Warby Parker getting a visible Center City presence
Don't let the cute name fool you. Warby Parker, which sells trendy prescription eyeglasses and sunglasses, is growing up. The company that began life online is rapidly expanding its physical footprint.
Don't let the cute name fool you.
Warby Parker, which sells trendy prescription eyeglasses and sunglasses, is growing up. The company that began life online is rapidly expanding its physical footprint.
New stores opened this year in Kansas City, Mo.; Scottsdale, Ariz.; and San Diego, taking the retail store count to 19.
A Warby Parker store will open next year at 1523 Walnut St. in Center City, once the home of the celebrated Le Bec-Fin restaurant.
The expansion goes against the grain, coming as many major retailers, from Macy's to the Gap, are shuttering stores and expanding online.
Up to now, the Warby brand has had just a small showroom in Old City to come in and try on its signature glasses that start at $95. If customers find something they like there, they could order the eyewear online.
The Old City showroom is barely more than four shelves lined with Warby Parker glasses inside the Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction building at 116 N. Third St. It shares the space with a distillery and a small clothing and accessory shop.
"I like that they sell stylish glasses at affordable prices," said Carmen Machado, 29, of West Philadelphia, who stopped by the showroom last week to have her pair of Warby Parker glasses readjusted.
While she waited, Machado tried on a few pairs in front of a mirror.
The brand was founded as an e-commerce venture in 2010 by four University of Pennsylvania Wharton students: Neil Blumenthal, David Gilboa, Jeffrey Raider, and Andrew Hunt - before they graduated.
The company opened its first brick-and-mortar store in SoHo, New York, 2½ years ago. While it won't disclose sales figures, the rate of growth of new stores is indicative of healthy returns, according to analysts who have followed its trajectory.
Blumenthal and Gilboa are listed as co-CEOs. Both declined to be interviewed for this article. Their PR rep said that "they weren't ready to discuss their Philadelphia expansion yet" - reflecting their tight grip over the brand's image.
Warby Parker has a philanthropic bent, donating one pair of glasses to charity for each pair it sells online or in its stores. Working with a nonprofit, the company has distributed more than one million pairs of glasses to people in need.
Internet retail analysts say that when a successful online retailer opens a brick-and-mortar store, it's proof that shoppers still want certain intangibles that you just can't get online, such as touching or trying on the product.
Amazon.com is the most recent and high-profile example of this trend. The online powerhouse opened its first physical bookstore in Seattle on Nov. 3.
"Warby Parker represents a trend of pure e-commerce retailers opening physical stores to extend their brands, and offer customers a more personal and integrated experience," said Dave Parro, who leads the retail technology practice at PR firm Walker Sands Communications. "This is especially true for companies that sell products that people tend to return when they don't fit or look right - such as glasses, clothing, and shoes.
"A high return rate can be extremely expensive for e-commerce retailers," said Parro. "A physical store potentially decreases that rate by giving customers a place to truly experience a product before they buy.
"This is an evolution of the idea of the omni-channel customer experience," he said. "While we used to talk about physical retailers offering a seamless experience across digital channels, now we're talking about the reverse. It's actually much easier to launch an online brand, and then branch out into physical stores, than the other way around."
Warby Parker lets a customer try up to five pairs of glasses that are selected from its website. Just the frames, along with nonprescription lenses, are then mailed free of charge.
If the customer wants any of the sample pairs, they can be ordered online. Warby Parker will customize the frames with the customer's prescription. The cost is $95 for the frames and regular lenses. An antiglare feature comes standard with the lenses. It costs $30 more for stronger lenses.
"It's nice to have the whole collection here," first-time, in-store customer Catherine Anderson-Quinones said at the Old City store. "When you're ordering online, you're limited to five pairs. It was nice to have someone [in-store] pick them out, too."
A senior at DePauw University in Greencastle, Ind., Anderson-Quinones, 22, was visiting here recently to interview at Thomas Jefferson University for graduate school. (She got an offer the next day and will return to Philadelphia in fall 2016.)
While in the showroom, she tried several pairs of glasses, and liked one that cost $95. She said she plans to order it online this week as a Christmas present from her mother.
"I'm due for an upgrade," Anderson-Quinones joked about her five-year-old glasses.
Warby Parker looks at online orders, website traffic, and demographic data to determine where it will open its next stores.
The brand will move into 2,360 square feet of space on the first and second floors of the building on Walnut Street. "Their business model has been the toast of the retail world," said Larry Steinberg, a retail leasing agent at CBRE Inc., who has handled a lot of leasing for the building's landlord, Pearl Properties. "We expect their commitment to Center City will prove to be a great success."
Editors Note: This story was revised to correct the number of Warby Parker retail outlets. Its 19, not 15.