Bo Optik Builds Vibrant Future Upon a Stellar Past

By Paddy Kamen

eyeonindustryCelebrating its 20th anniversary next January, Bo Optik moves into 2012 with an impressive new deal.

What do you get when you combine an education in philosophy with one in statistics? In the case of Michael Bohbot, you get a very successful niche player in the optical scene.

Bo Optik is 20 years old come January 2012, and it has managed not only to survive but to thrive, thanks to the unique combination of chutzpah and planning that Michael brings to the business.

It appears that a sense of daring and adventure runs in his genes. His father, Jacques Bohbot, came toCanadafromMoroccoas a young man. He had the proverbial next-to-nothing in his pockets and ended up doing very well in the real estate business inMontreal. Michael also had two uncles in the eyewear business. One worked for Sàfilo inMontrealand helped Michael get a job there as a teenager; later, the same uncle employed Michael at his Montreal-based distribution company, EMA. The other uncle was an optician with a store near the University of Montreal, where Michael also worked.

It was at EMA that Michael was able to turn his love of statistics into business acumen. “My uncle asked me to help him out when he was away on a trip. When he came back I had done a statistical analysis of ordering quantities and product lifecycles. After analyzing the sales by item, I found that it was illogical to purchase the same quantities across colours and sizes, since historically certain colours, sizes, and shapes had greater sales than others. If sales were not identical, why were the purchases identical in quantities? He eventually hired me and promised me a partnership.”

Michael went on the road as a salesperson, eager to conquer the then-mysterious buying habits of Ontarians. “Having been raised in Montreal, we had a preconception that Ontarians had no fashion sense and only liked the colour blue,” he allows. “But I thought, well, they represent 40 per cent of Canada’s population and half of the country’s GDP. They have to be buying something.”

Michael loved meeting customers and thrived on the interaction. He built a solid network in Ontario by pounding the pavement, which kept him away from his home in Montreal for seven out of every eight weeks. This was between 1989 and 1991. By early 1992 when the promised partnership didn’t materialize, Michael was at a crossroads. “I didn’t have enough capital to start my own business but I left EMA and then my father offered to back my brother Daniel and I in our own frame distribution business. I had a network of established retailers who liked me and wanted to support the new company.”

A move to Toronto made sense for Michael and his wife Rhonda, the company’s operations manager. Daniel stayed in Montreal and began building the customer base in Quebec, while taking the lead in product development. From their modest beginnings with just the three of them, they’ve built a company that now supports 45 people, including office and warehouse staff and sales agents.

The Bo Optik business strategy is to identify niche segments where they can shine with top-quality product. They also had the foresight to recognize that house brands could handily complement the American brands they were distributing. Daniel and Michael sat down and created a children’s collection called Jungle Animals, which was distributed along with Pez, Hush Puppies and Thalia Girls. Nine years ago, Bo Optik addressed another neglected segment: junior and petite frames for hip kids aged 10 and up, as well as adults with small faces. Here Jungle Juniors and Jalapeños brands were shown alongside the very popular TMX.

Frames for larger men are another segment Bo Optik has taken over with their Safari line. And more recently, Khi Eyewear was created as an entry-level collection for young male professionals who need to look great without breaking the bank on brand name designer frames. “With Khi Eyewear, we give consumers as much detail and style as we can while keeping the price point attractive,” notes Michael.

Leading American partners like Kenmark, L’Amy, and The McGee Group are an intrinsic part of Bo Optik’s impressive and balanced range of collections, which also include Dana Buchman, Jhane Barnes, Thalia, Vera Bradley, and Lunettes L’Amy.

Never one to rest on his laurels, Michael is excited about Bo Optik’s newest partnership. The spring of 2012 will see his company become the exclusive worldwide distributor of Peter Nygard frames. “It is a new direction for us and a great opportunity,” says Michael. “Nygard is huge in Canada. They are very well respected and offer good products at good prices. The line fits well with our focus and how we view brands.”

It is the continuous evolution of the business that keeps Michael Bohbot focused and excited. “I really don’t know how to sit still. I love the fact that we grow our opportunities. I did a minor in philosophy at McGill University and developed an admiration for (French scientist) Louis Pasteur. When Pasteur was told that he was lucky to have invented so many things, he pointed out that there are opportunities in front of people all the time but they get so stuck in the mundane that they never explore them. We are very blessed to have this business and do work that we love.”

Who knows what further excitement the next 10 years will bring for Bo Optik? Given the dynamic team running the business, it will no doubt be worth keeping an eye open for their 30th anniversary in 2022!