A New Vision

Eyewear brands are stepping out of online shops to thrive in brick-and-mortar outposts
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Posted June 27, 2016

At a time when localization, convenience and customization are of utmost importance to consumers, retailers of all sectors have adopted strategies to connect with shoppers in a tangible way. While an online presence is a conceivable way for many startup companies to break into the industry, eyewear – a segment historically rooted in face-to-face interactions – is experiencing a renaissance in the physical realm.

TRENDSETTER

Bangkok-based V Eyewear, with eight stores in Thailand, has embraced elements of both old and new, with in-house opticians to conduct eye exams and an affordable one-price model (prescription lenses included in the price of the frames), at around $100 a pair. While this one-price model is unusual in the region, says David J. Mayer, founder and president of Whitespace Co. Ltd. (Bangkok), the firm charged with designing all of V Eyewear’s stores, the retailer is setting a new trend with the format, resonating with its young professional, college-age demographic.


V Eyewear, CentralPlaza WestGate Mall, Nonthaburi, Thailand / Photography: Teerasak Chinnasot, Bangkok

With this consumer in mind, the design directive centered on an eclectic, industrial/urban aesthetic, which was carried throughout using textured concrete finishes and exposed steel framework, harmoniously contrasting with its refined marble counters, herringbone wood floors and leather strap-suspended shelving.

Designing around frames poses obstacles similar to other types of small merchandise, explains Mayer. Two key challenges are “creating high visual impact merchandising to tell stories around new collections,” he says. “[And] attracting customers to step in and explore, even if they are not in the market for new frames.”

To resolve these issues, Whitespace created window and shelf-top p-o-s displays that can be easily reconfigured to promote new frames and accommodate seasonal campaigns, and designed a wide-open entrance to draw shoppers inside.

FORWARD-THINKING

Germany’s Draeger + Heerhorst, an optical brand that’s existed in the region since 1869, operates in the traditional format of an optometrist’s storefront without an online store. It has leveraged its locality and design to widen its appeal and cater to its patients in a modern way.

With a sales floor greater than 1000 square feet, it was vital to install materials that would dampen sound during the purchase process. Vertical oak planks, deep-pile carpeting and PVC flooring used throughout reduce the noise level.


Draeger + Heerhorst, Duderstadt, Germany / Photography: Nicolas Grüning, Duderstadt, Germany

Utilizing natural wood and contemporary lines, the ambience is far from traditional. With residential-style materials, furniture and decor, the small-town shop is a place where its longtime customers feel comfortable. “The design for eye care businesses is increasingly [using] clean lines and an interior that creates that feel-good atmosphere,” says David Gerlach, store manager of the Duderstadt, Germany, location. “The customer should feel good; at home.”

CALIFORNIA DREAMIN’

Noticing a gap in the marketplace, in 2009, Garrett Leight opened his first eyewear store, A. Kinney Court, in Venice, Calif., where he aimed to provide high-quality, affordable glasses. Influenced by his roots, Leight’s home state has been his muse both for frame styles and design.

Since the company’s founding, it offers its own designs under the name Garrett Leight California Optical (GLCO). And although the retailer began in brick-and-mortar, it also sells its frames online. With virtual try-on and style influences aplenty, it extends its in-store appeal to shoppers across the globe.

“I think consumers have come around to buying eyewear online,” says Leight. “Free home try-on is obviously a great way to help a customer decide which frame they want, but it’s a big commitment, both from the customer and the company.”


Garrett Leight California Optical (GLCO), SoHo, New York / Photography: Brett Beyer, New York

Recently debuting its first East Coast location in New York’s SoHo, the laid-back West Coast vibe of the store transports customers to Leight’s home turf. A garden, abundant with cacti and succulents, welcomes shoppers at the entrance and eases them into the showroom; a sleek white meandering seating area gives shoppers a place to relax; and natural wood fixtures display the eyewear in a complementary fashion.

RETAIL VISIONARIES

With a vision to improve the style and quality of offerings at an affordable price, Frameri (Cincinnati) CEO and Founder Konrad Billetz created a radical new concept within the eyewear industry: interchangeable lenses and frames that can be popped out and swapped on a dime. Driven by obstacles in his own life (Billetz was shot in the eye with a BB gun as a child), he rejected the notion that eyewear couldn’t be changed as easily as your outfit.


Frameri, Cincinnati / Photography: Courtesy of Frameri, Cincinnati

Nearly a year and a half after opening the brand’s online store, Frameri debuted its first physical location last fall – a pop-up shop in Cincinnati’s Over-the-Rhine neighborhood – which has since become the brand’s permanent storefront.

“We wanted to have that one-on-one interaction with our customers,” explains Billetz. “We have a product that does very well when we can explain it to them, and they can get their hands on it and snap their lenses in and out.”

True to form, the startup company handled their store design in-house, bringing its online world to life. Having a tangible store presence, Billetz says, has completely changed how the brand does business.

“Being able to hold the product and see the quality of it makes it so much easier to sell in the physical space as opposed to online,” he says. “Brick-and-mortar will always be the most desired option.”