Long Beach, California
Industry: Consumer & Lifestyle
Product: Prescription eyewear
Owner Darren Rosenberg is disrupting the eyewear market with an innovative way to manufacture and sell prescription glasses and sunglasses directly to consumers.
The idea is not new, but Rosenberg's success so far comes from the company providing a high level of e-commerce customer service and product quality. "Participants in this space are focused on high volume, low price categories," says Rosenberg. "We're focused on lower volume with higher quality materials and personalized service."
The journey to start Lens & Frame Co. began in 2000 when Rosenberg was a practicing attorney. Not happy with that career, Rosenberg joined his brother and launched an eyewear brand that utilized innovative polarized lens technology, Kaenon Polarized. "That was a good education for me," says Rosenberg. "I learned management, accounting, finance, retail distribution and all aspects of business without going to business school."
The Rosenbergs sold Kaenon in 2015, but lots of people asked Darren why it was so hard to find good quality reading glasses and prescription eyewear without spending an arm and a leg at an optical shop. "This resonated with me and I felt we could bring something to market that would fill that niche," says Rosenberg. "With my experience, we felt we could offer great frames and prescription lenses at a great price. Since the optical industry is run by conglomerates, we are one of the few independents out there. We cut out various levels of the supply chain and offer high-end eyewear at a fair price. Our custom prescription eyewear with branded frames start at $245."
Rosenberg also partnered with a local laboratory to offer high-end lenses. "We offer three materials: CR-39 plastic lenses which are like glass but half the weight, Trivex is a thinner and lighter lens that provides impact resistance, and High Index lenses that are the thinnest, lightest, and recommended for stronger prescriptions. All of our prescription lenses are digitally surfaced and the coatings and lens treatments are applied in-house to ensure the highest quality. The result is top-tier lenses that start at $145, less than half of what you would pay at an optician for similar quality."
After the company had some success selling branded frames and ready-to-wear reading glasses, customers started asking for replacement lenses for the frames they already owned. "Listening to our customer feedback, we launched a replacement lens program as a way to breathe new life into a favorite frame, from fashion frames to sport sunglasses," says Rosenberg.
While the prescription lenses, surfacing, coatings and finishing work is done here in California, Rosenberg believes the company has unique positioning as "Assembled by hand in California." "Our titanium frames are made in Japan and our acetate frames are made in China," says Rosenberg. "Combined with an online direct-to-consumer business model, we have become very efficient with a lower headcount. This allows me to manage the business and focus on creating a superior consumer experience. I like a hands-on approach with each of our customers. We check off on every frame and lens that goes out, indicating that a real person cares about your order."
Attention to detail is also what Rosenberg believes is helping the company find success. "One of the things that are often overlooked in this industry is Rx lens finishing," says Rosenberg. "A lot can go wrong during the final stages of lens edging and mounting. It takes time and experience to finish the eyewear properly, and customers will notice those details if they are done incorrectly."
Challenges: "It would be great to have time and capital to dial in promotional efforts," he says. "Getting this story out into the digital world is a challenge. The consumer is still attracted to lower price point offers. Fighting through the noise is difficult to get customers to give us a try."
Opportunities: "I believe the traditional brick and mortar optical network is not the only channel for prescription lenses, and that there are opportunities to partner with various independent sunglass brands," says Rosenberg. "They now have an opportunity for increased sales. We built this digital bridge that can handle lenses and ship them directly to a consumer's doorstep. They can utilize this capability, too."
Needs: "I need to find a balance between traditional face-to-face interaction and the promise of digital advertising. I wake up with a sense of urgency knowing the product can change people's lives and I want to grow our business as fast as possible," says Rosenberg.