Thursday, 28 October 2021 17:44

Exclusive Feature: Meet Leon Van Vuuren – How He grew a R150 million business.

By Lehlohonolo Lehana.

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.

They've so cleverly developed a brand image and brand concept that is easily accessible, affordable and unique in its offering!

Fullview 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.

What inspired you to start your company, Optique?  

The South African demand for eye care is quite unique, as 75% of people cannot afford eye care. 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 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 moto, as it is a group of colorful 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.

What makes your product or service unique – 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. It 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. 

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.

Our eye tests are definitely worth much more than R99, but the other 80% 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.

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.

What gives you the most satisfaction being an entrepreneur? 

Nicholas Haralambous says it best: "Starting a business has not made me a happy person. Many would argue that it has done the opposite. But starting a business has made me feel more alive than anything I've ever done. I don't know how to live another kind of life anymore. Starting a business has given me incredible insight into how I live my life, the choices I make, and the systems I use to engage with the world. Entrepreneurs build, fail, learn and do. True entrepreneurship is something you simply can't live without. It's an addiction, a desire, a drug that you get into, and it consumes all of you. I wouldn't want it any other way."

Any individual/s or organisation/s that played a massive role in your success?

Without a doubt, my wife and co-founder. She has worked as hard (if not harder) with me in and on the business and shared in all the sacrifices we had to make since day one. She is a management accountant and laid the business's financial foundation diligently from the beginning, which enabled us to grow.

Secondly, as an organization, I would like to recognize 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.

What have been some of your failures, and what have you learned from them?

I have Liquidated/closed/gave away shares in over 10 failed businesses in 5 years. And I have learned that you need absolute focus and ensure you have a product-market fit. There are many great business ideas, but not all of them make financial sense or require it in the market. So you have to figure that out as soon as possible.

What did you want to be when you were growing up, 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 are some of the surprising things that people do not know about you?

That I am an introvert, and I love cats and Formula 1. When meeting me, people always assume I am extroverted as I enjoy engaging with people. Still, my energy definitely comes from recharging at home.

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.

Out of everything you have achieved, what do you value most? 

The level of relationship and understanding my wife and I share. The battles we had to endure over the past few years allowed us to become best friends in the true sense of the word.

What does Wealth mean to you? How do you define a Wealthy life?

Two aspects come to mind. One, having time available, which is the most expensive/priceless commodity. To be able to spend it with what you value (in my case, my family). And secondly, finding purpose in your vocation. We all have an 8-5, even if you are an entrepreneur. And when you wake up in the morning, and you are excited to take on the day, that is also priceless.

What are your future plans and aspirations for Optique as a whole? 

As long as there is a need for what we offer, we will continue to grow. We hope that we can inspire the industry to make eye care more affordable to a more significant portion of South Africa.

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 collared with Costa Coffee and started rolling out Costa kiosks in their practises - just another reason to visit them today!

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