If Jerome Lapaire were to have a sit-down with most people almost five years ago to share his vision for Africa’s eyecare industry, many would have shrugged him off.
Few would have believed that a young man with very little optical health background would manage to literally shake an industry that was already dominated by big, well-resourced international and regional companies.
His vision was bold, ambitious but strategic- ‘to focus on reaching out to the local communities, the mass market that does not benefit from any health insurance.’
This population generally lacks awareness about eye problems and affordable eye care solutions. Therefore, Lapaire Group has had to do a lot of awareness campaigns to spread the word and partner with organizations able to support awareness creation.
Also, to adequately serve this mass market, the company has had to harmonize its rates for eyecare services to very affordable margins. It provides free vision tests with professional optometrists and affordable glasses at Ksh3400 (USD30), which includes frame and single-vision client lenses.
“At Lapaire, we focus on accessibility and customer care. Our offer is very simple and our prices are totally transparent. Our vision test is completely free. Our eyeglasses start from USD 30, frame and lenses included, and we provide payment and installment and free delivery within Nairobi,” said Jerome Lapaire, the company’s CEO.
“If you want a certain frame, you won’t have to pay more. The price remains the same. Only the type of lenses adapted to your correction need or treatment/coating will impact the cost. You will never pay more than Ksh10,000 (USD100) with Lapaire if you tick all the options,” He added
Focus on Universal Eye Health Coverage
In its drive to include more people in its healthcare package, Lapaire Glasses has maintained its position among first optical firms in the region to get rid of all entry barriers- that is, consultation fees, vision tests costs and exorbitant cost of spectacles.
From having 10 frames at inception to having more than 100 frames at the moment, it has increased its variety of offers. Turnaround time has also been cut off from four weeks to 48 hours.
To date, Lapaire has tested the eyes of more than 150,000 people and improved the lives of over 90,000 people.
“We have been working tirelessly with passion to make everyone-young and old- aware of sight problems and support those in need of glasses. Corrected eyeglasses are too expensive today and remain inaccessible to people who do not have optical health insurance. That’s why Lapaire’s primary mission is to make eyeglasses accessible to all those who look for quality and affordability,” says Oliver Mwanko Wambile, the company’s Public Relations and Communications Officer in East Africa.
Over the past four years, Lapaire Group has focused on expanding its coverage from East to West Africa. The company currently operates over 40 optical shops across Africa, where its professional teams offer free vision tests with qualified eye specialists and a wide array of frames and lenses.
In 2021, in East Africa alone, the company opened about three optical branches and has further opened 8 optical shops throughout this year (2021). “We are planning to open an additional 10 branches across our 7 geographies this year. By 2023, we shall expand to new countries in Africa,” Lapaire’s Expansion Manager East Africa & English-speaking countries, Roseline Kilonzo says.
“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, women and kids. We shall be adding new products and services in the coming year as we identify new needs when analyzing our customers,” adds Kilonzo.
Impact on youth and job creation
Since its inception in 2018, Lapaire has shown its passion in working and collaborating with the youth. The majority of the company staff across the continent, the PR and Communications Officer says, is between 20 and 35 years old, with 53 percent being female and 47 percent male.
The company now employs over 280 individuals throughout seven African nations. “As we continue to expand, it is reasonable to assume that number will maintain over time, as we now cooperate with numerous universities and schools to assist us in scouting the greatest talents in various fields such as optometry, sales and marketing, among others.”
Lapaire’s Inroads in Uganda
Lapaire Group’s strategy of universal inclusion in eye healthcare has also been felt in countries such as Uganda, where figures show that over 2,5 million individuals have eye impairments, and over 250,000 people are blind in both eyes.
According to Oliver Mwanko, these scary numbers stem from lack of public awareness and insufficient number of experts in the sector, notable that the first set of locally trained ophthalmologists graduated in Makerere University in 2019, leaving Uganda with only 40 ophthalmologists currently operating in a country of over 40 million people.
To help manage this crisis, Lapaiare has been adding new branches in Uganda almost every month. It first opened its first branch in the country in 2020. Today, it has 10 locations across the country; Seven of which have opened this year.
The company continues to reach its mass market through communications and partnerships. It has launched various marketing campaigns across different cities and also uses social platforms to grow its brand. Additionally, the company uses traditional marketing channels and also develops innovative ways of communicating with the general public.
“In Kampala city, we have launched our very own set of billboards and in Mbarara, we have partnered with boda boda operators by providing them with safe reflector jackets to sensitize the community on the free vision tests offered by Lapaire,” Oliver explains.
As the world celebrated the ‘World Sight Day’, under the theme “LOVE YOUR EYES”, Lapaire could not help but reckon the kind of impact it has created in the region and the mission it sets its eyes on in Africa.
During the week, the company emphasized the importance of regular eye exams across the region by assisting those who needed eyeglasses but couldn’t afford them. In Uganda, the company’s employees held a press conference in collaboration with the local and national press to highlight the importance of maintaining good eye health and encouraged everyone to visit Lapaire branches across the region to have their eyes tested for free.