Why Specsavers crossed the pond to Canada

The iconic British advertiser enters Canada with plans to steal share in a 'somewhat fragmented market.'


Despite the bevy of local and international eyecare brands already operating in Canada, U.K.-based optometry retailer Specsavers believes conditions are right for an established brand to come in and steal significant market share. As the world’s largest optometrist-led business, with sales of 17.9 million frames over the last year, Specsavers is clearly a contender to do so.

“When we researched the Canadian market, we found it was somewhat fragmented – there wasn’t a clear national market leader,” explains Bill Moir, Canadian general manager of Specsavers, which will open its first two Canadian locations in British Columbia in November. “We felt there was an opportunity to offer both optometrists and consumers an option for a globally reputable brand that can provide accessible and affordable, quality eyewear and eye care nationally.”

The company, which currently has some 2,300 locations in 11 countries, believes it can open as many as 200 locally owned stores in Canada by 2024, 16 of which are scheduled to open across B.C. before March 2022. Its first two shops will open in Nanaimo and Coquitlam, B.C.

Moir says Specsavers will soon launch an integrated campaign aimed at introducing itself to Canadian consumers. Spanning advertising, partnerships, social media and PR, the campaign will highlight its core brand promise – quality eyewear and eyecare at affordable prices – using a “witty tone” to help it stand out.

Over the longer term, the brand intends to invest significantly in marketing and advertising to help grow the business as it has in the U.K., Europe, Australia and New Zealand, he says. For nearly two decades, a pillar of those international marketing efforts has been work featuring its “Should’ve gone to Specsavers” slogan, which has been described as “one of the most recognisable lines in British advertising.”

The nearly 40-year-old company traces its roots to Doug and Mary Perkins, a husband and wife team of optometrists from the U.K., and remains a family-run business. It is entering Canada through the acquisition of Image Optometry, a B.C. chain with a dozen locations across the province.

Specsavers stores are owner-operated under a franchise partnership model that gives optometrists access to the company’s global integrated supply chain. The company believes its model helps make the category more accessible by offering both optometry services and value-driven prescription eyewear to consumers in urban and rural locations.

Accessibility has helped drive category innovation and attract new brands to Canada in recent years. Companies like Montreal-based BonLook and U.S.-based Warby Parker (which entered Canada in 2016) offer products priced so that consumers can buy more than one pair, for example – but often without access to on-site optometry services. So when it re-entered Canada in 2017, Australian-born Bailey Nelson added those services to keep customers from going elsewhere for their prescriptions.

For consumers in the market for prescription glasses and lenses, the need for eye care professionals has also presented a challenge to online DTC players like Cleary and Kits that can offer lower prices but still require customers to bring their own prescriptions to the online buying process.

While the company would not disclose its market share in other locations – or how much Canadian market share it aspires to gain – according to Moir, Specsavers is currently the leader in 8 of the 11 countries in which it operates.