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Building A Niche E-Commerce Powerhouse: Coastal Contacts CEO Roger Hardy (Part 2)

Posted on Saturday, Nov 13th 2010

Sramana: How big did your t-shirt venture become?

Roger Hardy: The biggest weekend I had was about $30,000. I had secured the rights to a music festival, and we did well there. I actually took on some shareholders and paid them a return on their money for funding that business. It was fairly successful, but the music festival was the last real event I did before graduating.

After I graduated I came out West to do some skiing. I spent the winter in Whistler and the summer in Mexico looking to surf. After my travel year, I decided not to go back East and chose to settle in Vancouver. I really enjoy the outdoor lifestyle and quality of life that exists here.

Sramana: What did you study?

Roger Hardy: I studied political science. It seems like entrepreneurs are coming from all types of fields, not necessarily business.

Sramana: Once you decided to settle in Vancouver, what did you do next?

Roger Hardy: I had a few sales-oriented businesses, so I started a sales career for a company in transportation and logistics. I started out with 100 sales reps and did the territory, door-to-door work for two years. I was then promoted to a national account manager and managed national transportation accounts for the next two years.

During that time I had a couple of drawers filled with business plans but never seemed to find the right opportunity. I was then approached by Wesley Jessen, a contact manufacturer, and they offered a franchise manager position. It was quite similar to a territory manager, but the franchise piece of that appealed to me. I went to work with them.

Sramana: Does that mean you bought a franchise from this manufacturer?

Roger Hardy: No, if you were selected you received the franchise sales for that area. It was a lot like a sales position, but they were an entrepreneurial company. They realized the franchise model would appeal to the types of people they wanted. I went to work there and learned about the contact lens business. I observed that the cost of manufacturing and what we sold lenses to optometrists for was very different from the retail price. We sold contacts to doctors for about $12, and they would sell them for $50 to $70. The margins were unlike any I had seen in any other business.

It was the late 1990s, which was the time when everybody took what they knew and put it online. I was no different. I wanted to take what I had learned and sell contacts to customers directly to save them some money. That was the starting point and how the business came together. It seemed like there was an opportunity to serve consumers better than they had been served, and at the very least it was an opportunity to run a high-margin business.

This segment is part 2 in the series : Building A Niche E-Commerce Powerhouse: Coastal Contacts CEO Roger Hardy
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