The other day I read David Gutnick’s documentary from CBC’s Sunday Edition entitled, “Two Sticks and Two Circles.” Gutnick interviews a Montreal optician, Philippe Rochette, who shares his opinion on selling eyewear. He believes, and I agree, that vision is an important part of our lives and should not be a sweet unattainable fruit clinging to the highest branch on the tallest tree. At Insight we provide various price-point options, although we do focus our attention on creative independent designers.
Not every optical business can give away frame and lens packages for $100 or $200 – let alone free – and stay in business. We are choosing to fill the needs of our clients who appreciate quality construction, innovation and fresh artistic design. There is room in our world for charity, for investing in quality artistic products and for everything in between. And there will always be those individuals who seek out labels because they fall prey to mass market advertising.
I wear and I sell expensive eyewear. Does that make me selfish? I feel good about what I do because I educate my clients and let them make the choice that is right for them. Consumers need to know what they are actually purchasing. Rochette’s declaration, stating that all lenses are the same, is grossly inaccurate.
One of our best progressive lens designs, Shamir’s Autograph III with Glacier+, provides incredibly clear vision with minimal distortion and is not available for less than $200 unless the seller is willing to pay people to take the lens off their hands. There are primitive progressive lens designs on the market that could fall within the $100-$200 price range if the frame is free and little to no profit is received; these lenses have considerably more distortion on the edges, making vision difficult for those who are motion sensitive or tend to move their head a lot in a working environment. There are also many different types of coatings, some being a lot easier to keep clean than others. Individuals with high prescriptions also benefit from having their lenses thinned down to reduce visible thickness, weight and eye magnification/minimization.
Frames are also not all the same. As the buyer for Insight, I do agree that mass-produced “luxury” frames are typically not worth the designer’s name slapped on the side. The designer or design house usually has influence over their clothing collection, jewellry or handbags, but how connected are they to their frames and does the quality of the production justify the end cost? When I attend international shows, I am sitting down with the men and women who are personally designing their independent eyewear collections; these individuals are hand-making their frames, the equipment to produce their frames or sourcing reputable factories to provide quality manufacturing, all the while overseeing the production from a creative idea sketched on a napkin to a final polished work of art. For example, ROLF Spectacles have 78 work steps required to create one of their wooden frames. Not all frame construction is this intricate, but a lot of independent frame designers have some very unique craftsmanship. Feel free to check out the independent brands we carry on our website.
Another point Rochette addressed in his interview was the Essilor-Luxottica merger. Essilor is the largest lens manufacturer in the world and they even own parts of other large lens companies (Nikon, Shamir, Stock Club, Oakley and Adidas to name a few). It is difficult to acquire premium progressive lenses and avoid these major players. Now that Luxottica is under the same umbrella, these two giants will have a monopoly on frames and lenses. I think competition should exist because it is healthy; it keeps everyone on their toes, keeps price-points from getting out of control and keeps everyone innovating instead of riding a good thing and not striving for the next best thing.
Rochette mentions his low overhead and keeps his costs down because “he doesn’t advertise, doesn’t pay an accountant and buys his no-brand Chinese-made frames in bulk. His office is hidden away on the fourth floor of an industrial building.” We actually want people to find us, but we don’t break the bank getting our name out there. Word-of-mouth is always the best advertisement. We also prefer non-traditional advertising by supporting other local independent businesses (Princess Cinema and Apollo Theatre) and community events (Steels Rails, Grand Porch Party and Craftoberfest). Our way of being philanthropic is to give back to the community by supporting local independent businesses that are up against large franchises and by sponsoring art, music and community engagement. We also accept eyewear donations for the local Lion’s Club and support Interim Federal Health’s Refugee Program, Ontario Disability Support Program and Social Services.
We have a blast sponsoring Steel Rails every year.
Craftoberfest 2016 is an awesome new event in KW that we sponsored.
Our staff also loved participating in the Grand Porch Party 2016.
At Insight, we are all about creating relationships and helping people find really cool eyewear to suit their personality and aesthetic/functional desires. There should be room for opticians like Rochette and boutiques like Insight in this industry – although online sellers are killing brick-and-mortar discount stores. He’s doing a good thing for those who can’t afford or do not want high-end eyewear. We are doing a good thing for those who appreciate quality and want to find something unique and have exceptional vision.