“Buy-One, Give-One”: Just the Starting Point for Warby Parker


Warby Parker is a fashion company. They specialize in low-cost, designer quality eye glasses. Their name was inspired by two characters in a Jack Kerouac novel. Their glasses are available online and individually tailored to the customer. Their main aim is to be trendy. They also happen to be good. Warby Parker executes a largely unadvertised buy-one, give-one strategy. For every pair of glasses sold, a pair of glasses is donated to a person in need. Warby Parker comes across as a company that genuinely believes in doing good. My analysis of Warby Parker covers their charitable arms, how they manage to stay competitive, and their corporate strategy.
Through VisionSpring, Warby Parker has focused on glasses to underprivileged areas, the actual location varies based on demand. They are committed to this particular charity because they have the means and expertise but also because, 703 million people worldwide currently do not have access to eye care. Glasses have been shown to increase productivity by 35% and income by 20%. These statistics reaffirm the justice of Warby Parker’s approach.


They are not looking to create dependencies within these communities, but rather to give these communities more opportunities. They may, however, be faulted for fixing a solution rather than solving the problem. The fault in their strategy is that they’d make a more lasting impact if the revamped the health care system rather than donating a pair of glasses. Their donor’s ground operations are operated by locals and are employing people in the area as well as giving them sight. This may be enough to make up for the short-comings of their strategy.
Warby Parker does not manufacture the donated glasses. Instead, for every pair of glasses bought, they donate enough money for VisionSpring to be able to manufacture and distribute a pair of glasses.
Bucknell University has instituted a somewhat similar glasses-giving program, ProSec. This program also donates glasses to areas in need. But due to time and resource constraints their effect is limited. The program is primarily educational as it only distributes twenty pairs of glasses per year. The partnership or Warby Parker and VisionSpring has proven indredibly successful. They managed to combine the business strengths of multiplier effect and fundraising with nonprofit strengths of expertise and social effectiveness. In their five years as a company, Warby Parker’s Buy a Pair, Give a Pair Program has distributed over a million pairs of glasses to people in need.
Warby Parker is not unique in its one-for-one giving strategy, everyone knows TOMS Shoes. With the success that TOMS has earned, many companies are adapting the buy-one, give-one strategy. Success for these companies appears contingent on how the company markets its image and the sector that it occupies. Buy-one, give-one tends to be most effective with clothing items; items that can be displayed, easily illustrate the giving strategy, and make a statement. Warby Parker is one of the most companies using this strategy. This is partly due to the product it sells. Warby Parker has successfully utilized this strategy to reap the most monetary rewards: without advertising their giving strategy.
Warby Parker was founded on the principle of delivering designer-quality eyewear at an affordable cost. While they have philanthropic ends, they care about the customer as well. The majority of their lenses sell for $95 and prices never exceed $300. Warby Parker is able to have such low profit margins and a significant charitable arm by managing its operating costs. Um Noel reports this is done, “By cutting out the middleman — creating its own designs, manufacturing the glasses themselves and selling directly to its customers, — this startup company is able to sell glasses for a fifth of the price of frames of comparable quality.”
Warby Parker also limits high-cost investments in order to keep costs low. “The company mainly sells directly to consumers online and until recently has avoided the added costs of storefronts, brand licensing, and optical labs. (Marquis, 4)” Warby Parker is largely internet based. Tools like the online try-on and the free at-home trial kit, allow customers to have faith in the glasses they will be buying without needing to step foot in an actual store.
These policies manage operational costs and allow Warby Parker to deliver quality glasses. This is important because, first and foremost, Warby Parker aims to be known as a fashion company.
The company’s mission statement emphasizes this point, “To create boutique-quality, classically crafted eyewear at a revolutionary price point.” Their charitable arm is left unmentioned in their mission, Warby Parker also leaves their buy-one give-one strategy out of its advertising. Warby Parker does not green-wash.
In general, the amount of green in advertising is overwhelming. It undermines companies that are genuinely trying to save the earth, while tapping into the wallets of concerned consumers. Green-washing is doubly evil and it’s refreshing to find a company like Warby Parker that is contributing to society and carbon neutral. That they don’t use it to their marketing credit and instead focus on advertising the price and quality of their product is almost confusing. Their carbon neutrality, is only listed in outside audits that explicitly ask for this information.
Warby Parker is carbon neutral. They have invested in renewable credits to offset their greenhouse emissions. However, they are not generating any of their own renewable energy. In their 2013 report from BCorporation, however, the average company received an environmental grade of 9, they received a 5. They lost points for poor Suppliers & Transportation, Energy, Water, Materials, and for not providing environmental products or services. In the BCorporation Report, most of the points were lost due to the type of product they created. This may be somewhat of a technicality as glasses are not as environmentally beneficial as solar panels or recycling (examples given for receiving a high score in this category).
Warby Parker corporate culture supports its model. The company attributes the model with its success. As stated by Christopher Marquis, “The buy-one give-one model also provides intangible benefits to the organization’s culture, primarily by helping companies recruit and retain high-quality employees who are aligned with the social mission. Neil Blumenthal, co-CEO of Warby Parker, often cites this as a primary benefit of the model.” Warby Parker has created an atmosphere that employees don’t want to leave.
According to their website, Warby Parker has four ground rules:
1. Treat customers the way we’d like to be treated.
2. Create an environment where employees can think big, have fun, and do good.
3. Get out there.
4. Green is good.
These rules represent what its like to work at Warby Parker. While dominating their industry, they have created a work environment that encourages openness. They have started a weekly lunch roulette, where lunch seats are randomly selected to encourage interaction. The mission statement is displayed where it can be viewed daily at headquarters, to remind employees what they are working towards. In terms on workplace environment, they follow a more deontological approach. Warby Parker balances fostering good internal relationships with achieving lofty business goals by setting high standards and following best practices. They encourage employees to take ownership for mistakes and use leaders in the clothing industry as models and strive to achieve their level of success.
Warby Parker does not manufacture the glasses that are ultimately donated. This may be beneficial. The separation of business and charity ensures that donations are being made. A separate organization holds Warby Parker to its one-for one promise. It creates a level of trust. VisionSpring was founded in 2001, nine years before Warby Parker was. This, again, increases trust. By the time that they had partnered with Warby Parker, VisionSpring was already an established charity. VisionSpring had recognized the problem and started addressing it nine years before Warby Parker started making glasses. This makes them a natural partnership. Warby Parker did not discover the problem, they merely found a way to remedy it. The separation of the two entities is crucial. TOMS shoes CEO was also the executive director of TOMS charitable arm. This caused more job overlap and mistrust. It was one of TOMS major criticisms.
Warby Parker is a leader in all of its fields. Environmentally: it is one of the few glasses to achieve carbon neutrality. Charitably: it is one of the most successful companies championing the buy-one, give one strategy. This success translates directly to more glasses being donated. Economically: it is able to offer quality glasses at prices never offered previously, causing Warby Parker to outcompete competitors. Socially: Warby Parkers Strategy is two-fold. They offer low-cost glasses which benefit consumers while giving the gift of sight globally. They rely on their glasses to sell themselves, advertising price and quality rather than charitable deeds. Warby Parker uses deontological principles to coerce their employees: fostering community while achieving lofty goals. As much as it can be, Warby Parker is an ethically sound company.

Works Cited

Marquis, Christopher. “Buy-One GIve-One.” (2014)Print.
Marshall, R. Scott, Jude Lieberman, and Michelle Pagès. “The International Social Entrepreneur.” The Routledge Companion to International Entrepreneurship (2014): 84. Print.
“Research and Markets Adds Report: Warby Parker – Disruptive Innovation in the High Priced Eyewear Industry.” Entertainment Close – Up (2013): n/a. Print.
Um, Noel. “WhoWHATWhereWhy: Warby Parker Glasses are Cheaper.”
Featured Image Courtesy of: warbyparker.com

 

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McClatchy – Tribune Business News: n/a. Mar 5, 2013 2013. Print.

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2 thoughts on ““Buy-One, Give-One”: Just the Starting Point for Warby Parker”

  1. PROSEC is trying to create a model of on-the-ground entrepreneurship. So, it is a different niche… the idea is to develop technology and an organizational model that could allow for locals to diagnose and create affordable eyewear.

    Like

  2. I hear you about the green-washing concerns. Still, if Warby Parker is doing such a good job, couldn’t they make it more visible without seeming to violate customer or stakeholder trust?

    Like

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