By Pierre Bertrand, President of Essilor Canada

I often get asked what the future of our Canadian Optical industry holds, I usually answer in one word: OPPORTUNITY. The independent Canadian optical industry is facing unprecedented transformation influenced by new consumer behaviour, demographic changes, increasing competition, business growth, market consolidation, emergence of new entrants, etc. We see these challenges as opportunities to change, to do things differently in our industry. At Essilor Canada, we are confident about the future of the independent optical industry and strongly believe that by working together we can create value and differentiation to the benefit of all parties involved – consumers, eyecare professionals, and suppliers.

Whether we are a manufacturer or an eyecare professional, we share the same goal: provide the best visual solution to Canadians and help them see better, every day. A good understanding of the market’s dynamics, an open discussion and the desire to reinvent ourselves are key elements in co-creating a positive future for our industry.

A changing marketplace

Evolution is inevitable and we have to embrace change in order to be successful. Look what happened to books, apparel, and travel. Their businesses drastically transformed in the past years: from brick and mortar stores to online, and vice versa sometimes. In fact, many “pure play” online companies, such as Warby Parker in our industry but also Casper (mattresses) and Harry’s (razors), have found that they needed consumers to experience their products in old-school brick and mortar locations as well.

The market is changing and more than ever it can be looked at as a source of inspiration and growth, in order to meet the needs of today and anticipate tomorrow’s. Right here in Canada, here are some of the untapped business opportunities that we have identified:

  • Canadians change their eyeglasses every 2.7 years on average¹¹ and 25% of Canadians eyeglass wearers buy multiple pairs². This provides us with fantastic opportunities to increase the renewal rate and bring the consumer back in the store sooner and to stimulate multiple pair purchases.
  • 68% of Adult Canadians wear corrective lenses² and 84% of Adult Canadians wear sunglasses … but only 12% of Adult Canadians wear prescription sunglasses¹⁰. If only half of these eyeglass wearers got sunwear in their prescription, we could TRIPLE the category.
  • We estimate that there are approximately 16M presbyopes and 17M single vision users¹. The younger generations – Millennials (or Gen-Y) and Centennials (or Gen-Z) are the future of our industry. Getting to know them better can provide eyecare professionals with a sustainable competitive advantage both as an employer and an eye care provider. It is therefore important to understand their needs, which are totally different from their elders’, and develop new ways to attract them and retain them since they will become the progressive lens wearers of tomorrow.
  • Myopia is a growing problem that affects approximately 30% of the Canadian population⁶ (11M). Its prevalence is increasing dramatically among children: from 6% with 6-8 years old to 29% with 11-13 years old⁷.
  • 72% of Canadian adults aged between 18-39 years old (10M) use at least 3 electronic devices per day. This heavy usage of digital devices including smartphones, laptop, tablets and televisions has an impact on their lifestyle. 90% of them reported at least one eye-related problem linked to digital devices. The two major symptoms experienced are tired eyes and headaches, followed by a disrupted sleep cycle, neck and back pain, etc⁸.
  • The population of Canada is growing, primarily due to immigration which represented 7M people in 2011 (over 20% of the total population). More than 2/3 of the immigrants originate primarily from East Asian countries and Europe⁴. Ethnic populations like Asians and Indians are more likely to develop cataract, AMD, glaucoma and have a 90% prevalence of myopia⁵. Besides, Asian populations have specific needs due to their facial anatomy and have a lower awareness of the need for regular vision care.
  • There are more than 5.5 million Canadians with a major eye disease that could cause vision loss such as Age-related Macular Degeneration (AMD), Cataracts, Glaucoma, Diabetic Retinopathy and Refractive error⁹.
  • We know that approximately 5M people need vision correction¹¹ and do not have it today: 6% of adult Canadians² and nearly 25% of school-age children; and those numbers are even higher in marginalized communities. Did you know that 86% of Canadian children have never had an eye exam prior to school? There is a significant opportunity with children under the age of 6, all the more when we know that 80% of a child’s learning before the age of 12 comes through his eyes³. Good vision has a strong impact on learning, development and education.

‘‘Innovation is the ability to see change as an opportunity, not a threat’’ – Steve Jobs

These unmet needs and business potential make us optimistic about our industry and its evolution. Working in collaboration, sharing best practices and thinking outside the box may be the best tools to help us evolve and develop innovative ideas to address those opportunities

  • Seizing the market opportunities can generate value for your practice. On the lens side, there might be room to grow your business by developing, for instance, prescription sunwear, multiple pairs, polarized lenses, UV and blue light protection, occupational digital lenses, single vision and Transitions. Benchmarks can be a good way to know if you are maximizing your business potential or not.
  • Innovation is important to build your image as a valuable vision care provider. Launching new solutions and technologies with personalized lenses, merchandising, additional Vision Care services such as eye health prevention, disease diagnosis, low vision service, emergency care, etc. can differentiate your practice, create value and contribute to long-term growth.
  • Defining the profitability model can be challenging. It is not just about saving on the cost of goods or increasing the professional fees. It can also be about managing the resources in the stores according to the number of appointments, maximizing the conversion rate between the eye exam and the sales.
  • Investing in developing your patient base and patient relationships is a critical success factor. Developing a Customer Relationship Management (CRM) program and social media strategy can help you to acquire news customers, retain existing customers, engage them. Ultimately it is about developing advocates, building loyalty, accelerating the visit rate and ensuring your business’ sustainability.
  • Improving the knowledge and skills of your team by investing in continuing education can generate more revenues (by adding value), customer satisfaction (by improving service) which lead to higher profit margins.
  • Growing can prove to be challenging from a structural or organizational perspective. This is when joining a buying group or a Chain or partnering with another independent eyecare professional can help with additional resources, competitive products, proven business model, shared vision.
  • Offering a memorable consumer experience can set you apart from your competitor when product and prices are similar. It is about exceeding expectations and creating an emotional connection with your consumer via better practice management (systems, strategies, sales techniques, etc.), consistent consumer experience over time and throughout all the touch points, or personalized customer approach depending on the generation or its lifestyle needs. Internet is also an opportunity for you to connect, interact and retain the new generations which live and breathe in a digital world.

Because Canadians have visual needs that impact their lives, and because we care about their vision, Essilor Canada’s mission is to Improve lives by improving sight. It translates into everything we do: our products, services, technologies, trainings, philanthropic initiatives, as well as in our involvement in health, environment and safety. We are there to support you and are committed to be your partner of choice by delivering innovative visual solutions and market insights that will empower you to succeed, and create value for your consumers, so that together we can help them see better, every day.

Essilor Canada is a sponsor of  Canadian Eye Care Business Review. 

¹ Statistics Canada, 2016 census
² Mc Kinsey Mid-Tier survey conducted with 2 300 consumers, 2014
³ Vision Council, Canadian Association of Optometrists,
⁴ Statistics Canada, 2011 census
⁵ Transitions Optical survey on Fostering healthy sight in Canada: Focus on Culturally Diverse Groups, 2015
⁶ Canadian Association of Optometrists
⁷ Research from the University of Waterloo on Myopia prevalence in Canadian School Children, 2015
⁸ Eyezen Ipsos survey conducted with 504 Canadians, 2015
¹⁰ Ipsos survey among 1 011 adult Canadians, 2015. U&A Sunwear Ipsos survey in France, US, Brazil, Italy and China, 2012.
¹¹ Internal Essilor Canada estimation

Pierre Bertrand

Pierre Bertrand

President of Essilor Canada

Pierre Bertrand has been the President of Essilor Group Canada Inc. since 2015. He joined the optical industry in 2011 with Essilor of America after having spent fifteen years in the pharmaceutical industry, most recently with Pfizer.