Warby Parker, which made its name as the budget-chic eyeglass upstart that pioneered modern direct-to-consumer selling, is branching out.

On Tuesday, the company announced it will begin selling a new line of daily contact lenses, called Scout. It's the nearly decade-old company's first new brand.

The lenses come in flat-packs, designed to save space and use 80 percent less packaging than conventional bubble-type plastic contact packs. In keeping with Warby Parker's usual playbook, the lenses are comparably affordable, at $110 for a three-month supply, versus what the company says is the industry standard of $150.

Launching a new brand is a significant milestone for the company, which has grown to 112 retail stores and 2,300 employees. "Strategically, it's always been something we've wanted to do; it's just been a matter of the right timing," said co-founder and co-CEO Neil Blumenthal. Teams within Warby Parker have been designing the new brand for about 18 months, he said.

The Scout name and branding involved considerable debate and some unusual influences--just as had been the case prior to Warby Parker's launch in 2010. At that time, the company took inspiration from a wide range of sources, including Jack Kerouac novels and natural history (a Galapagos-native bird, the blue-footed boobie, appeared on an early brand vision board). When the team began developing Scout, "We could've gone the route of the traditional contact lens players and called it, say, the Super Aqua Moist Company," Blumenthal joked. "Scout, as a name and brand, is about not just scouting and vision, but pioneering."

One element of that effort was to eliminate some of the packaging waste associated with daily contact lenses. "The industry standard hasn't been updated in decades, and needed a change," Blumenthal said. Scout lenses lie almost flat in their packaging. When wearers peel open the container, they can lift the lens to their eyes with a single finger, without ever touching the side of the lens that rests on the eye.

Selling a nearly invisible product seems an odd move for a company so focused on the visual. But Blumenthal said even though the new brand may buck traditional retail thinking, it's deeply strategic for Warby Parker. "There's a bunch of people who would have expected us to go into accessories or apparel. Why not make a watch? There are certain parallels to glasses in that they depend on form and function. Maybe 20 years ago we would have done that," he said.

Instead, the company chose to listen. It realized roughly 40 percent of its customers wore not only eyeglasses, but also contact lenses. "They told us they would love a more affordable, more convenient, more hygienic and sustainable option," Blumenthal said.

"I think what we often see a lot of companies do is only ask 'How do I drive more revenue?' as opposed to saying, 'Hey, how can I solve a customer's problem?'" he said. "We are doing what makes most sense for our customers--and that's how we'll find growth."

Published on: Nov 19, 2019