If someone asked you which online prescription glasses store sold over 20 million pairs, your guess would likely be incorrect. And, if someone asked you which women’s denim brand is number one in US department stores, it may take you a few guesses to get the right answer. Zenni Optical and NYDJ (formerly Not Your Daughter’s Jeans) are both wildly successful brands without the flashy presence.
Zenni Optical launched 15 years ago in a garage and now has over 1,100 employees worldwide. Currently, it’s producing up to 15,000 prescription glasses per day and has delivered 25 million pairs of glasses since its founding. Chief Product Officer, Bai Gan, estimates Zenni Optical holds about 5 percent of the total US prescription glasses market share (online and offline), which is equivalent to half of online purchases. Zenni is clearly a “sleeping giant” within the industry.
The lack of access to prescription eyewear is a global health crisis, one that’s overlooked by many charities. Zenni Optical recognized this and decided to create a company that produces prescription eyewear glasses with a starting price of $6.95—this includes custom-made frames.
NYDJ is known for its stretchy jeans predominantly sold in department stores. The jeans brand is aiming to move away from the “mom jeans” image and shift towards a brand that empowers women of all ages. One of its newest campaigns, “Curves 360,” focuses on innovation and helping women look and feel fabulous. The women featured in the campaign come from all different backgrounds, and each has a successful professional career.
Lisa Collier, President and CEO of NYDJ, joined the company two years ago with the goal of paving the direct-to-consumer path. On average, its shoppers own five to seven pairs of NYDJ jeans. The industry average is two to three jeans for other brands. “We realized really connecting with our consumer and servicing her directly, we were going to be able to create the right message and really drive that community of consumers,” says Collier. She adds that this strategy is going to be “a really important part of the future path of this business.”
When leveraging word-of-mouth, being able to control your message and tell it the way you want is crucial, which is why D2C is ideal. “We know that 90 percent of the time when we put a woman in our pair of jeans that she’s coming back,” says Collier. She notes that the hard part is telling the right story that will resonate enough with the customer to persuade them to take action.
Word-of-mouth is important, but it’s difficult to build a sustainable business around it. “Another side of it is service and the service model you provide them through your direct-to-consumer business,” says Collier. She adds that you need to meet your customers where they are, and when they do interact with your brand, it needs to be an exceptional experience. Additionally, it’s about finding good representatives for your brand that will speak to your target audience and align with your brand’s messaging. NYDJ saw their social followers double since partnering with the right bloggers and social media influencers. By standing behind these women, Collier and her team can draw in new customers.
In the last 12 months, NYDJ’s focus has been on meeting the customers where they are and diversifying its marketing efforts. The team recently announced a partnership with Chico’s and the marketing team is now using video-on-demand, Pandora ads, and Instagram to drive traffic. 20 percent of NYDJ’s sales now come from D2C.
Unlike NYDJ, Zenni Optical started as a D2C online store. Its business model is largely built around word-of-mouth, keeping the marketing efforts low-key. Gan says that Zenni Optical is the “best kept secret.” Over half of its site visitors are from organic and direct traffic. The Zenni team leverages their partnerships with some of the best designers in the world to create fashionable eyewear and enter new markets.
To meet consumer demands, Zenni Optical leverages the power of its supply chain. It quickly expanded its manufacturing facilities in China—so much so that equipment makers often offer the retailer early access to new technologies. As a result, Zenni can produce and bring products to the market much faster than other companies.
A price tag of $6.95 for prescription glasses is often misperceived as “cheap quality.” It’s been Gan’s and his team’s focus to change that perception by working with established designers who are well-known for producing high-quality products. He points out that for any prescription glasses manufacturer, it typically only costs 5 percent of the selling price to produce. Most of what you pay for is the brick-and-mortar store costs and the name brand. On average, physical stores sell 12 pairs of glasses per day at $200—Zenni Optical sells thousands per day. “It’s going to come to a point where it’s going to change,” says Gan.
When competing with hundreds of other brands, it can be easy to get lost in the crowd. Both Gan and Collier agree that using consumer data to anticipate their needs, providing exceptional customer service, and leveraging the right partnerships will lead to long-term success.