Booming online eyewear sector sees new Vancouver-based player: KITS

KITS includes backing from experienced eyewear entrepreneur Roger Hardy

Arnaud Bussieres - eyewear
Clearly CEO Arnaud Bussieres tries on some glasses at one of his company's stores |Chung Chow

Vancouver’s position as a global hub for online eyewear companies strengthened a bit today with news that locally based KITS has launched its long-awaited online platform at kits.com.

One thing in KITS' favour is that it has an ownership group that includes experienced insiders in the booming online-eyewear sector. One of its founders, Roger Hardy, in the early 2000s founded Coastal Contacts, which operated the Coastal Contacts brand in the U.S., the Clearly Contacts brand in Canada and the Lensway brand in Europe.

Hardy and other family members owned about 20% of the venture in 2014, when he sold it to French eyewear conglomerate Essilor for $430 million. Essilor then merged with Luxottica in a 46-billion Euro transaction to become by far the largest eyewear company in the world.

Hardy last year returned to the eyewear sector by buying Richmond-based LD Vision for an undisclosed amount.

He separately bought a minority stake in the sunglasses retailer Privé Reveau, and was a director of Privé Reveau earlier this year, when Italian eyewear company Safilo Group bought a majority stake.

KITS said in a news release that its online platform is “revolutionary,” although the website’s layout resembles other online brands.

Coastal Contacts, meanwhile, has since rebranded as Clearly in Canada and Australia, and as Coastal in the U.S. Its former European operations are run by a different division within Luxottica.

Clearly and Coastal’s head office, however, remains in Vancouver, where CEO Arnaud Bussieres oversees rapidly increasing sales as customers shift to online purchases during the pandemic.

“Business has been exceptional,” he told BIV on August 11. “It has always been exceptional, but since [COVID-19] started, we’ve seen the highest growth levels in the history of the company.”

He pinned that growth rate for sales at between 50% and 100%, compared with this time last year.

Clearly recently hired around 15 people to make its local workforce more than 200 employees. Some significant new hires to the company’s management team include people who have experience at global technology companies, such as Facebook and Amazon.

“For the marketing team, for the engineering team, we’re always looking for talent,” Bussieres said. “We’re always hiring.”

Clearly operates physical stores on Robson Street, and on West 4th Avenue, in Vancouver, as well as one store in Toronto.

Bussieres had anticipated opening two more physical stores but he said that those openings were postponed when the global pandemic took hold.

gkorstrom@biv.com

@GlenKorstrom