Tommy Chua was seated among complex optical instruments when I walked in to meet him. He was in mid-explanation of an analysis of a friend’s pair of eyes. There are many stories that our eyes tell, he says to us, but they aren’t necessarily the stories we would like to hear. Out of an eye-analysis, there is potential to find out if someone has diabetes, or whether a good diet has been kept, or whether illnesses has been contracted. The saying goes that eyes are the windows to our soul, but sometimes it’s the foreword of our life book. And for Tommy, reading these stories are an inevitable part of serving the community the best he knows how at Poh Seng Optical Co.
Poh Seng Optical Co. was birthed at a time when Port Klang was thriving rapidly. It is a tale for generations to keep - from grandfather, to father, and soon, Tommy. He studied optometry for this very reason - to support the family business. There is a sense of responsibility and ownership that Tommy carries to hold on to what he considers a family legacy. If not him, then who else, he says.
In a way, the phrase, ‘taking on the family business’ has a traditional ring to it. Perhaps it is because we live in an era of start-ups. The number of young entrepreneurs have increased drastically in the last decade. The stories are often noble - there is a point of no return when you put everything you have on the line to build your dreams. Then, to call something your very own - there is great pride in that. With Poh Seng Optical, Tommy’s mindset is no different. If it is the family’s, it is just as much his own.
As of 2016, it’s been at least 40 years since Tommy’s grandfather opened the shop and the Chua family has been re-layering Tommy’s grandfather’s foundational works to drive the family vision. They’ve invested in new strategies, new instruments and new methods of eye-care services to serve the community better. There is so much more to eye-care than just selling spectacles and contact lenses, Tommy says. People often walk in and all they expect is to buy a pair of spectacles. But eye-care is about the science of our eyes and the best way to take care of them. Leaving with a pair of spectacles doesn’t miraculously help us do that. There is science behind the structure of our nerves, the shape of our eyes and all other visible regularities and irregularities. The better the instruments, the more they will be able to offer in terms of eye-care advice and accuracy. There is an essential process of awareness and education that needs to be offered to the community and through it, Tommy hopes to bridge the gap between modern technology and traditional customer service.
What struck me the most about Tommy’s family was the way they dressed. They were dressed in clothes that looked like they were fitted by a tailor and shoes that had been well-polished. They carried themselves in a way that would assure you of reliable service. Tommy tells me that it’s a family culture in the business. Taking care of their outer appearance is part and parcel of serving the community with confidence, integrity and respect. “If you didn’t respect who you were going to meet, would you wake up earlier in the morning and put effort into how you were going to look that day?” he asked.
In Port Klang, where the original shop opened (and still is located), there is a sense of nostalgia for the past. The communities that live there, more often than not, have lived there for a long time. It’s easy to find people you know around the area and at the local coffee shops. For Tommy, this is the best part of staying in Port Klang. It’s the community he grew up in and the community he wants to stay in to serve.
At the end of the interview, we looked through the days of an older Poh Seng optical shop through black and white photographs. One of the things he loves about working there is that he is close to family, Tommy tells me. When it comes to the business of the shop, there is an irreplaceable trust that exists within the family line - his father trusts him, and he trusts his father. They work harmoniously, most of the time, but no matter the disagreements that may arise, they know that they are still father and son more than they are colleagues. The bond of this understanding has helped them maintain healthy boundaries that can often be blurred when families work together. Whatever is said at work, stays at work, and at every day’s end, they leave all work discussions behind and return home as a family.
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