Coastal Contacts founder Roger Hardy returns to online eyewear with LD Vision Group acquisition

Plans include expanding to sell eye glasses, and hiring staff for Richmond headquarters

roger hardy eyewear
Roger Hardy and family members owned 20% of Coastal Contacts when he sold that company for $430 million in 2014 | submitted

What happened: Vancouver entrepreneur Roger Hardy is returning to the online-eyewear sector where he made most of his wealth thanks to his Hardy Capital buying Richmond, B.C.-based contact-lens seller LD Vision Group for an undisclosed amount from a trio of brothers: Arshil Abdulla, Fayaz Abdulla, and Sean Mitha.

Why it matters: Hardy has a track record of success in the sector, building Coastal Contacts into a company that he sold for $430 million in 2014. He also plans to expand LD Vision’s Richmond operations.

Hardy’s LD Vision acquisition comes about a year after he joined the board of directors at the sunglasses retailer Privé Reveau, and Hardy Capital bought a minority stake in that Florida-based company. Future collaboration between Privé Reveau and LD Vision Group is possible, Hardy said.

Hardy earned his stripes in the eyewear sector after 2000, when he founded a company known for its Coastal Contacts brand in the U.S. and for its Clearly Contacts brand in Canada.

He and family members then owned about 20% of that 700-employee company in 2014, when he sold it to French eyewear conglomerate Essilor for $430 million.

Essilor has since merged with Italian competitor Luxottica in a 46-billion Euro transaction to become by far the largest eyewear company in the world.

Hardy, however, is not concerned that industry consolidation, and the economies-of-scale advantages that Luxottica enjoys, will be an insurmountable challenge.

“I wouldn’t be getting back into the category if I didn’t think there was big change afoot,” he said in an interview.

That big change, he said, is the rise of online eye exams that his company provides free through its opticontacts.com and onlinevisiontest.com websites.

The online tests determine eyewear prescriptions in about five minutes and are automatically approved by an eye doctor, Hardy said. They eliminate the need for consumers to take more time consuming tests with actual doctors and are therefore likely to encourage more people to buy contact lenses and glasses online.

He estimates that about 54% of consumers still go to bricks-and-mortar businesses for eye tests and to buy eyewear, despite a proliferation of online-only options.

That large proportion of potential online customers provides LD Vision with lots of room to grow, he said.

LD Vision Group has several brands and it has delivered about 2.7 million orders to more than 1.1 million customers. It generated about $50 million in sales last year across North America.

Hardy said he was “vaguely familiar” with the 17-year-old LD Vision Group when he ran Coastal Contacts.

“We looked at every company in this category over the past year,” he said. “This is the best.”

LD Vision’s head office is in Richmond, where a handful of people work. Other offices include more than 10 people in Toronto, and about 15 employees in Buffalo, New York.

“Our forecast is that we’ll be making more investments that will create jobs in B.C.,” said Hardy, who has a vast database of people who have experience in the sector.

Coastal Contacts similarly started as a contact lens seller and Hardy said that LD Vision Group is about the same size as Coastal Contacts was when Coastal Contacts expanded to start selling eye glasses.

Not all of Hardy’s businesses have been successful.

After he sold Coastal Contacts, his main business was Shoes.com. That venture abruptly shut down in January 2017 and later had Walmart buy assets such as its domain name.

Hardy Capital also owns stakes in many companies, including the winery Liquidity Wines Ltd., the food-delivery service Foodee and various technology companies.

gkorstrom@biv.com

@GlenKorstrom