Optique means “Optical” in French, a collective noun describing what the team at Optique do as Optometrists. At Optique, they continually strive to make eye care more accessible and easier to understand. They make going to the optometrist interesting, exciting, and professional, and their goal is to keep it that way.
Optique started when an opportunity came across Leon’s path towards the end of 2017 to buy an existing practice in Sandton, the first Optique. He and his wife, Thia (his co-founder and financial director of Optique), personally financed it with their credit cards and personal loans. In the beginning, he flew in and out every week between Cape Town (as he resides in Paarl), and Johannesburg for months. Sleeping in the practice (on a sleeper couch), eating takeaways from the restaurants next door, and showering in the boxing gym above the practice.
Shortly after that, he partnered with Arnold Smit, a well-known optometrist in Paarl, where they bought the second Optique, where the business model was further refined and the rest is history.
They’ve so cleverly developed a brand image and brand concept that is easily accessible, affordable and unique in its offering – and we’re all for it!
MoreThanFoodMag caught up with Founder and CEO of Optique Optometrist, Leon van Vuuren, who is not only a passionate entrepreneur at heart, but also a visionary when it comes to brand growth and development.
Here’s what he had to say about a brand he’s work so hard to build within the South African market.
When did you discover a need for something like the Optique brand?
The South African demand for eye care is quite unique, as 75% of people cannot afford eye care – we want to change that. The average price of an eye test in South Africa is R550; if you earn R7500 per month, you are part of the top 10% wealthiest people. This means even then, to get your eyes tested, you have to pay 7% of your salary just to find out the status of your eye health. This inspired me to provide a radical alternative solution to South Africans and make eye care accessible.
What is the story behind the name of your company, Optique?
Optique means “Optical” in French, a collective noun describing what we do as Optometrists. We chose this as our name as we want to come back to the basics of our industry, to measure vision and correct this using lenses (as we feel our industry has lost its way with buy one get one deals and pushing sales). Our logo also aligns with this motto, as it is a group of colourful prisms/triangles representing the basics of optics. The first thing you learn at school, is that when light moves through a prism, it breaks up into the 7 colours of the rainbow, where all our colours in branding come from and represent diversity.
How do you define yourself apart from your competitors?
What makes us unique is that we only have 1 all-inclusive price – for any pair of glasses. Your price includes a comprehensive eye test and ANY frame of your choice in the entire practice. No limitations. You know what to expect beforehand, guaranteed. No trickery, no-nonsense.
You take pride in your service offerings and providing the best possible experience. As a professional, how do you maintain this level of success and standards?
We have in-depth knowledge of our industry and cannot expect you to know what is best amongst the thousands of offerings in the market. That is why we do the homework for you and partnered with a single global leading supplier of spectacles lenses and contact lenses. This meaning WE DO NOT provide generic products but provide you with the best optics.
We avoid manipulative design or sales practices that profit the company but erodes the community’s trust. Having trusted Optique with your eye care, you can be assured that you have received the best possible eye care, at the best possible rate.
Your aim is to provide cost-effective services for everyone, making eye care a human right. How do you achieve this?
Our eye tests are definitely worth much more than R99, but the other 80% that we do not charge is our way of giving our time, money, and talents to promote eye care awareness.
As an inspired, proudly South African organization, we are aware of the struggles many faces to access quality healthcare, and even more so, quality eye care. Knowing the status of your vision and eye health is a basic human right. We know by promoting it we are contributing towards everyday activities that enable people to prosper at every stage of life and indirectly stimulate our country’s education and economic position.
By offering our professional services at only R99 in the private sector, we aim to honour our oath as primary health care providers in providing access to high-quality eye care for all.
“We simply sell our products and services the way we would like to buy/access them and treat people the way we would like to be treated.”
What did you have to sacrifice on your journey to success?
I bought my the first Optique in Sandton, on my credit card and financed it through personal loans. In the beginning, I flew in and out every week between Cape Town and Johannesburg for months too, sleeping in the practice (on a sleeper couch), ate takeaways from the restaurants next door and showered in the boxing gym above the practice just to make this business work. I was not able to pay creditors on time for the first 600 days and went without any income for over 100 days. I was diagnosed with anxiety, burnout and depression due to the amount of stress and pressure. At the end all worth it when you see someone seeing clearly for their first time and now enabling over 3500 South Africans per month.
Who has played a massive role in your brands success?
As an organisation, I would like to recognise Essilor. They are the leading lens supplier globally, but they saw our potential and the vision we wanted to achieve very early in our business. They have only been supportive and enabled us to grow to where we are now after 4 years.
What would you say are the top three skills needed to be a successful entrepreneur?
Persistence. Passion (willing to suffer for your business). Critical thinking.
Was Optometry always the field you wanted to go into?
I wanted to become a doctor but did not get accepted into medical school. But when applying, you have to give a second option at the same medical school, which was Optometry. The further I studied Optometry, the more I loved it as it is such a diverse field (physics, medicine, psychology, and business), so much so that I ended at the top of my class.
What makes Optique a favourable brand?
We have since day one, wanted to be a relatable, everyday-person kind of brand because that is who we are.
What’s the biggest piece of advice you can give to other Entrepreneurs looking to startup?
When you have an idea, start small with your own money. Work from home, after hours, and over weekends. Always ask your customers in the beginning how you can improve or do differently, and listen to them consistently.
“Our industry has had little innovation regarding how patients interact with Optometry. However, we believe we have already taken a step in the right direction to change that. Take Uber as an example; it’s still a taxi service, but they have simplified the way you access and experience their industry, and by doing so, increased the market size 10 fold. We hope to do the same for our industry.”
Out of everything you have achieved, what do you value most?
The level of relationship and understanding my wife and I share – she is the co-founder of the business, alongside me. The battles we had to endure over the past few years allowed us to become best friends in the true sense of the word.
Getting a new pair of glasses should be as simple as ordering a cup of coffee, with Optique, it’s as easy as doing just that! With over 22 branches nationwide, there’s sure to be one that fits your need.
Plus, did you know, that they have collabed with Costa Coffee and started rolling out Costa kiosks in their practises – just another reason to visit them today!
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