Lokaal Verhaal: Van Gijzen

Businesses with more than 100 years of history, there are only a handful of them in Tilburg. One of them is Van Gijzen Opticiens, located at the Schouwburgring. Although Van Gijzen has merged and moved a few times over the years, the shop is still a real family business with traditional craftsmanship. We spoke to Sotiria and Werner Schijvenaars about the search for the perfect pair of glasses, the bond with regular customers and the advantages of being local.

Van Gijzen Opticiens has been around for a long time. Can you tell us about the history of the business?

Werner: 'Our shop is already 102 years old. In 1919, Mr Van den Heuvel started an optician in Koestraat, which was taken over by the Van Gijzen family in the 1930s. They owned the shop for three generations until Erik, from the third generation of Van Gijzen, approached Sotiria in 2014 to succeed them. She then partly took over the business and since 2017 Sotiria and I are the full owners. Erik van Gijzen still works here.'

Sotiria: 'Throughout the years, Van Gijzen has merged a number of times; in 2002 with Caarls - at the time the oldest optician in Tilburg - and last year with Van Gastel optiek, also a company that existed for a very long time. The former owner of that company, Toine van Gastel, still works here.

The current Van Gijzen is therefore a fusion of several shops and several families. We are still a family business, but not within one family.

A lot of different backgrounds. What makes Van Gijzen unique?

Sotiria: 'That is the traditional craftsmanship, which has been passed on from generation to generation. For example, picking up glasses is still the same as with Erik van Gijzen's grandfather. We then customise the glasses because it is important that they fit perfectly. After all, lenses and glasses are medical devices. If they don't fit quite right, you will suffer. So we go quite far in that perfection, that's how the Van Gijzen family already did it and we're going to continue.

Our team therefore consists of fully trained people.

There are a lot of different glasses here! How do you diversify such a huge assortment?

Werner: ‘Because quality is so important to us, we source our eyewear mainly from France and Germany, traditionally real eyewear countries. We sell brands that are more than 200 years old and this is reflected in the quality. Selecting the models is mainly Sotiria's job, she is really into fashion. When someone enters the shop, she immediately sees which frame suits that person.'

Sotiria: 'We have between 550 and 750 pairs of glasses here in the shop, but there are usually only a few that really suit someone. That is why we are currently working on our own line of glasses, which will be produced in Tilburg. By means of software, it will be possible to fully adjust frames to the shape of the face. We are still developing this, so more about that later.'

With such a long history, you must have many regular customers!

Sotiria: ‘Yes, indeed. There are many people who have been coming here since childhood, who used to come with their parents and now bring their grandchildren to the shop themselves. 80% of the people who come in are existing customers, who come in every few years for a new pair of glasses or more often for lenses. In normal times, we also pick up regular customers who have difficulty walking or who are afraid to come to town through heavy traffic. Unfortunately, this is more difficult during corona time.'

But you guys are quiet active during corona times... 

Werner: 'A few years ago, we started to be a bit more active in marketing. In this day and age, a shop needs to do more than just open its doors; a website, social media and good communication are just part of the job.

Sotiria: To guarantee our customers a safe visit, we renovated our measuring rooms last year. All the equipment is now remotely controlled and the air in the shop is made virus-free with a special air filtration system.'

And you like to link up with local initiatives, such as the Inner City Delivery Service.

Sotiria: That's right. We do an average of 20 contact lens checks here per day. The people who are checked normally come to collect their lenses after two weeks. That would mean at least 40 customers a day. By delivering lenses and accessories to people's homes, we can make this place a little safer. In that respect, the delivery service is a fantastic solution for us!

Have you noticed that in this day and age people shop more locally?

Werner: We have never had so many new customers since last summer, and I believe one of the reasons is that people are increasingly opting for quality. Environmental awareness is growing and a product that lasts a long time is automatically less harmful than fast-fashion. That is a good development.

And finally, are you involved in local shopping?

Sotiria: Definitely! Everything we do, including the business, we try to do locally. And because so many people from the area come to our shop, there is always someone who can help us. Two years ago, for example, we had the shop renovated by an interior decorator who has been coming to the shop with his wife for years. That is actually quite logical for us!