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How to Nail a Big Brand Partnership

How does an eyewear start-up secure prime real estate in Urban Outfitters? For Tortoise & Blonde, it was all in the timing.
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Everyone wants to be Warby Parker, but few eyewear start-ups can lay claim to launching a store within a store-- except for Tortoise & Blonde. The two-year-old start-up officially launched a mini store within a New York City Urban Outfitters today. 

Founded by Evan Weisfeld, who just so happens to be the son of an optometrist, Tortoise & Blonde started in 2011 as a pop-up shop at the South by Southwest music festival. Since then, Weisfeld has sponsored indie bands like Ra Ra Riot and nutured his relationship with Urban Outfitters through a series of retail experiments. 

Starting Small

About two years ago, Weisfeld sponsored a Lollapalooza party where he met the marketing company for Urban Outfitters' Store on Tour -- a shopping mall on four wheels making stops in South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, and Florida. Soon Weisfeld's store was touring as well. 

“Through that experience, we figured out that Urban’s customer is definitely our customer, so we tested the waters some more," Weisfeld says. "We did several successful pop-up shops around the country -- in Austin for South by Southwest, in Chicago for Lollapalooza, and New York City and Philadelphia." 

The decision to actually move into Urban Outfitters was a logical one, but Weisfeld says he still did "more listening than talking" during meetings with the chain to suss out whether they shared the same vision.

"When you're working with a large brand, you want to know what they've accomplished and apply that to what you're doing," he says. He also wanted to know what made his start-up so attractive to them, which as it turns out were his customers. “We’ve got 50-year-old people coming in and dropping $400,” he says of the shoppers, who purchase in-store and online. 

Getting the Right Fit

Designing the concept was exciting for Weisfeld, who scrapped together funds from his family and friends. In the beginning, Urban Outfitters had to determine where to “house us,” says Weisfeld, as Tortoise & Blonde was given 200 dedicated square feet. Once that was settled, “we bantered around display ideas, like antique medicine cases or ornate metal housing." Ultimately, they went with roadie cases because of their strong ties to music. 

Today, Tortoise & Blonde's concept comes equipped with its own display area, sales team, and optician who is involved with dispensing and measuring prescriptions. Having such expertise, Weisfeld says, is what sets his company apart from Warby Parker, though he doesn't view them as competitors. “We see ourselves competing with the LensCrafters, the Cones, and every independent optician out there.”

Weisfeld has no plans to do another in-store concept, but isn't averse to exploring ideas with Urban Outfitters. "I'm pretty happy with where I am with Urban, and we're very new in this relationship," he says.  

Last updated: Jul 18, 2013

JILL KRASNY | Staff Writer

Jill Krasny is a staff writer for Inc. magazine, where she covers the intersection of entertainment and startups. Prior to Inc., she was a writer for MTV and Esquire and an editor at TheStreet. She is a graduate of the University of Southern California with a degree in communication. She lives in New York City.




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