Jérôme Lapaire of Lapaire tells us about eye care services in Kenya.
For the interest of our readers, briefly introduce yourself and your role at Lapaire?
Jérôme Lapaire: I am the Founder and CEO of the Lapaire Group since January 2018.
I graduated in Law from the University of Geneva, but I quickly switched and started working on a few entrepreneurial projects in Hong Kong and London before moving to Nairobi back in March 2015.
I joined an impact investment fund in Kenya and worked in a pan-African market research agency to better understand the local market. After a few years, I decided to launch my own company by using all the skills I accumulated and ideas caught here and there to bring something great to the local community: Lapaire!
First of all, how are you and your family doing?
Jérôme Lapaire: I am doing well, thanks for asking !
Tell us about you, your career, and how you founded Lapaire.
Jérôme Lapaire: My career started miles away from Africa and the Optical industry, but I have always been an entrepreneur at heart!
After a few projects in Hong Kong and London, I moved to Nairobi, Kenya, in March 2015. I quickly joined an impact investment fund and then worked in a market research agency to better understand the local market.
Back in 2017, while I was working in Nairobi, I noticed that several of my colleagues couldn’t see well from far (in technical terms, they had uncorrected refractive errors), and accessibility to eye care services was the #1 reason explaining such a situation. 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 learned a lot about it.
In Feb. 2018, I set up a very small team with 2 interns (of which one is our Regional Expansion Manager today!), gathered personal funds, and decided to launch Lapaire Glasses in Nairobi. We started small by partnering with medium-size 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 VC Fund (Saviu Ventures) that decided to support our development across Africa.
Main hurdles encountered: Definitely, the Covid pandemic slowed down our activities in a couple of countries due to lockdowns. Also, we always need to follow and adjust to the local economic and political contexts and be reactive enough to maintain the business running.
How does Lapaire market its product/services online?
Jérôme Lapaire: rely on technology on different levels: internally, given that we are a pan-African company, we all use digital tools to communicate and work together efficiently. 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 a lot through our social media and propose online bookings and orders to our customers through our website. We have various online marketing strategies in place to help us source leads, including Google & Facebook ads. This has proven to be even more necessary even during covid times.
How the coronavirus pandemic affects your business, and how did you get through it?
Jérôme Lapaire: The first Covid wave hit us hard because most countries imposed a lockdown, and customers couldn’t travel to do the vision test at our optical shops. We had to postpone customers’ appointments several times, leaving people without any backup solution for some time. It was quite frustrating, but we always communicated with them even when our branches remained closed.
However, quickly enough, we had put in place all the necessary measures to prevent everyone from getting infected in our Optical shops and reassure our customers that they were in a ‘safe place’. Our teams have adapted to the context to ensure keeping everyone safe. Luckily for us, eyeglasses are a necessary product, but given the unstable context, people are even more careful about how they spend their money.
Post Covid-19, we have seen the group motivated and passionate to have a great impact on people’s lives, so we managed to restructure our business operation model by shutting down the B2B department and opening more optical shops in the cities that we are already present in. The goal is to get closer to the people.
What specific tools, software, and management skills are you using to manage your online marketing?
Jérôme Lapaire: Since the early beginnings of Lapaire, both technology and innovation have been at the heart of the project. We rely heavily on digital communications for internal and external purposes. We also rely on a connected CRM that allows us to see in real-time what is happening in all our different locations.
Following your successful launch in the Kenyan market, are there plans to expand elsewhere? How about expanding the size of your eye care products and services portfolio?
Jérôme Lapaire: We have been working tirelessly to make everyone aware of their sight problems and support those who need eyeglasses. Corrected eyeglasses are too expensive today and remain inaccessible to people who do not have optical health insurance. Lapaire’s primary mission is to make eyeglasses accessible to all those looking for quality and affordability.
For four years, the Lapaire Group has focused on expanding its coverage from East to West Africa. Lapaire currently operates 25 Optical Branches across Africa, where we offer free vision tests with qualified eye specialists and a large choice of frames. We serve patients in Kenya, Uganda, Ivory Coast, Burkina Faso, Mali, Benin & Togo.
By the end of 2022, we are planning to open an additional 20 branches across our 7 geographies. By 2023, we shall expand to new countries such as Rwanda or Tanzania in East Africa, for instance.
Regarding our portfolio, we have also been growing our selection of frames since the beginning of the year, adding more shapes and colors for men and women, but also kids.
What are your top three priorities as the Managing Director of Lapaire? Where would you want to see the company in the next five years?
Jérôme Lapaire: My top priorities today: Expansion, Expansion, and Expansion!
This means, following our calendar of openings across our 7 countries, boosting our brand awareness, growing our teams efficiently through internal career paths and external recruitments, securing our supplies (whatever the economic, political, or sanitary context), and improving our overall operations.
In the next five years, we want to be the pan-African leader in the Optical industry and cover much more than 7 countries!
What major challenges is Lapaire grappling with? How do you mitigate the challenges?
Jérôme Lapaire: In a country like Kenya, our main challenge is to challenge the old players of the Optical market that have strong notoriety in the market and come to everyone’s mind first. We want the customers of tomorrow to think about Lapaire first when thinking about eyeglasses! The ultimate goal is to become the go-to eyewear brand in Africa.
What strategy has Lapaire put in place to rival the other players to remain competitive?
Jérôme Lapaire: 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 3,400 KES, frame and lenses included, and we provide payment by installment and free delivery within Nairobi.
You won’t have to pay more if you want a certain frame. The price remains the same.
Only the type of lenses adapted to your correction will impact the cost.
In terms of strategy, we focus on reaching out to the local communities that do not benefit from any health insurance. This population generally lacks awareness about eye problems and affordable eye care solutions, so we do a lot of awareness campaigns to spread the word and partner with organizations able to support us when it comes to raising awareness.
Who are your competitors? And how do you plan to stay in the game?
Jérôme Lapaire: We mostly compete with traditional optical shops, which were probably hit harder than us because they mostly rely on traditional working habits with little digital.
As a Pan African company, we are lucky to have numerous locations across Africa. Therefore, when there is a lockdown in a country, business is happening somewhere else. It allows us to diversify the risk.