Jerome Lapaire exemplifies Harriet Tubman’s famous phrase, “Every great dream begins with a dreamer” Lapaire, the founder and CEO of Lapaire Group, understood the anguish millions of individuals in Africa had as a result of eye care issues.
He chose to forego a life-changing job path in order to dive into the murky waters of entrepreneurship in the hopes of putting smiles on the faces of individuals who could not afford proper eye care services.
After successfully graduating in Law from the University of Geneva, Lapaire switched and started working on a few entrepreneurial projects in Hong Kong and London. He would in March 2015 move to Nairobi, Kenya, where he joined an impact investment fund and worked in a Pan-African market research agency to better understand the local market.
In 2017, while working in Nairobi, he noticed that several of his colleagues couldn’t see well from far. They had uncorrected refractive errors and accessibility to eye care services was the main reason.
“Indeed, taking a consultation with an eye specialist and buying eyeglasses in Kenya requires a lot of time and money, which most people cannot afford. So, I decided to read about this topic and learnt a lot about it,” he says.
Mr. Lapaire had numerous reasons to be concerned. The number of persons suffering from vision difficulties was quite high! To make matters worse, they were becoming worse by the day. According to a 2019 World Health Organization (WHO) estimate, At least 2.2 billion people worldwide suffer from vision impairment or blindness, with over 1 billion cases possibly preventable or neglected.
The first World report on Vision, issued by WHO ahead of the World Sight Day on 10 October 2019, revealed that more than 1 billion people worldwide are living with vision impairment because they do not get the care they need for conditions like short and far sightedness, glaucoma and cataract.
Further, estimates from the world health body reveals that 550 million people need glasses in Africa. Unfortunately, only about 1 percent own a pair. In Kenya alone, more than 7.5 million people are in need of interventions to prevent loss of vision, restore vision or need rehabilitation to improve performance.
With this background knowledge, Lapaire was not going to sit back and watch the local
In February 2018, he assembled a very small team with two interns (one of them Roseline Kilonzo, who is the Company’s East Africa Regional Manager today), gathered personal funds
and launched Lapaire Glasses in Nairobi.
“We started small, by partnering with medium-sized businesses to conduct vision tests at the workplace and propose affordable but quality eyeglasses to the employees. Shortly after, we caught the eye of a venture capital fund- Saviu Ventures, that decided to support our expansion across Africa,” the CEO says.
Just as the company was growing its tentacles across the region, a pandemic hit in 2019. The first wave of Covid boxed the company. Most countries imposed lockdowns and customers could not travel to do the vision tests at Lapaire shops.
They were obliged to reschedule clients appointments multiple times, leaving consumers without a backup alternative for a considerable time. Despite the difficulties, the firm persevered, engaging with clients even while the branches were closed.
“We quickly put in place all of the essential safeguards to prevent anyone from becoming infected in our optical stores and to reassure our consumers that they are in a safe location”
We operated with a smaller staff for a while, and since then, our workers wear face masks, and customers must clean their hands with sanitizer before entering our stores. “Eyeglasses and optical equipment are cleaned after each customer uses them.”
The firm offers free vision tests with certified optometrists as well as low-cost glasses starting at Ksh3400 (which includes frame and single vision client lenses). The huge range of frames comes in a variety of forms and colors.
“Depending on your corrective needs, our optometrists can recommend single vision, bifocal, or progressive lenses.” We also recommend different coatings and treatments for your lenses based on your lifestyle and needs,” adds the CEO, adding that anti-scratch hard coating and anti-glare coating are standard on all lenses. Photochromic lenses to guard against UV light, a popular alternative because of their capacity to tint in the sun and provide additional protection on the outside, are also available, among other unique services.
It’s also worth noting that all of Lapaire’s glasses and sunglasses are named after Africa cities and islands.
Lapaire Group has recorded major breakthroughs overtime, especially on its production levels and delivery time. It has increased the number of frames from 10 at the beginning to over 100 frames currently. Delivery time of products to clients has also reduced from the initial four weeks to 48 hours.
The company’s business strategy is lean, with a great focus on accessibility and customer care.
The offers are simple, and prices totally transparent.
“Our vision test is completely free. Our eyeglasses start from KES3,400, frame and lenses included, and we provide payment by installments as well, popularly known as lipa mdogo mdogo,” says Oliver Mwanko Wambile, Lapaire Group’s Public Relations & Communications Officer in East Africa.
Lapaire has continued to place a strong emphasis on quality and openness in order to be competitive in a very cutthroat sector. In an effort to prevent fakes, the firm purchases all of its goods directly from the manufacturer and only sells Lapaire-branded frames.
Technology and innovation continue to be a key pillar driving the business’ expansion. Given that the business is pan-African, it employs digital technologies internally to facilitate communication and productivity.
“Our optical shops are all connected to a centralized system and linked to optical labs to process the orders in the shortest time possible. Externally, we communicate frequently through our social media and propose online bookings and orders to our customers through our website,” Jerome says.
We also provide a cutting-edge service, with ambitions to expand it further, that includes free vision exams, reasonably priced glasses, and an installment payment plan.
Following its successful introduction in Kenya, Lapaire Group has now expanded its coverage from East Africa to West Africa, with over 35 optical branches in operation across Africa. The firm serves patients in Kenya, Uganda, Ivory Coast, Burkina Faso, Mali, Benin, and Togo.
“By the end of 2022, we intend to reach 50 branches throughout our seven regions, which means we’ll focus on new communities and cities. We plan to grow even more in 2023 and probably open new countries in sub saharan africa,” said Louis Gascoin Lapaire’s Chief Operations Officer.
“Regarding our portfolio, we have also been growing our selection of frames since the beginning of the year, adding more materials, shapes and colors for men and women, but also kids.”
Over the next few months, the company’s top priority will be to expand, with plans to open more locations around the region in order to “make everyone – young and old – aware of sight difficulties and help those in need of glasses.”
Corrected eyeglasses, according to Mr. Lapaire, are too expensive today and remain out of reach for those without optical health insurance. That is why, as per Lapaire, their major objective is to make eyeglasses available to anyone who seeks quality and is cost conscious.
The door to potential remains open for the forward-thinking firm, which aspires to “be the
pan-African leader in the optical market and reach more than 7 nations over the next five