Change Agent

Why Roger Hardy refused to outsource Coastal Contacts’ eyeglass manufacturing

Keeping customers for a lifetime meant customer service had to be above and beyond

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Coastal Contacts founder Roger Hardy

“As soon as you outsource, the people who are doing it care a little less about the customer than you do.” (Evaan Kheraj)

Roger Hardy had a vision to create a global e-seller of contact lenses and eyeglasses out of Vancouver 14 years ago. Coastal Contacts (which operates Clearly­ was bought in March by optics giant Essilor International for $430 million.

“There were 1,000 people online selling contact lenses when I started. Anybody with a website could make outlandish promises that they couldn’t fulfil. We built our business based on returning and recurring customers. We know the lifetime value of these customers—when your eyes go bad, they don’t generally recover—so you’re buying glasses or contacts from us for 30 or 40 years.

The decision to build an eyeglass manufacturing plant in Canada was about maintaining a great customer experience. We just couldn’t find anyone who scaled or could do a good enough job—8% to 10% of the product wasn’t good enough to ship. People say outsource customer service, outsource the manufacturing, outsource all these things. As soon as you do that, the people who are doing it care a little less about the customer than you do.

READ: How Coastal Contacts became the world’s largest online glasses and contacts seller »

The plan is to keep our manufacturing here as it is. We get an order and we start making your glasses 60 minutes later and it’s ready to ship to you later that day. We have three labs—one in Blaine, Wash., one in Vancouver and one in Stockholm—and from those three, we can target 85% of the planet. We’re shipping today something like 8,000 pairs of glasses a day out of the lab downstairs.”