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The Value of Consumer Interaction

An Interview with Arnaud Bussieres, CEO of Clearly
Jana Pijak
September 20th, 2022

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Business, Gadgets, Health
In addition to encouraging collaborative innovation as Clearly's CEO, Arnaud Bussieres is also passionate about helping to eliminate poor vision globally -- something Clearly's parent company Essilor has been prioritizing since its inception.

1. Tell us about yourself?

My name is Arnaud Bussieres and I'm from France originally but I've been in Canada for five years now. My background is in business and I studied economics and general management. I started working for Clearly’s parent company Essilor 12 years ago as an intern while trying to figure out my professional path.

The company had a very interesting mission to eliminate poor vision in the world, which is another big pandemic. Globally, you have 2.5 billion people who cannot see properly because they cannot afford a pair of glasses or because they are not aware of it. I also found the management style and the culture very interesting and very entrepreneurial, with a lot of freedom for space for growth, especially for young people like myself at the time.

After I finished my internship, they called me back saying there's a role for me in the head office. Five years later, they were looking for someone to take over Clearly in Canada and they offered me the job. I was 29 years old at the time and for me, I landed here in 2017, and I've been here ever since. So I'm not an entrepreneur per say but I run the business as if it was mine and I wish it was the company I created. Even though I am the GM and CEO, I do consider it my own baby.

2. How do you and your team generate new ideas?

We have a very creative team, and as part of the recruitment process, we really look for people who come from different backgrounds and who come with original careers and origins. We don't hire too much based only on a resume and are really looking for personalities. What’s great with us is that we have a super diverse team from all angles, gender origins, etc. One of the things we really look for is creativity, and we hire for it by doing small brainteasers during interviews. So we share a problem with candidates and see how they respond and how they come up with creative ideas.

This helps us find creative people in one way and another. The problem we have right now is not about finding ideas, but about analyzing the ideas we have in order to see how to prioritize them. And when we want to really do some ideation together, the main problem we've had in the past is just finding the time to get out of the day-to-day to focus on ideation and creation.

What we do is give time to people and we will typically block a day or a couple of days where we shut down laptops. So no emails, no phones, nothing. And we'll take one topic and will do a lot of ideation in small groups. Sometimes we will use a facilitator, but usually like to do it just among ourselves.

For example, we did this session with the marketing team a couple of months ago. We were talking about some big campaigns to launch and a big project that we have for next year. We did a bit of benchmarking, so we watched and shared. Everybody was showing videos and campaigns that they saw from other brands that they found very inspiring.

After doing some binge watching together, we then broke out into small groups and everybody had to come up with some ideas that they had to present to the rest of the team as if they were a production company presenting a small movie. This was really effective because we wanted the campaign or the idea to run as a TV ad.

We also asked the small groups to draw on paper, explaining the pitch of the movie, what the movie would look like, so basically a very detailed description of what the movie would be or the video would be.

I think the primary point for us is to give some time to people and some space for ideation where there is no disturbance and disruption. We find that when people are free and when they're together, you get the maximum creative juice out of them. And it’s also very refreshing for them and for us to do that together.

3. Do you have any unique rituals for resetting your team to be creative?

Yeah, usually we do something completely different. A couple of weeks ago, we went paddle boarding at 7 a.m. in Vancouver. We are all together and we usually do something outdoors. In the past, we’ve gone ziplining, so usually a team activity in nature for some reason always brings us together.

We always feel very fresh after that. We also enjoy team dinners, but the point of dinners is that you end up being around the table again and you cannot all be together. With paddle boarding or rafting, you're really together as one group and everybody interacts with each other. That’s one of the rituals we have in place which we find has helped us adapt to great things.

4. How do you identify trends? Do you have any resources you use to spot trends and
consumer insights within your industry?


Personally, I'm not a huge fan of market studies, at least in our industry. There is so much bias out there and I always question the sources and I say that because I've been on the other side of making grants, and market studies when I was working in consulting. I think there's always a lot of bias and the quality and the conclusions can always be questioned.

What we do differently at Clearly is observe the competition and their competition. We are also very lucky to have some retail stores and we spend an incredible amount of time in the stores watching what's happening. So everybody, every employee, whether you're a software engineer or you're a marketing person, has to spend time in the stores.

If you're comfortable selling to consumers, you feel comfortable shadowing the salespeople because just by being there, you understand what's going on, you understand how people are, why they are coming to the store, what they are looking for, how they are browsing the products.

Are they missing something, are they finding something a bit unusual in the experience? The absolute best way to conduct research is just to have access to consumers and we’re fortunate to be doing it in our stores. We also do it on the website, but doing it in the store allows you to directly interact and ask consumers your questions.

The team was always saying that we need to organize a focus group. My answer is always that you have a focus group which is open from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. in every major city in Canada. So this is your focus group. Go there and run your questionnaires, run your observations.

The result of this is incredibly powerful. So yes, we do a lot, and we also share with our competitors. The optical industry has been more or less static for the last 200 years. It's still very traditional and yes, e-commerce has changed that, but there hasn't been a major disruption.

So we are just watching what might happen in the future around a digital way to conduct eye exams, for instance, since everybody is saying that this will be the next disruption in our industry. Also, I think that looking at competitors and listening very carefully to what consumers are saying, or watching how they behave, is probably the best way to understand what's going to come next.

5. What is the biggest challenge you face when innovating within your field?

I think our biggest challenge is not around ideation, but rather around our speed to execute and go to market. I think we have the right business model for this industry and something which will scale in the future and which will resonate very well with consumers.

I think where we struggle the most is when we have a very good idea or an innovation, it really takes us a lot of time to go to market. We've been around for 22 years, and though we have a startup mindset, we've become bigger. We rely on outsourcing for a bigger group, so it takes more time to make decisions to get the capital approved. I think our biggest challenge right now is our speed. We are still fast, but we could be way faster.

6. Has there ever been an instance where another industry has influenced your work?

Yeah, for sure. Because we listen to consumers, mechanically, we are being influenced by retail giants like Amazon, which is outside of our optical industry, but within e-commerce.

Amazon has set a new expectation with consumers in terms of speed of delivery. Now when you buy something from Amazon, it's delivered the same day or the next day. As a result, consumers have started thinking that everything they buy from anywhere should come as fast. So it has forced us to build a supply chain in order to be as fast as Amazon, if not faster. And this is a scenario where you have to have to be aware of consumer expectations. Very often, they are shaped by outside of our industry. And typically, I think Amazon is one of the examples that we are always watching.

7. Looking to the future, how will Clearly continue to be a leader in innovation?

I think where we will keep on innovating is by always being first or very close second in terms of responding to consumer needs in terms of product and trends. We sell vision products and people want frames and lenses which fit their styles and fit evolving fashion trends.

In terms of these consumer needs, we will always be innovators and often trendsetters. I think we are going to keep on scaling what we are doing today with continued focus on e-commerce, since 95% of our sales are online.

At the same time, we are expanding our stores in order for every Canadian to have a place where they can visit for an eye exam or to have some adjustments made to their eyewear. So the innovation for us is going to be through the expansion of our business model, which is very unique today and disruptive by essence.

I think just scaling and replicating this model in other cities is going to be what we're going to focus on in the next three to five years.
References: clearly