By Megan Harman
Fashionable Montreal-based eyewear retailer BonLook is continuing to aggressively expand its store network, just two years after the company first branched out of the e-commerce realm into the bricks and mortar space.
BonLook now operates 27 stores in Canada, including two new locations that have opened in the past two weeks—one in Market Mall in Calgary and one in Guildford Town Centre in Surrey, B.C.—and several more are set to open in the months to come.
The retailer aims to have between 45 and 50 stores operating across the country by 2020, according to the retailer’s co-founder and CEO, Sophie Boulanger.
“We’re on fire,” says Boulanger. “Our goal is to be coast to coast across Canada by 2020.”
BonLook launched in 2011 as an e-commerce brand specializing in trendy and affordable prescription eyeglasses and sunglasses. The company designs and manufactures all of the frames it sells, with new styles released every three to four weeks.
“We make sure to always keep it fun and exciting,” Boulanger says. “We try to push the envelope with new styles.”
The company began experimenting with physical stores to complement its online sales channel in 2015 and 2016, primarily to cater to customers who prefer to try on frames before making a purchase. The physical retail strategy quickly took off, leading to more than two-dozen store openings in the past two years.
“Up until two years ago, we were just an online retailer. So we’re really learning physical retail – it’s brand new for us,” says Boulanger. “It’s just about listening to what the clients want. I think that’s what’s made our success over the years – we adapt quickly.”
Boulanger launched BonLook in partnership with her brother, Louis-Félix Boulanger, in an effort to create a more customer friendly eyewear shopping experience.
“The traditional experience of shopping for eyewear is kind of broken and it’s not a very good experience for most people,” Sophie Boulanger says. For example, she notes that prescription glasses tend to be very expensive, and there’s often a lack of transparency surrounding the price of the lenses. In addition, many of the frames in stores are often locked up or have bulky security tags attached to them, making them difficult to try on.
BonLook strives to create a comfortable environment for trying on frames, provides an omni-channel experience that enables customers to choose the transaction method they prefer, aims to offer glasses at an affordable price point and aspires to be completely transparent with pricing.
“It’s meant to be very open and inviting, and we want people to come in and feel free to touch the product, try it on—try on 50 frames if they want. Then they can go home and buy it at home if they prefer that,” Boulanger says. “We want the experience to be very stress-free, very easy.”
The company works hard to create a consistent customer experience, regardless of the channel the customer is using. A vast majority of BonLook’s customers interact with the retailer both online and in-store, Boulanger says, so ensuring customers have a seamless experience across all channels is essential.
“It’s very fluid between the two channels,” she says. “I think to be winning in this new game of retail in the 21st century, that’s what you’ve got to do. You’ve got to be very consistent.”
BonLook’s stores are an average of 800 square feet in size and are all located in shopping centres, with a focus on centrally located, high-traffic enclosed malls. The stores are designed to be bright, well-lit and open concept. They feature furniture and accessories by various Canadians designers, including modern lighting fixtures provided by Montreal-based Lambert & Fils.
Having established a large network of stores in Quebec and Ontario, BonLook is now focused on expanding into Canada’s western provinces. Thanks to the retailer’s digital presence, it already has strong brand recognition in Alberta and B.C., according to Christine Boivin, director of marketing and communications with BonLook.
“We know there’s potential in those provinces, so it’s something we want to capitalize on,” she says.
By December 15th, BonLook plans to open three more locations: one in Vancouver’s CF Pacific Centre, one in West Edmonton Mall and one in CF Polo Park in Winnipeg.
Once BonLook has established a physical retail presence in all of the major markets across Canada, the retailer will consider expanding internationally, including possibly into the U.S. market. Currently, however, there are no firm plans in place.
“We have big dreams,” says Boulanger. “Right now we’re focused on Canada, but we won’t stop there for sure.”