Warby Parker is a bit of a cultural (optical?) phenomenon.
I've been a fan of the brand since long before it had brick-and-mortar stores (the first of which opened in April of last year). I bought my second-ever pair of glasses from its first showroom and kind of thought I was one of the few people who knew about it until I started encountering people -- primarily men, and not just in New York -- who were damn near obsessed with not only the eyewear styles, but the brand overall: the business model, the affordable price point, the Buy a Pair Give a Pair mission, the aesthetic, everything. Today, Warby Parker's New York stores consistently have Magnolia Bakery-esque lines going out the door...for glasses.
The company announced Tuesday that, after about four years in business, it had donated 1 million pairs of glasses, indicating that it had also sold that many. (For every pair the company sells, it donates a dollar amount to furnish someone in need with glasses.) And given that it was just last July that the brand hit the 500,000 pair milestone, that means half of the brand's sales took place in the past year. As it turns out, the company's co-founders are as surprised as we've been by its rapid ascent.
"We thought we had a good idea and we thought this was an opportunity to disrupt an industry and create a brand," says co-CEO Dave Gilboa, whom we spoke with over the phone Tuesday following the announcement. "But we recognized that building a brand takes a long time and we've been blown away by how quickly we've been able to grow and have such a big impact."
While Warby Parker does not disclose revenue and sales details, Gilboa confirmed that the company has grown a lot in the past year, due in large part to its expanding brick-and-mortar footprint. The company now has five brick-and-mortar stores and several more sales showrooms across the country. "We've been blown away by the sales that we've seen from those stores," he says. Even he expresses disbelief at the lines still forming outside of the brand's Greene Street location, which has been open for more than a year.
However, the brand, which launched as an e-commerce-only company, still sees the majority of sales come from the website, where Gilboa says he's also "seen massive growth" in the past year.
This is all despite the fact that the brand doesn't even really advertise. "It's mostly through word of mouth," he said. " We see our customers as our best marketing channel." Gilboa boasts a Net Promoter Score, which measures customer satisfaction based on the question "How likely is it you would recommend us to a friend?" on a scale from one to 10, of 85, which is quite high, but not surprising. There is just something about Warby Parker that makes people want to talk about it.
But there's another factor that's contributed to the brand's sales, which is that, while the majority of sales come from new customers, a lot of people are buying multiple pairs, which is atypical for eyewear and is what Gilboa and his co-founders hoped would happen when they launched. One of the reasons they made it a priority to get the price down to around $100 was to get people to consider buying more than one pair, like shoes or jewelry -- you don't wear the same pair of earrings every day, so why would you wear the same glasses? "Instead of just buying glasses every time their prescription expires, people would want to buy multiple pairs and think of them as a fashion accessory, and we have seen that where a growing percentage of our customers are buying multiple pairs." Some are even picking up 20-30 pairs per year, he said.
Another tactic that could help people see glasses as a fashion accessory and also, perhaps, make them more appealing to us ladies: fashion collaborations. The brand has launched two in the past year: One with stylist and Violet Editor Leith Clark, and one with supermodel Karlie Kloss.
While Gilboa says we can expect more of these in the future, it's not something the company is spending a lot of time focusing on. "We're really focused on building our own brand and own designs."
And, of course, driving down the number of people without access to proper vision care. "There are still about 700 million people that don't have access, so there continues to be a massive social issue to address."
I know that as long as my vision continues to deteriorate and lasic continues to be out of my price range, I'll probably keep buying Warbys, and I'm sure I'm not alone.