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John Carrier was in Vancouver to meet with Coastal Contacts staff

Essilor of the Americas president John Carrier visits Vancouver to meet new staff as the French optical company closes its acquisition of Coastal Contacts

The $430-million acquisition of Vancouver’s Coastal Contacts by French optical giant Essilor International closed today, and John Carrier, president of Essilor of the Americas was in town to meet with Coastal staff. BCBusiness caught up with Carrier to ask him about the integration of  Coastal’s staff of 625 with Essilor’s global workforce of 51,000.
 
Q: What was your message to Coastal Contacts employees?
One important part was to tell them that we are choosing to keep the headquarters here in Vancouver. As you can imagine, Essilor is solicited by cities and countries around the world to bring an important division of our business to multiple countries. But we have ties with Canada that go way back. We think this is going to be a good place for us to conduct this expansion from.
 
Q: What expansion are you referring to?
We are thinking about new geographies. The optical market is under-served in many countries that have a large and growing economy, but reaching the people who need vision correction or vision protection in some of those countries is tricky. We think that e-commerce is a great way to speed up access to vision correction and vision protection in some parts of the world.
 
Q: So Vancouver will be your base for expansion in e-commerce globally?
Yes, that’s where the headquarters is going to be. Coastal already has offices and a presence in Sweden and Australia. So I’m not saying everything is going to be here, but the management team and the headquarters for this global company will remain here.
 
Q: Will Coastal Contacts founder Roger Hardy be staying on?
No, Roger has stepped down as CEO, but he remains as an advisor for us. Roger certainly has the background and a lot of ideas and a lot of connections, so he remains available. We have brought in a new CEO, Roy Hessel, who is a young entrepreneur and is also somebody who has created his own company in the same field. He spent several years in Shanghai and I think the last couple of years in Austin, Texas. He’s moving to Vancouver with his family.
 
Q: Is this Essilor’s first acquisition in Canada?
No. Essilor has had a long presence in Canada and part of our growth in Canada has already been by acquisition; we acquired optical labs and different types of optical companies over the years. This is the first time it’s an online company.
 
Q: Coastal Contacts recently moved into physical retail stores. Do you plan to continue that move?
Right now we’re going to pause that expansion As a stand-alone company, Coastal’s options were different. We have a lot of customers that are eye care professionals and optical retailers around the world, so maybe some options will be explored to see how we do this in partnership with our customers. In the meantime we’re going to just stay where we are with the stores and explore options.
 
This interview has been edited and condensed.