The Art of Building Buzz

A media event can be a powerful way to launch a new concept—just don't expect it to go exactly as planned

Written by Roger Hardy

This spring, Vancouver-based online eyewear retailer is opening its first bricks-and-mortar store in North America. CEO Roger Hardy is documenting the ins and outs of the process—from why he’s diversifying an established business, to what he’s learning about successful retail launches—in a regular series for

The debut of our first North American bricks-and-mortar store was a very special milestone for us. Perhaps because the new store is in Vancouver—the city in which our company first started and remains headquartered today—it is especially dear to our hearts.

Needless to say, it was very important to us to create a sense of excitement around its opening.

That’s why we decided to host a media night in late March, before the store opened. We wanted to give key influencers—including media, fashion experts and investors—a peek at the retail space we’d been working so hard to create. We also wanted to give these guests the opportunity to experience the store—and a bit of our culture—firsthand.

Related: 4 Keys to Getting Media Coverage

Working with our PR agency, we planned an event that would get people talking. We laid out a blue carpet (consistent with our branding) and flanked the store entrance strands of balloons. When guests arrived, our staff—each sporting our glasses—welcomed them and gave them a tour. We brought in photo booths to allow guests to take snaps of themselves in our frames. We pumped some great music through the sound system, ordered in delicious appetizers and stocked the bar with some delicious champagne—can’t forget that part!

More than 60 influencers showed up, which we consider to be a great turnout. Even better, they seemed to like what they saw. In the days following the event, we found reports of the event in local and national media outlets, including business magazines, newspapers and fashion blogs. What was most encouraging is that many customers commented on these articles online, most expressing their excitement for the new store. This was our main goal.

Related: How to Hype a Launch on the Cheap

That’s not to say things went perfectly. Our media night was scheduled for a Wednesday evening, and for weeks we have been buzzing around to have the store completed for the big night. But as the event drew near, one piece was missing: the six iMac computers—meant to allow shoppers to browse our online catalogue—that we’d ordered from Apple.

The average retailer could probably make do without such bells and whistles. But we’re an e-commerce firm first and foremost; the entire concept of our retail outlet is to be a hybrid of online and offline shopping. The absence of computers would be noticeable—especially at a media event meant to showcase the best of what the store has to offer to a group of very well-educated and influential people.

So, when we received word the day before the event that the computers wouldn’t arrive on time, we went to Plan B. Steve Wallace, our VP of Sales, drove down to the local Best Buy and bought six brand-new iMacs on his Visa. I’m so glad he did. One of our company’s seven core values is “Bias to action”, and this is a great example of an employee doing just that. Steve made a choice to do what it took to make the experience great for guests—even if it wasn’t what we’d originally planned.

The whole incident brought me back to when I started the company many years ago on a shoestring budget (a.k.a. my Visa card). Sometimes you can’t just wait for things to happen; you have to make them happen yourself.

Roger Hardy is the founder and CEO of, Canada’s largest online retailer of contact lenses and eyeglasses.

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