Optique Eyecare is gearing up to open its boutique clinic at Auckland’s Glenfield Mall on the North Shore.
Cofounders and optometrists Namita Kulhalli and Sashi Singh envision a different approach to eye care – one where people can have both the boutique experience and premium designer glasses at affordable prices.
The husband-and-wife team noticed a gap in the market following many stints at clinics throughout New Zealand and Australia.
“We have often found that the price tag that comes along with eyewear in general is not necessarily affordable and accessible to everyone,” Kulhalli says.
“Our focus is on making eye care accessible in a mall setting but at the same time providing a boutique experience and getting to really know our customers.”
Kulhalli is a passionate advocate for eye health education for school-aged children. She says many children have eye conditions that go undiagnosed; they often don’t tell anyone they have eye issues because to them it is normal.
A recent study by the University of Auckland showed that one in ten children aged eight and nine needed glasses but did not have them.
“We’re not going to be doing a fifteen- to twenty-minute eye examination. We want to spend more time with our customers. Really take the time to go the extra mile.
“When you come for an eye test it’s not just about telling you what you’re needing in terms of your glasses; it’s letting you know what exactly is going on with your eye health and your prescription, which is really important to us.”
The number of people who have vision problems is higher for those living with diabetes, and that can go unnoticed without proper, regular testing, says Kulhalli. A New Zealand study in the early 2000s showed that a third of the population living with diabetes had some signs of diabetic retinopathy (vision problems).
This is why the business invests heavily in eye-testing equipment and training staff. “We believe in investing in the latest technology, because with the best equipment comes a deeper level of information that allows us to more accurately test people’s eyes and make more informed clinical decisions. We’re putting together a team but we always provide a really rigorous three-month training programme for all of our staff.”
Optique offers international eyewear brands such as Ray Ban, Oakley, Prada, Dolce & Gabbana and Bvlgari, as well as their own Optique frames. Each frame is selected personally by Kulhalli and Singh, reflecting their commitment to quality and durability. The couple maintain a hands-on approach by collaborating with suppliers, attending overseas conferences and personally designing frames to ensure the utmost quality.
The success story of Optique Eyecare began in Fiji. The couple opened their first practice in 2017 after recognising a need for more therapeutically trained optometrists in their homeland.
The business has grown ten to fifteen percent year-on-year in revenue, even during Covid-19.
“It is not a very saturated market at all. There’s only a handful of optometrists [in Fiji], especially when it comes to therapeutically qualified optometrists. This basically means that you’re able to diagnose, you’re able to prescribe medications for the eyes and treat conditions,” says Kulhalli.
The growth has prompted the couple to eye out a third practice in Fiji to increase accessibility and address prevalent health conditions like diabetes and high blood pressure.
“You need to have the right equipment to be able to test people’s eyes for diabetic changes and hypertensive changes which a lot of people don’t even know about in Fiji. There’s not much in terms of ocular education out there.
“We were able to do community outreach programmes, and go to the more remote smaller areas and do screening for kids and adults.”
In New Zealand, the optometry and optical dispensing market sits at an impressive $782.5 million in 2023. Singh says simplicity is at the forefront of their business, making sure they communicate terms in plain language to allow patients to understand.
“We try to demystify the whole industry.”
Mr Singh credited his business-oriented family background for providing the foundation for their endeavours. On the other hand, his wife’s transition from a non-business background to an entrepreneurial role has been quite the journey.
“I’ve learned so much and it’s been really exciting and rewarding. It is hard hours and never-ending, but at the same time you feel gratified that you’re doing something that’s worthwhile,” says Kulhalli.
As Optique Eyecare prepares to illuminate the New Zealand market, their mission of accessible, comprehensive eye care is poised to make a lasting impact. Their message to aspiring entrepreneurs is clear.
“If you feel like you’ve got something to offer, give it a go. Have the right intention and surround yourself with a team and staff members that have got the same genuine intention as you.”
Story by Mina Amso