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Overhauling an Industry

warbyparker770Fast. Cheap. Good.

We’ve mentioned this cliched business tenet before. You know how it goes; pick two because you certainly can’t have all three.

But stop. Why can’t I have all three? Why can’t there be a business that breaks down that barrier that limits and prevents differentiation within an industry? I may have found one that does. Warby Parker.

Warby Parker, in case you’re unfamiliar, is an online eyeglass retailer that has built its business by knocking down and obliterating the old industry norms. This is a bold way to be unique. Look close enough and you’ll find that every industry has a black sheep or two in its closet. The eyeglass frame market was ready for someone to expose those skeletons and the founders of Warby Parker did just that. Oh yeah, and along the way, they figured out how to do it fast, quite inexpensively and very good.

I’ve worn glasses or contact lenses since I was in second grade. I’m pretty lost without them, so you can imagine my eyeglass lenses are pretty thick. Some people call them Coke bottle glasses, but it’s more of a bulletproof-like thickness. For most of my waking hours I wear my contacts. My glasses pretty much get me from the bathroom to my bed at night and back in the morning. You can understand why I might have a hard time spending over $300 for something I hardly wear. Three hundred dollars. Go to any traditional optical center and the prices will all fall in that range. And this whole story starts because I simply wanted to re-order some new monthly contact lenses. Apparently not getting an eye exam in five years is a no-no and required before I can place a re-order. After scolding me for not having an exam since George W. Bush was in office, the Lenscrafters staff proceeded to walk me through their time-consuming sales process. Is it me or is it obvious when a business slows things down and methodically tries to pull the money out of your wallet. Sorry Lenscrafters, but the experience was ridiculous and now in hindsight very much desperate. In fact, when I told them I needed a certain measurement so I could order my glasses from an online retailer, they strongly warned me about buying from them. They clearly know what they’re up against — but by the looks of it, they’re not going to do anything about it. At least not until it’s too late. Are you an eye doctor or an eyeglass retailer — apparently it’s hard to be both.

I’m not exactly sure how I stumbled across Warby Parker, but I’m glad I did. Their story intrigued me so much that I spent more time understanding the business than browsing through their frame designs. To make you feel comfortable buying online, they let you order up to five frames that they’ll send you, free of charge, to try on for five days. At the end of the trial, I simply sent it back. Postage paid. Done.

It gets better. For every pair of eyeglasses you buy, Warby Parker donates a pair to someone in need. So I’m essentially buying two pairs of glasses. How much is this going to cost? Lenscrafters averages over $300 for one pair. Warby Parker’s pricing checks in at $95 (plus an extra $35 for ultra-thin lenses to counter my bullet-proof thick prescription). This significant discrepancy in pricing awakens that voice in your head: you get what you pay for. It should when you’re facing a $200 margin in price and if you require a luxury name brand stamped on your glasses, well, these may not be for you. With the benefit of the home try-ons I was able to see exactly what I was paying for.

The buying experience was impressive and easy. They only make it look difficult at the brick and mortar retailers. What could I expect when I actually received my prescription glasses? They arrived quickly and they came in the hard gift box and case you see above. Warby Parker spends its time on attention to detail in every phase of customer service, product and packaging. Is it necessary? Maybe not. But I can guarantee this blog post never would have been written if my glasses were wrapped in a Ziplock lunch bag and packed in a white USPS box with a photocopied packing slip stuffed inside.

Whether or not you need glasses, I encourage you to visit their site and learn a thing or two from their business model. Read about how and why the founders started the company and how they went about creating a business that turned this old industry on its ear. At the very least it will inspire you to take a closer look at how you and your competition play within your industry rules.

So let’s recap: Fast — I received the glasses within a week. Cheap — I prefer the word inexpensive. At $125 and no postage you can’t beat the value. Good — actually, great. The frames are comfortable and they fit great. I was always a believer in the “pick two” philosophy of fast, good and cheap. Not anymore. Understand your industry, question how things are manufactured and priced and then figure out how you’re going to deliver a “10” in all three categories. Warby Parker proves it can be done.

 

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