Clearly Contacts has officially rebranded as ‘Clearly’, as it broadens its product assortment and expands its Vancouver operations. We were fortunate to interview the company’s new CEO, Roy Hessel, who is granting interviews to the press for the first time since taking over the company last year.
Founded in Vancouver in 2000 by Roger Hardy, Clearly Contacts became the world’s top online seller of prescription eyewear. Massive French optical firm Essilor bought Clearly’s parent company Coastal Contacts in February of 2014 for $430 million. Essilor is now moving its online operations to Vancouver, and Mr. Hessel gave us the details on this as well as what the company has planned moving forward.
Mr. Hessel told us that the company’s new name, Clearly, reflects the company’s broader scope. The company will expand its focus beyond merely selling glasses and contact lenses – it will promote eye health to consumers, provide an enhanced customer service experience, and promote expanded multi-channel initiatives which will include online retailing, concierge-like telephone assistance, and brick-and-mortar stores.
Mr. Hessel described Clearly’s new customer service initiative, which will be not unlike a concierge. Call centre customer service representatives will help callers locate their nearest eye care practitioner, provide product advice including anti-fog coating and Kodak blue-ray lens filters, and will even refer products from a competitor if not carried in stock.
We asked Mr. Hessel specifically if Clearly will open more brick-and-mortar locations. The company currently has several wildly successful stores worldwide, which opened under the company’s previous CEO. Mr. Hessel explained that although it’s possible that Clearly may open more physical stores in the future, there are no immediate plans. The company’s goal is to dominate the web first – currently, only about 4% of the world’s estimated $100 billion annual eyewear purchases are made online, and Clearly wants to expand that while continuing to gain market share. Mr. Hessel notes that the Internet has a broader worldwide reach than brick-and-mortar stores.
We asked Mr. Hessel if there is a possibility that Essilor would consider moving its entire corporate headquarters to Vancouver. The company currently has headquarters in Paris, Singapore and Dallas. Mr. Hessel explained that although the company is moving its entire e-commerce division to Vancouver, he doesn’t see Vancouver as a place to run a global business at the moment. He explained how the city is geographically separated from global business capitals and how its infrastructure, housing costs and taxes are less-than-ideal. At the same time, Essilor recently hired 22 new staff for its Vancouver e-commerce headquarters, and it plans to hire another 30 in the near future. Vancouver, says Mr. Hessel, is a “very interesting place” featuring a diverse, multi-lingual, highly educated talent pool – perfect for operating Essilor's customer-service focused e-commerce business.
Although Mr. Hessel wouldn’t provide specific numbers, he said that Clearly’s sales are increasing, and that the company is now seeing profits. For some time, Clearly Contacts was in the red, despite having hundreds of millions in sales. Overall, Mr. Hessel sounded very optimistic for the future of Clearly, as the company looks to “reach one billion pairs of eyes” by the year 2030.