This spring, Vancouver-based online eyewear retailer ClearlyContacts.ca is opening its first bricks-and-mortar store in North America. CEO Roger Hardy is documenting the ins and outs of the process—from why he’s diversifying an established business, to what he’s learning about successful retail launches—in a weekly series for PROFITguide.com.
Recently we announced our plans to open a bricks-and-mortar store in Vancouver—our first in North America. This might seem counterintuitive at a time when buyers seem to be flocking online. While our decision may go against the grain, we’re pretty confident it’ll pay off.
Why open a physical store when we’ve had so much success online? The decision came from a combination of customer feedback and our desire to enhance the entire buying experience.
When I started an online eyewear company nearly 13 years ago, it was with a belief that consumers wanted a better way to buy glasses and contacts. Customers told us they were tired of the friction and pressure tactics of traditional optical retailers. By giving them an online alternative to traditional optical retailers, we built a company with more than $200 million a year in revenue.
But we know that even with the rise of online shopping, there are certain things bricks-and-mortar stores are still better at. There is so much to learn from in-person interactions and we want to be able to engage with our customers both on and offline. We want to serve them where and when they want to be served.
There are many eyewear consumers who still haven’t embraced online shopping; a physical operation will allow us to connect with them and hear their feedback. Customers will be able to get a prescription and consult with our staff as they choose eyewear and place their order. They’ll be able to touch and feel the products before placing orders online.
Essentially, we want the Vancouver store to be a hybrid of online and offline retail models. It’s not meant to differ from our core business model—which is premised on fast service, great selection and value—but, rather, to add another layer of customer service to that model.
Physical retail is not entirely new to us. We have had stores in Sweden for some time. These have allowed us to test different bricks-and-mortar practices, and we hope to leverage the experience there to better our first store here.
Still, in some ways, this new store is a guinea pig. The feedback we get about it will help us determine how we approach our bricks-and-mortar operation in the future.
I look forward to sharing the highs and lows as we expand our business into this new realm.
Roger Hardy is the Founder and CEO of ClearlyContacts.ca, Canada’s largest online retailer of contact lenses and eyeglasses.
Next week: How we’re preparing for our grand opening.