How a great story helped Warby Parker break-up a monopoly

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There are some products out there that are just naturally harder to make sexy. Prescription eyewear is arguably one of them. When it was first founded in 2010, Warby Parker signalled a change in how we can try, buy and engage with eyewear, creating an instrumental shift in an industry that was tired, overpriced, rigid and dominated by one goliath of a company.

Its founders are Neil Blumenthal, Dave Gilboa, Andy Hunt and Jeff Raider - four friends who were studying in business school together when the idea emerged. The catalyst was one of the guys losing their glasses while travelling, and struggling through the next semester of uni without any simply because replacing them was so expensive. It got them researching, and very quickly they realised that one single company had a monopoly over almost the entire market. That company Luxottica (LUX) was worth a cool $28 billion dollars, and owned almost every glasses brand stocked at main retailers like Lenscrafter and Sunglass Hut. They even own the main eyewear insurance provider Eyemed.

Warby Parker Co-Founders Dave Gilboa (left) and Neil Blumenthal.

Warby Parker Co-Founders Dave Gilboa (left) and Neil Blumenthal.

Everyone loves a David and Goliath success story, especially in business, and this challenge set the WP founders up to create a stunning brand story based on a ‘for the people’ mentality. In their words, they wanted to build a brand so solid that it would make the company ‘defensible’, as often a good product alone cannot achieve consistent growth.

The problem was simple: Glasses are way too expensive, and the market is monopolised by one massive company, giving them huge power over the markup rate and pricing of prescription eyewear.

Not only that, but almost one billion people worldwide lack any access to glasses, which means that 15% of the world’s population cannot effectively learn or work.

Warby Parker’s solution? Buy-online prescription eyewear, at a set price of $95, with a home try-on function so customers can see what works for them before they buy, and a buy a pair, donate a pair model that saw them partnering with NGO’s like Visionspring to distribute eyewear to those who need it most.

To achieve this in a way that could sustain the integrity they wanted to embody, they made a conscious decision to retain ownership over every step of the design/production/retail process, which also makes them literal pioneers in the vertically integrated ecommerce category.

Something about that formula was magic, because Warby Parkers’ launch was so overwhelmingly successful that they hit their first-year sales targets in three weeks, had a waitlist 20,000 customers long, and had to suspend their ‘try at home’ feature temporarily due to the huge demand. Currently, WP has distributed over 5 million pairs of glasses through the buy one give one programme, making a massive impact in the lives of people the world over.

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This success has been possible because of the strength of their brand story. First of all, Warby Parker launched as the anti-LUX - a rebellion against the ‘big man’ who had been in control for way too long. They bought that monopoly to public attention, and then provided an effective solution. Second, they simplified the process of buying perscription eyewear and told that story really well across their platform. Third, they give a shit and they make that really clear by putting their money where their mouth (or eyes) are and creating change as a socially conscious company.

This brand cares about the world, it cares about its customers, and it cares about what is right. All of that, and distilled into bite sized marketing chunks. Buy One/ Give One, Try at Home, Stylish and Affordable Eyewear.

As a result, we the consumers are clearly picking up what they’re putting down in huge numbers.

Good things await you Warby Parker.

James HurmanComment