Categorized | Our Town

Insight

Posted on 01 February 2013

I went into the city last week to find Warby Parker. I’d learned about the company on “60 Minutes” and it sounded too good to be true. Neil Blumenthal and Warby Parker started an eyeglass store when they went to buy glasses and left feeling ripped off. They began to think about how they could find a way to drastically reduce the cost of glasses and still create beautiful frames. They did. Here’s how it works:

You go to their web site and ask to see 3-5 frames (sent to you free in the mail) before purchasing. Decide on one, send Warby Parker your lens prescription and choice of frame. They make you a pair of prescription eyeglasses for $95 (!) and send them back to you within ten days sans shipping charges.

And if you don’t believe what this outfit can do and want to see it for yourself — as I did  — you go to their New York office on Lafayette Street and work through the process in person.

I headed downtown to Lafayette Street, went up five flights in a beautiful old antique elevator and stepped out into their showroom.

It was like a mini APPLE store. Everyone was young. Everything was white and minimalist. One whole wall displayed all the frames and selections. Black, white, tortoise, pastel; round, square, half-frame. Just like your regular eye doctor’s office. But much cooler.

A young guy (wearing glasses) and smiling came right up to me, took me over to the frames, asked me to choose the ones I liked, and waited patiently while I tried on five or six pair. I picked one out, pulled out my prescription and asked if my prescription applied to their operation. I don’t have young eyes; they’re not 20-70, but still the lenses I needed are not One-Size-Fits-All. He went to his computer screen, typed in my prescription and assured me they could make them. He scanned my credit card, told me I’d have my new reading glasses in a week.

“If they don’t fit or you don’t like them,” he said “send (or bring them) right back and we’ll have them adjusted so they work. Or exchange them. And also,” he said, “because you’re a first time customer, they’ll only cost you $90, not $95.”

(Where does that $5 savings to me and all first-time customers go I wondered.)

This whole process took 5 ½ minutes. Really.

These guys started their business because they figured out that the prescription eye glass business is a costly monopoly and everyone’s caught in its trap. They knew they could find a way to make eyeglasses affordable. Until I discovered Warby & Parker I thought I had no choice but to pay whatever exorbitant price lenses and frames cost. But W&B make lenses and frames at affordable prices with speed and efficiency. And style. Their frames are very stylish. Very cool.

BUT THE BEST PART: for every pair of glasses purchased, Warby Parker donate a pair of glasses to people who need them but can’t afford them: school children in some remote part of the world or the elderly or people cut off from doctors or people without the means to buy them. People here or in Bangladesh.

To date, Warby Parker has donated 75,000 pair of glasses to people around the world.

“Glasses,” Neil Blumenthal said, “are an incredible tool in fostering economic development and creating jobs … whether you’re in New York or in a poor village in Bangladesh…”

So here’s my thought: why not apply Warby & Parker’s smart and generous idea to other businesses? Why not to real estate, for example?

Let’s just say that every time a real estate broker makes a deal ?— rental or sale — and receives a commission, $5 comes out of his or her side of the commission and $5 comes out of the agency’s side. Every deal then constitutes $10. Multiply that by 20 agents in one office. If all 20 agents in one office made just one deal, that’s $200. Let’s assume that every agent makes at least 20 deals a year (including rentals) so that’s 200 x 20 and we’re up to $4,000. NOW consider that if one office can collect $4,000 a year, then every office in town (we have 15 agencies in East Hampton alone) could do the same — suddenly $4,000 becomes $60,000 in a year’s time. That small $5 donation could add up to a great deal of needed money in our community — for money toward low-income housing or computers for our schools or food for a food bank or fellowships for gifted high school graduates or camp for underprivileged children or….the list goes on and on.

Check out Warby Parker.

“We make glasses,” Blumenthal said “that are the same quality as a $500 pair for $95, but even at that price, there are about a billion people who don’t have access or simply can’t afford them. That’s about 15 percent of the world’s population. At the end of the day, what matters is having glasses on someone’s face so they can see to work or see to learn.”

A donation as small as $5 can go a long and wonderful way.

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