Boutique eyewear retailers set sights on Canada

TORONTO — Boutique eyewear retailers from around the world have set their sights on Canada as a hotbed for growth, hoping to capitalize on the country’s aging population and what they say is its taste for haute couture.

Several companies including Japan’s Mujosh, U.S.-based Warby Parker and Bailey Nelson of Australia have plans to open dozens of new stores over the next few years.

“Canadian people focus more and more on fashion trends, which makes Canada a promising market for us,” said Mujosh spokeswoman Doris Jin.

Mujosh opened its first Canadian store at West Edmonton Mall last month. It already boasts more than 700 locations worldwide and plans to add shops in Vancouver, Toronto and Montreal, Jin said.

Last year, Canadians spent about $4.2 billion on spectacles, which includes frames, lenses, sunglasses and ready-made reading glasses, according to research firm Euromonitor International. That’s up from about $4.06 billion the previous year and roughly $3.84 billion in 2014. Euromonitor International says its expects steady growth to continue in the near future.

“It’s a very friendly market,” said Ela Veresiu, assistant professor of marketing at the Schulich School of Business at York University in Toronto.

Bailey Nelson entered Canada in 2014, though it had to close its seven stores last month after the company severed a licensee agreement, said Bree Stanlake, the company’s managing director of North America.

But it’s coming back with two corporate-owned locations in Vancouver this spring, with plans to open one more in Vancouver and two others in Toronto over the next year, Stanlake said.

“Across Canada, I can see easily between 40 and 50 stores in the next four years,” she said.

Last summer, Warby Parker chose Canada when it opened its first bricks-and-mortar store outside the U.S. It now has two Toronto locations.

Not to be outdone, some Canadian boutique chains also have ambitious growth goals. Montreal-based Bonlook currently has eight locations, but is planning to have more than 40 stores by early 2020, said company spokeswoman Andreanne Ferland.

Part of what makes Canada so attractive is because vision problems are growing. A rising older population and more screen time among younger generations has resulted in more people needing glasses, Euromonitor International said in a report last year.

One-quarter of Canada’s population is far-sighted, while 30 per cent have near-sightedness, Euromonitor International said. A larger number of people over 55 years of age also means a higher rate of presbyopia, an age-related vision problem.

Many of Canada’s provincial health plans also cover regular eye exams for children, teens and seniors, meaning more Canadians have the means to spend on eyewear.

Mujosh’s Jin said there’s another, more chi-chi factor at play.

“Canadian people focus more and more on fashion trends, which makes Canada a promising market for us,” she said.

That’s not to say the eyewear expansion plans are destined for success.

“They can’t just enter a market and expand quickly and think that just because there’s increased demand … they’re going to succeed,” Veresiu said, pointing to Target’s epic collapse in Canada, where it shuttered all of its 133 stores only two years after its launch here.

“The smart companies need to do their homework of course.”

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