Blaine manufacturer helps spread vision throughout the world

Published on Wed, Sep 25, 2013 by Brandy Kiger Shreve

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At a workbench in a corner of the Coastal Contacts, Inc. warehouse on Odell Road, Carrie Pritchard works her way through a stack of small blue crates, carefully examining pairs of lenses that have just come off of the computer-operated glass-cutting machine at the other end of the building.

As each order crosses her desk, she methodically grinds the swarf (the shavings left after the lenses are cut) off the glass and carefully polishes them to perfection before using heat to manipulate the assigned eyeglass frames to ensure a snug fit. 

“A little heat will make these frames incredibly pliable,” she said. She then double-checks the order and measures the fully 
assembled piece against a grid to make sure they are ready to wear before adding it to her tally and sending it to quality assurance for precision testing. “I love working with my hands and assembling is my favorite part of the job,” Pritchard said. “It’s just like a little workshop.”

On a fast day, Pritchard, who is a trainer/leader/coach at the eyeglass manufacturing plant, will assemble and approve around 160 different orders coming off the assembly line, and her review is just one of many steps the glasses will go through before they are approved for shipment from Coastal.com’s (as it’s commonly known) manufacturing facility in Blaine.

“We have less than a 1 percent rejection rate for our product,” said general manager Jessica Johnson, who says accuracy is a top priority for the company and is checked at every step along the way. “It’s people’s prescriptions. It’s important to get it right.”

Coastal.com, is based in Vancouver, B.C. and is one of the largest online retailers of eyeglasses and contact lenses in North America. It opened its facility in Blaine in November 2012 to keep up with demand in the U.S. market. The company had global sales totaling $196.1 million in 2012, making it a record year for the retailer. “The U.S. was our fastest growing market, and the proximity to the border was a big draw,” Johnson said of the company’s choice to open in Blaine. “And because we are able to do all our manufacturing in the states now, we can have a 24-hour turnaround on our eyewear.”

Johnson said that the 24-hour turnaround is a hallmark of the company’s business model and the company prides itself on customer service, even going so far as to offer the first pair of glasses that you buy from them for free. “We’re trying to show everyone that you can buy glasses online,” she said. “I know that if I’m not happy with something, I won’t buy it again, but we’re sure customers will like it and will come back for more, so the first pair is free, except for the shipping. We even have a 366-day return policy in place, in case it doesn’t work for you, because a year just isn’t enough.” 

If the offer for a free pair of glasses isn’t enough to convince you to click through to the shopping cart and order online, Johnson said the website has a feature that helps you see what you’ll look like in any given pair of glasses will sweeten the deal. “People are hesitant to buy eyewear online,” she said. “So we let you upload a photo of your face so you can “try on” the glasses before you buy them. It works really well.” 

Coastal.com sells both designer eyewear and Coastal.com brands in their online store and distributes a wide variety of 
leading contact lens brands. Johnson said the company provides a reliable and cost-effective way for people to buy their eyewear. “Anything you can get from the optometrist, you can get here for a fraction of the cost,” she said. “We’re essentially cutting out the middle man.”

But that doesn’t mean you can get away with skipping your eye doctor appointment. It’s still a requirement to order. “We still need a valid prescription from your eye doctor to fulfill the order,” she said. “And we will call and confirm it with your physician to make sure we have it right before we let anything leave the building.”

Johnson said the retailer can fulfill almost any order through their online storefront, including specialty prescriptions such as bifocals and transition lenses, and while designer lenses are available, she suggested that interested consumers take a second look at the Coastal.com brands. 

“We have our ‘Change the View’ campaign, where for every pair of Coastal.com glasses you buy, we donate a pair to someone in a third world country,” she said. “Our employees go to those countries and give eye exams and help fit people for glasses. It’s really cool.”

Coastal Contacts, Inc. has more than 700 employees worldwide.

For more information, visit coastal.com.