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Philippe Rochette makes glasses affordable for everyone

For 15 years, Philippe Rochette has made it his mission to make eyewear accessible to everyone. His Montreal company, Le Bonhomme à spectacles (“The Glasses Guy”), works with 65 community centers across Quebec, where customers can purchase frames for $69, with additional fees based on prescription needs. Rochette also donates $10 from each sale to community organizations.

Motivation: My childhood was not rich. We weren’t poor, but every penny was spent on something useful. I understand how difficult it is for most people to make the payments they need at the end of each month.

At the same time, I was drawn to something bigger. When I was 25, I went to work in a kibbutz in the middle of the desert in Israel. After traveling, studying communications and working part-time jobs, I began to see that there was a need in this market that was not being catered for. All of this led me to start this business.

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Beginnings: I started by selling glasses at the Montreal YMCA where I was a volunteer. I’ve priced my glasses on the wellness scale, so they’re affordable. Then I went knocking on the doors of other centers to explain my project to them — and they were interested.

Need: When there is fashion, there is branding. Marketers are selling you a dream, and that dream comes at a cost. But when you need glasses, you need glasses. You’re not going to take the bus instead of the car when you need glasses – you can’t operate in your life if you can’t see. There is also some demand for eyewear as it is not something you can buy just anywhere. Unlike other things you can find in stores, only specialized people can sell them.

Impact: My prices have stayed exactly the same for 15 years. We sell generic brands, but we also have a lot of branded glasses. The trick is to buy them three months after everyone else. What happens to the fall collection when it’s spring? Well, warehouses are stuck with what hasn’t been sold, so the manufacturer is willing to let them go at a much lower price. When people walk into stores, they often ask, “What’s up? ” Nothing new. Nothing has changed. Your eyes, ears and nose are always in the same places.

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Now, everywhere, people are copying what we do. It’s an honor. They can provide a useful service to their communities, wherever they are. That no one has done this before us is perhaps a little surprising, but then again, there are so many public health issues that need to be addressed elsewhere. For example, I don’t know if our model can be replicated with, say, dentists or orthopedists.

Future: We are always looking for places to open new spots in different communities. People are interested. Recently, we opened our new online store so that it is possible for people living far from Montreal, who do not have access to our services, to buy our frames.

We’ve been operating with a virtually zero dollar advertising budget since day one. It’s word of mouth between the community centers and our clients. There are no monthly sales targets. Our way of working is really old-fashioned — and it’s important to me that it stays that way.


This interview has been edited and condensed for length and clarity. He first appeared in broadview June 2022 issue under the title “Philippe Rochette”.

Aisha White is a writer and fact checker in Montreal.

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