Warby Parker donates 500,000 glasses with help of Need Supply Co.

In May, the Carytown store become one of just a few stores with a showroom for the online eyewear company. And that showroom has helped Warby Parker donate glasses to half a million people in need.

Warby Parker showroom

Update #2 — July 22, 2013; 7:10 AM

Warby Parker, the online eyewear retailer, donates a pair of eyeglasses to impoverished people for every pair it sells. The company recently announced that it had distributed 500,000 pairs of eyeglasses to people in need, reaching the milestone earlier this summer.  

Likely some of those 500,000 pairs have come from eyewear sales at Need Supply Co., only one of 14 nationwide showrooms (see bottommost post). According to information from a Warby Parker showroom associate, relayed by Need Supply Co.’s press and community manager, Molly Szkotak, customers from all over the world have tried on frames at Need Supply Co.’s showroom, with several of them traveling to the store specifically to try on frames. Szkotak said that Warby Parker wouldn’t divulge specific sales numbers.

But Szkotak said the showroom “has brought in a fresh new crop of customers to our Carytown location.” She said that fans of Warby Parker frames have been exposed to Need Supply Co., and vice versa. “All in all, it’s been a super successful partnership and we’re so happy to have them here,” Szkotak said.

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Update #1 — May 2, 2013; 6:55 AM

Today, Need Supply Co. becomes the tenth nationwide location (and the first in Virginia) to showcase frames from the online eyeglass retailer Warby Parker (see below). Here’s an interview with Warby Parker co-founder Neil Blumenthal, who talks about how his company disrupted the eyewear industry, and why it chose Need Supply Co. to be its latest showroom location.

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How did Warby Parker come about?

The idea sprouted while Dave (Gilboa), Jeff (Raider), Andy (Hunt) and I were still MBA students at Wharton back in 2008. Dave and Jeff were griping about the egregious price of eyewear. We couldn’t accept that eyeglasses cost more than an iPhone.

After having some experience running the non-profit VisionSpring (where I designed glasses and helped low-income entrepreneurs sell affordable glasses), I knew that the cost of manufacturing was so disconnected from the cost of retail in the US. So the four of us decided to build a brand that would solve our grapples with expensive eyewear without sacrificing style. A year and half later, we had built a website and designed our first collection, launching in February 2010.

Talk a bit about the success of the business. Has it exceeded your expectations?

We never envisioned that the brand would grow this quickly. Our growth has really been driven by word-of-mouth. Because a lot of people were just as frustrated with uninspiring, expensive eyewear, they saw Warby Parker as a disruptor. Our designs and price points coupled with our mission seems to be resonating with customers. For that, we’re pretty lucky that our customers tell their friends about us. While we don’t think our social mission (distributing a pair for every pair sold, being carbon neutral, and treating employees like the rock stars they are) is the driving factor for getting someone to buy our frames, we do think that it leads people to want to talk about the work we’re doing.

Why start Warby Parker showrooms?

At first, we wanted to sell glasses strictly online as a way for us to sell directly to customers and bypass the middleman—that’s how we were able to sell $500 glasses for $95. But just after we launched, traffic to the site was so crazy for our suboptimal operating system that we had to temporarily suspend the Home Try-On program within 48 hours. People would then call us, asking to come to our office to try on glasses. Little did they know our office was my apartment in Philadelphia. We invited them anyway, thinking it would be a less-than-ideal shopping experience—but something magical happened and we were able to build this really intimate bond with our customers. This was our first foray into traditional bricks and mortar retail. Since then, we recognized that Warby Parker needed to live both digitally and physically so we started partnering with like-minded stores and entrepreneurs, setting up shops within shops in other cities.

Why did you choose Need Supply Co. to be your tenth showroom location?

Need Supply Co. is a good-looking, intelligently-curated store. Their point of view is impassioned and their commitment to community is strong. The partnership is ideal.

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Original — April 26, 2013

Warby Parker, a company that sells geek chic eyewear online, will bring a slice of their successful Web business to Need Supply Co. next week when it unveils a showroom inside the Carytown store.

“We’ve been longtime fans of the brand since the beginning, so of course we jumped on the opportunity,” said Molly Szkotak, Press and Community Manager at Need Supply Co. “Warby Parker totally changed the prescription eyeglass business model, and we appreciate their innovation and forward-thinkingness.”

Founded in 2010 by Neil Blumenthal and David Gilboa, Warby Parker reduces eyewear prices by circumventing the middlemen (i.e. optical retailers and licensing fees). They produce their own designer-quality eyeglasses that they then sell directly to customers for $95 – $145.1

Prospective buyers can select up to five frames on its website that the company then mails to them free of charge to try on. Once users decide which frames they want to purchase, they input their prescription online and place their order. Customers typically receive their glasses in about two weeks.2

“It’s…been interesting to see the rising popularity of eyewear over the past few years and how it’s evolved into more of a very specific style choice rather than just something you wear for pure function,” Szkotak said.

Beginning May 2nd, Need Supply Co. will showcase Warby Parker frames in its store. The eyewear company has launched other showrooms across the country, and handpicked the Carytown store as its tenth location–and among just a few in the Mid-Atlantic.

Need Supply Co. will have roughly 60 frames on display, including plastic and titanium models, as well as sunglasses. Although customers will have the ability to try on as many frames as they’d like in-store, they’ll still order prescription glasses on Warby Parker’s website, or with the help of a showroom associate. Customers interested in non-prescription frames or sunglasses can purchase them on the spot.

Need Supply Co. is located at 3100 W. Cary Street.

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Footnotes

  1. Here’s a good video on the company. 
  2. For each pair of eyeglasses purchased, Warby Parker helps fund, or donates a pair of eyeglasses to, nonprofits like VisionSpring that provide eyewear to impoverished people without access to care. 

Photo by: Silicon Prairie News

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Nathan Cushing

Nathan Cushing is a writer, journalist, and RVANews Editor.

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