Warby Parker has one big weakness, and this competitor is exploiting it

By Carmel DeAmicis , written on January 29, 2014

From The News Desk

In the wake of Warby Parker's success, loads of imitators sprung into being. There's Rivet and Sway, which goes after the ladies, and Lookmatic which lets you swap out colors, and Classic Specs, which allegedly inspired a cease-and-desist letter from Warby Parker itself. There are so many competitors that they are even referred to as "The Attack of the Warby Parker Clones."

Among the flood of competition, however, there's one startup that is quickly distinguishing itself: Made Eyewear. Warby Parker should be watching its back for this little company.

Made Eyewear has a huge advantage over the entrenched incumbent, one that allows it to beat Warby both on price and personalization. Customers can engrave whatever words they choose into their eyeglass stems and swap out various colors for frames and stems.

Even better, customers can test out three pairs for free through Made's Home Try-On program, and all three pairs come with the a prescription lens. In other words, you immediately get to keep the one you like because it's ready to go. If you don't like any of them, you send them all back and it costs you nothing. That's a crazy deal, even by Warby Parker's inexpensive standards.

It's a feature Warby Parker can't possibly compete on at this point, unless it wanted to take huge financial losses while doing so. How the hell can Made afford the risk? Simple: It doesn't pay much for it.

Made Eyewear is vertically integrated and runs the eyewear manufacturing plant in China itself. "We have our own lens lab in China that's connected to our own production line," founder Kevin Hundert says. "It goes off our factory and right into the lens lab." As such, the prescription for one pair of glasses costs Made as low as $5 in some cases, assuming the user doesn't have particular needs like bifocals or an astigmatism. If the customer keeps at least one pair, the company still makes a substantial profit.

Hundert has this advantage because he's from a family that has been in the glasses business for decades, long before startups came along to disrupt it. His father runs REM Eyewear, which manufactures glasses for big brands like Lucky, Converse, and Cosmo.

made_eyewear_factory Made Eyewear manufactures  eyeglasses at its own factory in China.

Before starting Made, Hundert spent a month working and living at the REM Chinese factory, getting to know the process very well. As you might imagine, that made it easy to get the manufacturing of Made eyewear off the ground. Hundert can offer customers three try-on prescription glasses for free by owning every point from manufacturing to sales.

In contrast, although Warby has cut the cost of glasses for consumers way down by getting rid of designer middle men it still doesn't own the manufacturing plants where its glasses are made.

This is Warby Parker's one big weakness right now. It's also the reason it wouldn't be prudent financially for the startup to offer prescriptions with its at-home try on program. Instead, customers have to send all the samples back and wait to receive their finished pair.

In other words, Warby Parker has an Achilles' Heel and Made Eyewear is exploiting that to gain traction and differentiate itself from the competition.

[Feature image via Made Eyewear ; Factory images courtesy Kevin Hundert]