Warby Parker lets eyewear customers 'try before they buy'

Just the name "Warby Parker" alone lets you know that there is something unique and nontraditional in the midst. So where did the name derive? In May 2009 co-founder Dave Gilboa was wandering around the New York Public Library when he stumbled across an exhibition about Jack Kerouac. The exhibit included some of Kerouac's journals. In one journal Dave noticed two characters with interesting names: Warby Pepper and Zagg Parker. Hence the birth of the name. Employees get a copy of Kerouac's book "Dharma Burns" on their first day, as part of the store's standard "secret initiation rites."

The stores are stocked with books for sale from some of their favorite independent publishers. Warby Parker also sells its own book titled "50 Ways to Lose Your Glasses," published by Hachette Books. The company is so eclectic that it even sells a whiskey-colored colonel monocle that the company says is the perfect accessory for robber barons, tyrants, and super villains.

In October 2012 Warby Parker took a remodeled school bus on a coast-to-coast tour with a mobile showroom full of frames. The bus currently resides in Austin, Texas.

Atlanta has two store locations: one in Buckhead and one in Westside Provisions. Inside the Westside store customers will find original artwork by illustrator Josh Cochran, who adds a humorous touch to his distinctive art.

"We've loved getting to know our Atlanta customers since day one," said co-CEO Dave Gilboa.

Try before you buy program

OK, here is where it gets interesting. Warby Parker offers customers a home try-on — which comes at no charge. Shoppers are given the opportunity to choose five frames online or while in-store and have them shipped to their home for free. They then get five days to feel them out and find some favorites. Once done with the five-day trial, they just put the frames in the return box and the return shipping cost is covered.

Buy a pair -- Give a pair

Warby Parker said that it had two goals when it got started. First, the company wanted to offer an alternative to overpriced eyewear and secondly to build a business that solves problems instead of create them. In efforts to solve problems, the company works with nonprofits to train individuals across the globe to give basic eye exams and bring glasses to their communities. Company officials believe everyone has the right to see.

This is how the Buy a pair -- Give a pair program works. The customer buys a pair of glasses. Then Warby Parker tallies up the number of glasses sold and makes a monthly donation to its nonprofit partners, which covers the cost of sourcing that number of glasses. The nonprofit trains men and women in developing countries to give basic eye exams and sell glasses to their communities at affordable prices.

Keeping prices low

Warby Parker said that most high-end brands do not produce their own eyewear. Instead, those rights are sold to companies who design, manufacture, and sell branded glasses directly to optical shops. Then these optical shops tack on additional markups to frames and lenses before selling them to customer.

"We cut out the middleman by designing and producing our own eyewear, then passing on the savings to customers," said Warby Parker in describing their mission and history. "We effectively sell glasses wholesale because it makes no sense for customers to pay for multiple markups."

Each pair of glasses is $95, except for the Nesbit eyeglasses, which are $145. The lenses are all impact-resistant and UV 400 protected.