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Roger Hardy in Vancouver, in an Aug. 31, 2007, file photo.

Lyle Stafford/The Globe and Mail

Vancouver entrepreneur and financier Roger Hardy of Coastal Contacts Inc. fame took a second run at the public markets this week with yet another eyewear company: Kits Eyecare Inc., an online glasses and contacts retailer that raised $55-million with its initial public offering on Tuesday.

The shares opened at $10 on the Toronto Stock Exchange, 17 per cent higher than the IPO price of $8.50 per share. By the close of the trading day, however, the stock, listed under the symbol KITS, was at $9.07, just 6.7 per cent above the offering price.

The Vancouver-based e-commerce company sold 6.47 million shares, according to its final prospectus, considerably more than it had anticipated in its preliminary prospectus. In its initial filing, Kits had expected to sell 4.7 million to 5.3 million shares at between $7.50 and $8.50 a share, for gross proceeds of approximately $40-million.

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At a market price of $9.07, Kits has a total value of $281-million.

With its IPO, Kits joins a slew of e-commerce companies that have rushed to take advantage of COVID-19-induced investor enthusiasm for the tech sector, including Toronto-based Emerge Commerce Ltd., tech entrepreneur Andrew Wilkinson’s WeCommerce Holdings Ltd. and online data-management service provider Pivotree Inc.

“No question we are in the midst of a great dispersion from traditional retail to digital retail and investors are looking for companies that can take advantage of those trends,” Mr. Hardy told The Globe and Mail. “Some investors chose to sell today, and I think they’ll regret that,” he added.

Kits was launched in 2018 in Vancouver by Mr. Hardy and two co-founders – former Goldman Sachs executive Sabrina Liak and Joseph Thompson, formerly of Amazon.com Inc. and Procter & Gamble Co. – as an online-only platform selling contact lenses and glasses. The company has 49 employees – 13 in its head office and 36 more at its distribution and fulfillment centre.

Mr. Hardy previously co-founded Coastal Contacts, another online retailer of eyewear that went public, but ended up being sold to eyewear manufacturer Essilor International SA for $430-million in 2014. He then had a brief but unsuccessful foray into the online shoe-selling business, leading Shoes.com Technologies Inc., which was ultimately forced to seek creditor protection in early 2017.

Two years later, in the spring of 2019, Mr. Hardy’s investment firm, Hardy Capital, completed a $70-million private purchase of LD Vision Group, another B.C.-based eyewear retailer that operated websites such as OptiContacts.com and ContactsExpress.ca. In May, 2019, LD Vision Group changed its name to Kits.com Technologies Inc., which is the parent company of Kits Eyecare.

BDC Capital funded the LD Vision acquisition, lending the company $23.4-million with a repayment date of March 15, 2026.

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The proceeds of the IPO will be used primarily to fund an expansion in the company’s Vancouver-based manufacturing plant, which makes all its eyeglasses and contact lenses, Mr. Hardy said.

“A big part of the raise is to help us become more vertically integrated. We also plan to use the money to boost marketing,” he added.

Mr. Hardy controls 27.4 per cent of the company, owning 8.49 million shares.

For the nine months ended Sept. 30, the company generated $54.9-million in revenue, a sharp increase from $24.2-million for the first nine months of 2019. But the company recorded a net loss of $367,000, compared with a slight gain of $132,000 in the same period a year earlier. Mr. Hardy attributed the growth in revenue partly to the pandemic, and partly to the integration of LV Vision’s core businesses with Kits Eyecare.

About 82 per cent of Kits’s revenue for the first three quarters of 2020 was generated from Canadian sales, and just 18 per cent in the U.S. “Our demographic is mostly female, aged 25 to 35, and we intend to expand that, especially south of the border,” Mr. Hardy said.

Part of the company’s sales strategy appears to be a reliance on repeat customers. Those customers, the prospectus says, drove 69 per cent of Kits’s 2019 revenues. A subscription program called Autoship, introduced in February, 2020, enables customers to have repeat orders automatically shipped to them at designated intervals.

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“As we exited the third quarter of 2020, over 10 per cent of our contact lens customers opted in to Autoship at checkout and our goal is to grow this to over 25 per cent,” the prospectus says.

Mr. Hardy said the company could embark on acquisitions in the long term, but building out Kits’s manufacturing capacity is the immediate focus.

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