Published by Brent Jang in The Globe and Mail on Tuesday, Jul. 15 2014
Roger Hardy is taking his rewards from selling an online contact lens company and making a big bet on shoes.
Mr. Hardy and a group of Canadian investors have bought two online footwear retailers. One e-commerce firm is based in Vancouver, ShoeMe.ca, and the other has headquarters in Seattle, OnlineShoes.com.
While he declined to disclose the purchase price, he said the two companies combined have an estimated $200-million in annual revenue, with $30-million from ShoeMe.ca and $170-million from OnlineShoes.com. About 50 ShoeMe.ca employees are based in Vancouver and 200 OnlineShoes.com workers are in the United States.
Mr. Hardy, 44, carved out a niche when he founded Coastal Contacts Inc. in 2000. The Vancouver-based company, whose Canadian website is called ClearlyContacts.ca, focused initially on selling contact lenses online before diversifying into eyeglasses in 2009.
As Mr. Hardy turns his attention to another e-commerce venture, he acknowledges the fierce competition to sell shoes. Major online shoe sellers include Amazon and its Zappos.com division, department stores such as Nordstrom and shoe manufacturers from Adidas to Converse.
“It is a competitive space, but we still think that Canadians are underserved and don’t have access to all the brands offered in the U.S.,” he said in an interview.
Former Coastal Contacts manager Sean Clark is the founder of ShoeMe.ca. Mr. Hardy becomes chairman and chief executive officer of the combined entity, while Mr. Clark serves as president of Canadian operations.
OnlineShoes.com, founded by Seattle entrepreneur Dan Gerler, already offers more than 300 brands. ShoeMe.ca recently carried roughly 100 brands and there are plans to add at least another 200.
Mr. Hardy wanted a new challenge after cashing in earlier this year from the sale of Coastal Contacts to Paris-based Essilor International SA for about $435-million, or $12.45 a share. He controlled nearly 3.5 million Coastal Contacts shares worth $43.5-million, had gains from an employment agreement and also options to buy 807,500 shares at various exercise prices.
Through Hardy Capital Corp., he raised enough money privately to make the new acquisitions.
The former chief executive officer of Coastal Contacts managed to woo many consumers to buy contact lenses and eyeglasses by offering large savings, compared with brick-and-mortar optical retailers. One of his challenges will be to compete on price against other aggressive online shoe retailers.
Mr. Hardy is upbeat about the growth potential, especially in targeting female shoppers in Canada.
“Canada is an under-penetrated market in online commerce. It’s about selection, savings and convenience, and we’re quite excited to bring a bunch of new brands to Canadians,” he said. “A great pair of shoes can change your life. Just ask Cinderella.”
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