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2 Posts authored by: Inc.

by Issie Lapowsky

Warby Parker will finally get a conventional storefront in 2013. Here are four retail experiments that helped the brand get there.


The first showroom Warby Parker ever had was Neil Blumenthal's dining room.


It was 2010, and the company, which sells eyeglasses online, was flooded with orders after being featured in the pages of Vogue and GQ. With 15 styles sold out in four weeks, and a waiting list 20,000 people long, the founders had to temporarily shut down the site's home try-on program, which lets customers order glasses to try on before buying them. Suddenly, Blumenthal says, he and his co-founders, all Wharton MBA students, were fielding calls from customers asking if there was anywhere they could go to try the glasses on in person.


There was: Blumenthal's apartment. "We were concerned it'd be a pretty sub-optimal shopping experience," says Blumenthal. "But something magical happened, and we were able to build this really intimate relationship with the customer."


That experience taught Blumenthal that having a "store" doesn't always require four walls and a cash register--and that there are plenty of creative ways start-ups can attract foot traffic, as well as Web traffic. Thus began the company's unconventional foray into the world of bricks and mortar. As Warby Parker prepares to finally take the leap and open its first flagship store in New York City this March, here's a look at some of the experimental ways this nearly three-year-old company has reinvented retail.


Putting a Store in the Office

One of the cool side effects of welcoming customers into his home, Blumenthal says, is it gave the customers a rare opportunity to "peek behind the curtain" of a start-up, while simultaneously giving the founders a rare opportunity to get immediate feedback from customers. So, when they were ready to open their first offices in New York City, Blumenthal says he and his co-founders deliberately picked a space with enough room for a showroom. The open floor plan allowed customers to browse frames, while Blumenthal and the rest of his team worked just a few yards away. The showroom, unmarked from the street, soon became so popular, that Blumenthal says, "The landlord went crazy, because the building only had one elevator, and he basically kicked us out."


Now, the office-cum-showroom is in a slightly larger space, where Blumenthal says, about 1,000 customers come through on the average Saturday. What's more, according to Blumenthal, the 600 square foot showroom boasts sales per square foot on par with Tiffany's. "That pretty much just leaves Apple above us," he says. "That's pretty crazy considering we sell $95 glasses out of the fifth floor of a non-retail building."


Co-branding With Other Stores

Blumenthal says that partnering with other likeminded brands and stores helped the company test the waters of a storefront, before committing to opening one of its own. The team started by identifying some of their favorite stores and, and then approached them about setting up a small Warby Parker footprint there. Warby Parker would pay rent for the space and give the host a small commission for every pair sold. They'd even bring in their own staff to man the Warby Parker booth and allow customers to order on an iPad. That strategy is currently playing out in 10 stores across the country.


For a partnership with The Standard Hotel, Warby Parker designed a vintage newsstand called The Readery, where hotel guests can buy Warby Parker sunglasses. The company even designed a limited edition frame, exclusively sold at The Standard. The advantage, Blumenthal says, is twofold. Not only is it a distribution channel, but it's a learning experience for Warby Parker's staff. "We think The Standard's an innovator in hospitality," says Blumenthal, "and we think we can learn a lot from the hospitality industry in terms of how to treat customers."


Taking the Store on the Road

As fast as Warby Parker has grown, there are still plenty of cities left to hit, so this year the company launched Warby Parker Class Trip, a traveling store on wheels. They bought an old school bus and retrofitted it to look like a professor's library, in keeping with the company's retro aesthetics. So far, the bus has hit six cities, with three more to go, before it stops. Aside from spreading the word about Warby Parker throughout the country, the Class Trip stunt also has a social element. The company invited Warby Parker fans to enter an online video contest for the chance to win free glasses for a year and a party with all their friends aboard the bus.


Hosting a Bazaar

Last holiday season, Warby Parker rented out a 3,500 square foot garage space in Manhattan, and invited other local stores to help fill it. At what came to be known as the Warby Parker Holiday Spectacle Bazaar, shoppers could by anything from Warby Parker glasses to La Colombe gourmet coffee, Christmas trees, and even handmade axes. They held events, too, partnering with McSweeney's publishing house to host readings. The idea, says Blumenthal, was to offer shoppers not just an end product, but "a really special experience for the holidays."

Article provided by ©Inc.


What makes a cool office?

Posted by Inc. Feb 13, 2013

by Eric Markowitz and Christine Lagorio

Short answer: It's more than just a billiards table and free soda. Design buffs weigh in on how to build a creative, collaborative, and innovative workspace.


For any company, but especially a start-up, an office is much more than just four walls, a bunch of desks, some laptops, and an instant-coffee machine.


An office is a recruitment tool, a second home, a place to hang out with friends, a place to be inspired, and, particularly for entrepreneurs with huge goals, the place that will serve as the launch pad into building the next billion-dollar company.


So it's no wonder so many founders are obsessed with office design. Jason Freedman, founder of 42Floors, is one of those founders.

"The core job of the CEO is to create the space where people can do incredible work," says Freedman. "And when you think of the CEO's job in that perspective, the office becomes a huge part of the job. And yet, it's also the thing they're least qualified to do, because most of the time they've never done it before."


The motto of 42Floors, which is based in San Francisco, is "discover and create your dream office." The start-up collects real estate data in urban areas, and businesses can search its database of available offices without the use of a broker. It's like Trulia for offices. Naturally, Freedman, who previously founded two companies and is an alumnus of Y Combinator, spends a lot time thinking about office space.


"I think that the key prompt there is: Do you care about your company culture?" he says. "If you do, then the office matters. If you're trying to build a company that's going to last a long time, the office is a key component. It's just as important as the way in which you incentivize your employees. For our employees, when we built our office, the office is their second home. It's an important part of how they see their job."



Raw spaces are in--but they're so much more than exposed beams.
It's undeniable that the "urban rustic" theme—the rough-hewn woods, the antlers on the wall, and the wide-plank floors—has seized the design Zeitgeist. Founders want a space that looks raw or unpolished, and developers are willing to pay for that look in order to attract start-up tenants.

"Now we have the strangest thing in the world happening, where developers are being forced to spend outrageous amounts of money to rip out all this expensive-material wall and ceiling, so it can go back to looking cheap," says Freedman. "The initial part of that was that start-ups took offices that no one else wanted. But they made that space into something cool."


So what is it about the raw aesthetic that's so undeniably charming? What's so enthralling about spending time in a space with exposed red brick walls? What sort of psychology is at play?


"These materials are reminiscent of a time when Americans built physical things," says Marc Kushner, the founder and CEO of Architizer, a social network for architects and interior designers. "It becomes an architectural stand-in for building actual stuff--that's really healthy. It's a rougher design. It's different than design a decade ago, which you sometimes felt was so sleek you were going to slip right off it."


He adds, "All these places are using factory windows with leaded panes, they have a tactility that reminds us of a simpler time. They're picking up on the idea that when people are walking away from their computer screens they want some relief."


In the first dot-com bust, when first-time entrepreneurs were raising tons of capital, the expression of wealth was an important design tactic, says Freedman. It signaled to the best engineers: "Look at us, we've raised the money, and now is your chance to become aligned with the Next Big Thing."

But after the first bubble burst, a general skepticism evolved in the start-up ecosystem. Now, employees want to feel they're actually building something from the ground up.


"People want to feel a part of something bigger than themselves," says Freedman. "And when you're all in it together, when Mark Zuckerberg's desk is just another desk on the floor, and everyone is there, and everyone owns it, then being in a raw space where hierarchy has been ripped out, that makes everyone feel part of something special. People shift from an employee mindset to being a team member."

Open floor plans aren't everything.

If the cartoonish, Dilbert-esque idea of gray cubicles and gray desks and gray filing cabinets sends shivers down your spine, you're not alone. Any "cool" office will eschew the Office Space doldrums of the traditional cubicle layout.


So in the last several years, the move away from cubicle structures and toward more open floor plans, where collaboration is as simple as looking across the desk to see your co-worker sitting five feet away, became incredibly popular. Perhaps almost too popular--some designers believe that an open floor plan isn't the quintessential means for having a "cool" office.


Denise Cherry, the design director at Studio O+A, which has designed offices for Facebook, AOL, Microsoft, Square, and Yelp, believes in the importance of something she calls "tertiary spaces": spaces that aren't conference rooms and that aren't personal desks, either. They're in-between areas that are quiet, where technical people can focus without being locked away in some white-walled room.


"A space that's full of collaborative space but has zero quiet space is just as unsuccessful as a space that's full of offices and has no collaborative space," she says. "It's about finding a balance, and what that balance is for each company. That ratio depends on the type of work that companies do."


Let employees carve out their own space.

By day, Alexa Baggio works in sales at a New York City-based start-up. At night, she's the founder and editor in chief of The Roger, a quarterly magazine devoted to exploring creative workspaces.


"I had this love for creative spaces, and realized there was no medium that was capturing or giving enough attention to the place we all spend the most time," she says. The Roger was launched eight months ago, and in that time, Baggio has scoured the city for creative offices. But the coolest offices, she says, are not necessarily those that have flashy accoutrements or sweeping views, but those that have spent the time to understand what their employees really want.


"As much as it's important to show off the brand in an office, people want to personalize their space," she says. "It's important to create ways for employees to make space their own without it being a detriment to the company if someone left."

At the same time, when you consider the shift to Wi-Fi and laptops, employees don't need to be tethered to one workstation.


"Wireless technology, and the size of the things we carry around, have a big impact on the build environment," says Kushner. "You don't even need a hard drive. You can virtually be anywhere. It's a huge expense to actually wire everything. Once you free up yourself from wires, you have more of a free-for-all. You don't need as many walls. Once you have no file cabinet, that frees you up a little bit. Once you don't have wires, you're actually free."

Article provided by ©Inc.

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