Last month, my dog Charlie chewed and destroyed my only pair of eye glasses. I emailed the company from whom I had purchased the glasses – Warby Parker – and, 10 days later and only $85 poorer, had a brand new pair in hand with the following message: “I’m so sorry to hear that your dog ate your frames! I discounted your order by $10 because we definitely understand that it wasn’t your fault! If your pooch is looking for a pair of frames of his own, be sure to check out our sister company Warby Barker.”
This experience had me thinking: under the same circumstances in the pre-Warby era, I would have had to contact my eye doctor to get a copy of my prescription, physically visit a retail shop, try on dozens of frames and shell out hundreds of dollars. How did Warby Parker pull this off?
A closer look
Five years ago, David Gilboa and Neil Blumenthal founded Warby Parker to challenge Italian giant Luxottica, which controlled 80% of the eyewear industry. The start-up hit its annual sales target within three weeks of launching. Warby Parker has now raised $115.5 million, makes more than $100 million annual revenue, and counts 500 employees and 12 stores.
Visionary business model
Warby’s success hinges on delivering on three value propositions:
- It’s affordable. All Warby Parker glasses cost $95 (including the frame and lens), coming in at a fraction of traditional designer eyewear (a Prada pair can cost $700).
- It’s easy. Warby Parker promises its customers unprecedented convenience through its one-stop-shop approach. Warby offers in-store eye exams for a very reasonable $75. Customers can try on as many frames as they like, unlike at traditional eyewear stores where a salesperson usually handles each pair a customer wants to look at. The glasses are then delivered to customer homes in two weeks.
- It’s cool. Beyond the economic and functional value, Warby creates a tremendous amount of experiential and ego-expressive value for its market – the hip millennial. Its glasses collection is fashion-forward and customers wear their “Warbies” proudly (so much so, in fact, that Warby Parker sells non-prescription glasses with clear lens). Their stores – immaculately decorated – have transformed glasses shopping from a chore to a cool experience.
Operating model that sees eye-to-eye with strategy
Warby Parker’s operational decisions very deliberately aligned with its business strategy, which was critical to turn its vision into reality.
- Vertical integration. By designing glasses in-house, owning all retail channels (stores and website), and offering on-site eye exams, Warby Parker has disintermediated traditional players in the eyewear value chain (designers, retailers, medical providers). By vertically integrating, it is better able to control cost – critical to its $95 strategy. There are trade-offs to this decision, however: for example, the quality of Warby glasses is not always on par with real designer glasses.
- Storefronts, not retail shops. Warby Parker opens its stores in selective, high-end locations, a crucial component of the “cool” part of their business model. That means they pay more for rent, but because their stores are primarily showrooms for customers to try on and order glasses, they save on inventory storage and management costs.
- Technology-savvy. To keep costs down, maximize convenience and stay true to its young audience, Warby Parker has integrated technology into its operations. In store, customers pay on iPads anywhere in the space, for example. Online, the Warby website is extremely customer-friendly and enables users to save all their information – including prescription details – so they can easily order new glasses remotely.
- Brand, brand, brand. Perhaps the most important competitive edge Warby Parker has is its brand. From the beginning, the founders aggressively invested in curating what Warby Parker would stand for: its easy-breezy hip style is in fact deliberate and calculated. In 2010, they met with 40 PR firms and consultants before selecting the team that got the launch featured in Vogueand GQ. To this day, they continue to prioritize their communications strategy: co-founder Blumenthal reviews any language the company puts out publically, while employees are trained to through things like a “Style Guide” that says: “write like Warby Parker is the person you’d want to be next to you at a dinner party” (for a real-life example, refer back to the dog-ate-my-glasses email).
A game-changing vision, fueled by a consistent and deliberate operating model, has positioned Warby Parker to upend the eyewear industry. But its leaders won’t stop there – Gilboa and Blumenthal have taken lessons from Warby to other industries ripe for disruption, such as Harry’s shaving products for men. All I can say is these founders sure have 20/20 vision.
(1) It was 100% my fault for leaving my glasses lying around, not Charlie’s. (2) As far as I can tell, Warby Barker actually sells glasses for dogs – but that would be a whole other blog post.
Warby Parker, https://www.warbyparker.com/