It used to be a brash startup bent on disrupting the eyewear industry with a cheaper, easier alternative. Today Canadian-born and -based Coastal Contacts has matured into a global leader with a higher purpose, claims the company’s CEO: to bring vision correction to everybody, anywhere, who needs it. And to do that, it intends to make peace with eye-care professionals and even collaborate with them to bring glasses and contact lenses to the masses.
Signaling the change, the company is rebranding itself to simply Clearly—not just in Canada, where it has done business as Clearly Contacts since 1999, but globally. In the United States it will be known as Coastal.com by Clearly, in Japan as Contactsan by Clearly, and in Scandinavia as Lensway by Clearly.
“Clearly now will become the biggest online optical player in the world, which we are already today, not just by virtue of scale and size, but also by offering the largest portfolio of vision correction products,” says Roy Hessel, who became CEO 13 months ago after French-based eyewear manufacturer Essilor International bought the company for $430 million.
Known in the past for selling prescription glasses for as little as $50, the Vancouver-based company will now offer high-end niche products such as Kodak BlueReflect lenses for people bothered by electronic screens and anti-fogging lenses for wearers in cold climates. The new products will be manufactured in Clearly’s plants in Vancouver and Sweden, Hessel says.
“What we acquired was a platform of scale,” he says of last year’s takeover of Coastal Contacts, then a public company run by founder Roger Hardy. However, scale alone will not protect the new owners from competition, he adds. What the company needed to differentiate itself in the marketplace was a comprehensive global product offering, not just of mass-market glasses and contacts, but also of niche products and, just as important, education for consumers who need it—especially the two billion or so people with uncorrected vision in the developing world.
Clearly is also launching a platform called MyOnlineOptical that will allow opticians, optometrists and ophthalmologists to set up their own e-commerce operations distributing Clearly’s products. Instead of grabbing market share from incumbent distributors, the company’s mission now is to grow the pie.
Another important change is on the balance sheet, says Hessel, an Israeli who founded a eyeglass company in China a decade ago, sold it to Essilor in 2012, went on to head up the parent company’s online operations and spearheaded the Coastal Contacts acquisition. “For us, a very important indicator is profitable growth. As you could see from its last financial statement, [a year ago] the company was not profitable,” he says. “The company is profitable year-to-date [in 2015]. Our growth is exactly where it needs to be.”
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