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Warby Parker’s Charity Is Meant to Inspire Businesses, Not Customers

Cofounder and co-ceo Neil Blumenthal said a lot of Warby Parker shoppers don’t know about its charitable strategy.

By Kali Hays on October 26, 2017

Warby Parker is a brand with a do-gooder streak, but it’s customer doesn’t really care.

Cofounder and co-chief executive officer Neil Blumenthal told Gene Manheim, managing director of executive search firm Herbert Mines, during the WWD Apparel and CEO Summit that Warby Parker’s core mission of distributing a pair of eyeglasses to someone in need (about three million pairs so far) likely has nothing to do with its sales.

“I’m certain many of our customers have no idea that for every pair of glasses sold we distribute one,” Blumenthal said. “We don’t lead with that in our communications toward customers and that’s because, in understanding our customers, that’s not the number-one reason why they buy glasses. Our customer tends to look first at fashion and design, ‘How do these look on my face?’ then price, then quality and service, then lastly, if at all, to the social impact.”

But the impact is still a core value of the brand and part of why Blumenthal considers Warby Parker a “lifestyle brand” despite selling only a single type of product.

“At the end of the day, from a lifestyle perspective, we want to project how we want to live our lives and from that were motivated not to sell the highest number of glasses but to demonstrate that you can build a brand, build a company, and do good in the world and still be financially successful,” Blumenthal said.

And so far, that’s working. Blumenthal said last time Warby Parker collected outside funding was in May 2015 totaling $100 million, most of which he said is still in the company’s balance sheet.

The brand is also set to open dozens more stores in the coming months, growing from 60 locations to 100. But having billed itself from the beginning as more of a tech start-up than a fashion accessories brand, Warby Parker isn’t digging deeper into physical retail without its version of due diligence.

“We’re able to do analysis to figure out where are folks living and we have a robust data science team [that’s developed] a predictive tool that uses over a hundred different variables — so we can plug in an address and it will project sales,” Blumenthal said. “And we’ve been able to purchase cell-phone carrier data, so we can know how people move across neighborhoods, and even states, so that way we have a sense of where are great catch areas where we can position stores, so that way we don’t have cannibalization and we can think long term of our retail rollout.”

Warby Parker also has the benefit of having seen the trap that retailers can fall into when they open too many stores and end up trapped in a lease in a location that isn’t producing sales. Blumenthal said the company has maintained has a general process of experimentation, testing and building, but wants to maintain flexibility.

“Our perspective is, how do we apply that [tech] thinking to de-risk?” Blumenthal said. “Can we have shorter [lease] terms with more flexibility that gives us more options? Can we design in a modular way that will allow change more frequently because we’re going to want to change designs and layouts, what have you? Can we minimize cost, so we have more flexibility if we were to close a store, move a store or invest more into it? That’s how we think about [physical retail].”

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