Warby Parker co-founders and co-CEOs Neil Blumenthal and Dave Gilboa spoke with Natalie Walters in the eyewear company's first store located in Soho, New York to explain how their brick-and-mortar locations are booming while the malls and other retailers are desperate for foot traffic.
"A lot of companies are closing stores, but primarily those are companies and retailers that haven't evolved and they haven't changed the experience," Gilboa said.
Warby Parker disrupted the eyewear industry in 2010 by selling glasses online for around $100 each, but it now has a strong offline presence with 52 physical store locations in the U.S. and plans for 25 more to open by the end of 2017. Meanwhile, Macy's (M - Get Report) is closing 68 stores this year. Customers are responding "very positively" to the new stores, Gilboa noted.
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The company has been able to defy the death of retail by creating a fun in-store experience for customers by displaying hundreds of glasses in the open, rather than behind glass so that customers can try them on and even take pictures with them at the stores' free photo booths, Gilboa explained. Customers in Warby Parker can also freely roam the store without having salespeople pressuring them to buy a certain pair of specs and upselling them, he said.
"We think customers will continue to want an opportunity to walk into physical stores and have that experience in real life, but that experience has to evolve from what is has been traditionally," he explained.
The locations of the stores, which are typically located in more upscale areas, like Soho, New York or Miami, Florida, are chosen based on where Warby Parker's e-commerce customers are, Blumenthal said. The team also looks at 130 variables before deciding where to plant their next eyewear hub, but it also comes down to experimentation.
For example, the company has put $1.5 million into the buildout of the Soho store and signed a 10-year lease on it, but that's because they experimented around the corner first, he said. In the company's early days before it had any stores, they were already doing several millions of dollars in sales by letting customers come into their apartment in Soho to try on and purchase glasses.
"That was two blocks from here so we knew we would be successful here," he said. "So we try to experiment, test and learn before making major commitments."