Brands to Watch: Kits brings convenience to eyecare

The newcomer to the eyeware scene is taking cues from the lifestyle and fashion world to market its products.

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This story originally appeared in the Winter 2021 issue of 
strategy.

Kits Eyecare entered the market in 2018 with the goal of disrupting the multi-billion dollar eyecare category. With former Coastal Contacts founder Roger Hardy at the helm, the Vancouver-based, direct-to-consumer brand knew its success hinged on offering a better customer experience.

Through a commitment to convenience, and a first-pair-free offer designed to drive trial, Kits delivered more than 100,000 pairs of prescription eyeglasses by June 2021 – a milestone it claims to have achieved faster than any other optical retailer in history.

Though revenue reached $42 million in the first half of 2021, up 21% from the year before, the company believes it still has far to go. And since going public in January, it has begun putting a lot more emphasis on brand.

Kits spent its first few years focused on becoming a one-stop-shop for customers, offering one of the largest selections of eyeglasses, sunglasses and contact lenses – from designer brands like Oakley and Gucci to Kits’ own branded products – in a category that tends to offer one or the other. Today, its selection includes over 600 styles of glasses.

In fact, the founders’ decision to name the company Kits, after Kitsilano B.C., was meant to evoke the Vancouver district’s ability to offer everything you need in one place, according to co-founder and COO Joseph Thompson.

Kits has also kept prices low, with many pairs of glasses in the $99 range, matching those of the independent boutiques that have grown popular in recent years.
But a crucial point of difference for the brand was making the online buying process as seamless and convenient as possible, through buying tools like virtual try-ons and online vision tests, as well as faster delivery.

Kits boxes
Earlier this year, it opened its own optical lab in B.C. through which it can manufacture and distribute up to 4,000 pairs of glasses per day. The facility will enable Kits to offer next-day delivery across North America, and it’s already testing same-day delivery in Vancouver.

On the contact lens side of the business, Kits introduced Autoship in February 2020, enabling customers to have repeat orders automatically delivered to them at regular intervals, another area it has identified as having high potential for growth.

In the short-term, Kits is prioritizing the Canadian market. But opportunity beckons in the U.S., where it already takes in approximately 80% of its revenue and where it has yet to run any of its above-the-line marketing. “We’re just growing at such a rapid pace that we don’t want to be too distracted by [the U.S.],” says CMO Stefan Harvalias.

Until recently, Kits’ marketing consisted primarily of social and digital ads. But on the heels of launching its first awareness push in February – with a TV campaign by agency OstrichCo that made buying eye care products online look zen – Kits hired Harvalias, a marketer with experience from brands like Plenty of Fish, McCormick and Visa, as CMO and moved eyecare industry vet Rob Long into the CTO role.

Since his arrival, Harvalis has worked with the team to refine Kits’ positioning and voice in an industry he says has traditionally lacked differentiation, where pastel colours and stock photography abound.

Moving forward, Kits will take cues from lifestyle and fashion brands in which broad awareness efforts are supported with collection-specific campaigns, Harvalias says. And its website is being redesigned to align with lifestyle or consumer shopping occasions – as opposed to product category. Kits has even designed its first kids collection, promoting them as “cool, stylish, and properly fitted frames for the little monsters in our lives.”

After launching a second effort with OstrichCo on The Bachelorette in June – with new creative that featured four gossipy women discussing their amazement with the Kits’ shopping experience – the company briefly hit pause when Harvalias took over the marketing department. The CMO says new work is in development that will take a more targeted approach to reaching the brand’s core 18-to-30-year-old female target.

Another major focus will be to build an internal creative agency team capable of managing day-to-day marketing. Harvalias has already brought on CD Mari Chijiiwa, whose background includes roles at Vega, Lululemon and Indochino, as part of a larger hiring spree of more than 90 employees across marketing, tech and operations over the last two years.