From a simple website to hybrid optics giant

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From a simple website to a full hybrid business model involving opticians and professional eye clinics, the story of the Belgian LensOnline is impressive. Founder Bert Boon: “We want to be able to help every client that visits us, either online or in a physical store”

“Basically,” Bert explains, “LensOnline began as a sort of side project besides my parents’ optics business”. When the first e-commerce websites started to emerge in 2003, this piqued Bert’s interest immediately. “I was working with my parents in the business, but I was enterprising and curious as to how the new online world worked”. The domain named was registered and in 2004 a website launched. And then? “Yeah, that’s what we thought. What now?” Bert laughs. “Google was still in its infancy and there was absolutely no trace of online advertising.”

Moreover, people in those days were not used to ordering online and were definitely not going to pay via the web. “The first three years were very difficult, and we were delighted if just one order a day came in. Sometimes people ordered online and then drove 20 kilometers to my home to collect their order. Have an order delivered? Too stressful!”

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Two worlds come together 

Flash forward to 2023. Bert proudly walks around the LensOnline factory in Kruibeke, where a gigantic robot manufactures lenses and personnel carefully prepare orders for shipment. “Eventually LensOnline got a boost at an evening from a news item about whether or not it was responsible to buy lenses online. Opticians and ophthalmologists were fiercely opposed.” And yet the number of orders began to grow after this bit of attention. But the ophthalmologists’ criticisms proved to be not entirely without cause. “In late 2008 we started to get more and more questions from people. Their lenses didn’t sit right, and they had dry eyes. Their optician didn’t want to help, because, yeah…they had bought their lenses at LensOnline. The enemy”, Bert laughs. “I started to think about the possibilities: couldn’t we bring those two worlds together? We have customers, a great product, and the know-how, but we needed physical service points.” Bert visits dozens of opticians, but in 95% of cases the door remains firmly closed. Yet he managed to convince a few to cooperate. And that marked the beginning of a successful model. “Customers could get their eyes tested at the optician’s and then order the lenses directly from LensOnline.”

Hybrid model

“Not one single optician wanted to retroactively leave this construction. This business model created an enormous amount of traffic for their store. Some even saw their sales grow tenfold.” In a few years, the number of affiliated opticians in Belgium grew to no less than 85 and LensOnline is launched in other countries. In collaboration with investors, the company just kept growing, but Bert had greater ambitions. “I really wanted to change up to a higher gear. So in 2022, we joined forces with Quadrum. We clicked from the word go.” Initially, the idea is to conquer Europe, but after a number of brainstorming sessions, the strategy changed – to become a more broad-based player in the optics market. “Thanks to this partnership, LensOnline now not only covers opticians, but also includes the Bril Invest division that focuses on spectacles, and Iris Eye Clinics, a clinic people can visit for various eye treatments, such as lasering or ICL lenses. “We want to be able to help every client that visits us, either online or in a physical store. Our network now means we offer pretty much any eye product. We fully train our opticians to guide customers and, for example refer them to a clinic. They are essentially our gatekeepers, the customers’ confidant, guiding them towards the optics solution they need.”

Optics are the central theme for us. We want to be able to serve everyone, both online and in our stores.
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Bert Boon


A look at the future

“Without Quadrum we would never have been able to take such steps”, says Bert. “It’s great that they focus so specifically on vision and are not afraid to invest in new steps and good ideas.” What does the future look like? “It’s not my goal to become the biggest, but definitely to be the best and provide the best service”, says Bert. “Optics are the central theme for us. We want to be able to serve everyone and build a great, hybrid 360-degree network in the Benelux and possibly also in other countries”. He laughs: “LensOnline is is now no longer just an online service provider, but is also a genuine hybrid business. Yes, perhaps with hindsight the name is somewhat of an unfortunate choice, lol.”