Independent Opticals: Want To Win Like Warby?

If you’re an optical retailer, it’s hard not to feel threatened sometimes by Warby Parker’s eye-popping success.

But there are many reasons for independent opticals to love Warby Parker, says David Friedfeld, owner of Clearvision Optical, a Hauppauge, NY family business that supplies independent opticals all over the world.

The first reason is that Warby Parker has created a rising tide that lifts all boats. They’ve reminded their mostly millennial customers that eyeglasses are hip and fun—and that they’re even more fun if you have several pairs to switch out with different looks. It’s highly likely those millennials are telling their parents and grandparents that glasses aren’t simply medical devices anymore—they are fashion too, Friedfeld told attendees at Vision Expo West.

An even neater thing about Warby Parker: nothing they do is dramatically new. TOMS’ One for One® has been around for almost ten years, Internet eyewear sales for twenty years, and affordable frames much longer than both. It’s just that Warby Parker has taken proven strategies from other markets, laser-focused them to succeed in their market, and added clever new twists that make money. So let’s look at Warby Parker’s marketing strategies carefully and think about how to apply those relevant to you in your practice.

Strategy #1—Warby Parker Is Good, and the People Who Wear Their Glasses Feel Good

“Nice glasses,” Friedfeld told a server recently in a restaurant.

“Thanks,” the server said proudly. “They’re Warby Parker. My girlfriend told me I had to get them because Warby Parker does a lot of good.”

“How many people know who makes their glasses?” Friedfeld asked Vision Expo West attendees. (We all laughed.) Here’s the deal: Warby Parker customers do.

Customers perceive that Warby Parker is good because of its Buy a Pair, Give a Pair® program. It isn’t just about free glasses for folks who can’t afford them, a public relations rep explained to me when I contacted her for this story. (My prolonged email exchange with her taught me that the company manages the press shrewdly and carefully.) “Warby Parker partners with non-profits like VisionSpring to train men and women in local communities around the world to give basic eye exams and sell glasses in their communities at affordable prices … the teach a man to fish vs. giving him a fish method,” the PR rep explained.

[Full Disclosure: The PR rep may well have sold me as a potential customer someday. Warby Parker is good and I wanted to be a part of all that goodness. I promptly started my Home Try-On selections. I have Holcomb, Upton, and June in my virtual box and have two more to go. I was able to select these models with confidence because the opticians I met at Vision Expo West told me my face is heart-shaped, and actually not the square I thought it was for 40-plus years. But I digress.]

Lots of vision care practices do good things, Friedfeld pointed out. You do things like overseas mission work or collecting frames for the Lion’s Club.

The big difference between you and Warby Parker? You don’t talk about the good you do if you’re a Baby Boomer or Gen-X’er because your mama told you it’s rude. It’s not rude in 2015. It’s good. And it’s strategic. Publicize the good you do on your web page, your social media channels, and in conversations with your clients.

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