient care never changes. The optical industry evolves every five to seven years. Whether it’s a new brand or new products, it stays innovative. So, to stay competitive, you have to be able to differentiate what factors you can control and what you can’t, which has allowed me to strategize how I should run the business. I try to stay consistent with patient care and focus on what this business is truly about — people.

Off-topic, but I’m curious. As someone steering the ship, what thoughts or concerns often keep you awake at night? How do those thoughts influence your daily decision-making process?

As a multi-unit franchise owner, I’m wearing many hats, and I feel like, at times, I’m doing a juggling act, and I don’t want to fail. I think what keeps me awake at night is trying to maintain consistency with patient care, customizing the experience for each person. I wonder if I’m doing well with all five locations or if I’m giving enough attention to all of them. I worry about my team. I’m responsible for about 20 employees and their livelihood, which trickles down to their families. That can be a heavy load at times. I want to retain them and keep them motivated and happy in their job. I want them to be excited to come to work and do their best every day. I took a giant leap of faith with this business, and I want to keep growing; I can’t be stagnant.

What keeps me balanced is yoga and boxing every Tuesday and Thursday. The boxing helps me get out my stress and the yoga centers me.

You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

I have seen business owners not care about their team, which is disheartening because they are part of your success. Caring about the team in today’s environment is as essential as taking care of the customer.

I also loved the positive feedback I received from bringing glasses to the elderly, disabled patient of mine that I discussed previously. I think it would be amazing to be able to provide mobile eyecare services to people and coming to their neighborhoods to incorporate preventative eyecare in my community.

How can our readers further follow you online?




Thank you for the time you spent sharing these fantastic insights. We wish you only continued success in your great work!

About the Interviewer: Cynthia Corsetti is an esteemed executive coach with over two decades in corporate leadership and 11 years in executive coaching. Author of the upcoming book, “Dark Drivers,” she guides high-performing professionals and Fortune 500 firms to recognize and manage underlying influences affecting their leadership. Beyond individual coaching, Cynthia offers a 6-month executive transition program and partners with organizations to nurture the next wave of leadership excellence.