Warby Parker: Can Your Optical Dispensary Compete?

The optical shop playing field has changed dramatically in the past five years, all because a biz school graduate lost a pair of $700 glasses while hiking in Tibet.

“The technology behind a pair of glasses is 800 years old,” co-founder Dave Gilboa has mentioned to various media outlets over the years. “It’s kind of crazy you can buy a new iPhone for less than it costs to buy a pair of glasses,” he told USA Today late last year.

Barely five years old, Warby Parker has changed the way people buy eyeglasses. A typical pair is $95, though you can get the Colonel monocle for $50. Most business is online, thanks to a then-innovative Home Try-On program that several online retailers have replicated since.

Warby Parker opened its first brick-and-mortar stores in April 2013 and added several experiential brick-and-mortar stores last year. There are about 10 nationwide with plans to get to 20 by year’s end as the company moves from ecommerce to omnichannel. “The stores sell an average of $3,000 a square foot annually, higher than most retailers not named Apple Inc.,” quips The Wall Street Journal.

Warby Parker is privately held, so it doesn’t disclose revenue. But there are some clues. By June 2014, the company’s Buy a Pair, Give a Pair program had donated 1 million pairs of glasses total. In July 2013, 500,000 pairs had been donated, an uptick that signals the company’s rapid growth. The company is worth about $1.2 billion right now, experts estimate.

Last year, Warby Parker forged into the 50% of the prescription eyewear market they’d been missing—offering progressive lenses in the $300-$350 price range that undercut competitor prices and took one more edge away from optical dispensaries.

And plans don’t stop there. There is talk of kids’ frames and online eye exams that could make optical shops “irrelevant,” says co-founder Neil Blumenthal.

Whether Blumenthal is correct remains to be seen. Optical dispensaries have long faced competition from independent optical shops and big box stores, and there’s no question that your optical dispensary has an edge no one else has—some of your patients like the convenience of filling the prescription right at the practice.

With the competition heating up and taking clever marketing up to 11, it’s more crucial than ever to make sure your optical dispensary is well-managed and has clear profitability benchmarks that you monitor closely. We’ll be talking about strategies for running a profitable optical dispensary in future posts.

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