– An Online Optical Services Alternative

By Evra Taylor

Envision: seeing beyond, presents this first article in a series developed to explore online eyewear retailers, how they operate and what they have to offer.

Every once in a while one hears about a maverick entrepreneur who brainstorms an idea and develops a pioneering business concept. These are often viewed as hair brained flights of fancy that have absolutely no chance of succeeding. Dr. Dhavid Cooper, co-founder and president of, is such a maverick – except for the part about not succeeding.

In 1988, Cooper teamed up with fellow optometrist Dr. Guy Hodgson to establish a series of successful optometric practices, which would prove to be the model for Hodgson currently is CFO and COO of the company.

After selling their practices in 1995, the pair began exploring other opportunities and wondered if they could predict where the optical industry would be in 15 years’ time. “We didn’t have a clear vision of what we wanted to do but we knew we wanted to create a business that operated 24 hours a day, seven days a week across the United States,” recounts Cooper.

The genesis of was in Texas, where Cooper and Hodgson set up a small office that would house what was later to become an online retail giant. They created a rudimentary website of roughly eight pairs of sunglasses, resulting in their first online sale to a customer in Florida. When Cooper asked how the gentleman had found in Texas, he replied, “I saw you on the worldwide web,” as it was then known.

“There was no model to follow as no one had ever sold eyewear online. My wife thought I was crazy,” says Cooper. now offers more than 200 brands with 100,000 SKUs covering a range of higher-end eyewear, including eyeglasses, sunglasses and contact lenses. Approximately 40,000 unique visitors visit the site daily. “Imagine 40,000 people walking into your store today,” remarks Cooper. sells premium eyewear only.

Cooper knows that simply selling name-brand eyewear online is not enough to ensure success. As a result, emphasizes customer service and after-sale follow-up. “We have a very high-touch business model. We call every person who places an order and we educate our customers about their prescription. The company is run by optometrists and we reassure people that they’re in very capable hands,” explains Cooper. enjoys roughly 30 per cent annual growth, including a significant amount of repeat business, which Cooper feels is the result of consumers’ increasing awareness that shopping for eyewear online is an option that offers all of the amenities of bricks-and-mortar shopping, with stay-at-home convenience.

According to Cooper, only about three per cent of eyewear is sold online in the U.S., signifying an enormous opportunity for future growth. “I doubt that the web will ever eclipse the standard store or the traditional doctor-patient relationship, but there is still room for 20-30 per cent growth.”

As a reflection of the growing popularity of online eyewear sales, Essilor, the largest lens manufacturer in the world, acquired a majority stake in in 2009.

And how is the optical industry reacting to online selling?

“The initial response from eyecare practitioners was very negative,” says Cooper. “But apart from some pockets of resistance, we no longer see that. However, the eyewear industry as a whole has been slow to adapt to Internet sales. I hope this will change.”