After Shark Tank, Frameri online optical finds success

May 12, 2015

If you caught a recent episode of ABC’s Shark Tank, you may have gotten a look at eyewear’s latest startup company.

Cincinnati, OH-If you caught a recent episode of ABC’s Shark Tank, you may have gotten a look at eyewear’s latest startup company.

Frameri is an online optical retailer that offers moderately priced frames and lenses-but what makes it different is that the lenses are interchangeable between frames. The wearer can pop out the lenses and snap them into a different frame in a matter of seconds. Or the wearer can pop out the clear lenses and opt instead for tinted lenses, turning her frames into sunglasses.   

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Konrad BilletzFrames run $99 per pair. The frames come in three different shapes with a wide range of color options. Plano and single vision lenses are $50, while progressive lenses run $250. The lenses are polycarbonate, AR-coated, EMI-coated, scratch resistant, and smudge resistant. Frameri offers 10 different tints for sunglasses lenses and runs its own optical lab in-house.

Founder Konrad Billetz says that even after wearing glasses since he was a kid, he didn’t know much about eyewear. But the price, the inconvenience, and the limited choices were always a problem, so he set to find a way to improve the experience for glasses wearers.

“We put together a team of industrial designers, computer nerds, and smart geeks, and we figured it out,” he says, speaking exclusively with Optometry Times. “We want to make glasses for people who wear them. How can we make them better? What are the problems that people run into?”

After a year of research and design, the company officially launched last July. From the beginning, Billetz says, it was about coming up with the best design to meet the needs of the wearer.

But what further differentiates Frameri from its online optical competition is that the company has plans to offer its frames in traditional optical shops.

Next: Bridging the gap between optical and e-commerce

 

Bridging the gap between optical and e-commerce

“We view ourselves as the bridge between traditional optical shops or independent opticals and e-commerce,” he says. “For a long time, e-commerce has had that horrible reputation because it takes away from the opticians. We don’t want to conflict with the opticians-we want to work with them.”

Not only will opticals be able to carry Frameri products, Billetz says that if a patient makes any future purchases on the Frameri site, the eyecare professional will be compensated.

“The product is all about owning multiple frames. Well, if patients don’t get the frames at your shop, and they get them from Frameri, you should be compensated, as well,” he says. “Instead of conflicting with the way eyewear is done, we want to be that bridge.”

Billetz says the primary objective for partnering with optometrists is that their practices provide a more attractive environment for Frameri's products. ODs can provide more comprehensive opitcal services to customers such as eye exams, in-store try on, measurements, fittings, and adjustments. He says optometric practices also have access to a large clientele and are more likely to service patients with high or difficult prescriptions who may find the concept of interchangeable frames and lenses particularly appealing. 

Several ODs told Optometry Times they loved the idea behind Frameri.

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“I think it is a fantastic idea to have the same set of lenses be used in multiple frames of different styles,” says Optometry Times Editorial Advisory Board member Justin Bazan, OD. “Most people seem to have one or maybe two primary pairs that they wear on a regular basis. By utilizing the same set of lenses, you are greatly reducing the cost associated with multiple pairs, which helps to facilitate the purchase of them.

“I think this innovative concept will be incorporated into other manufacturers’ frame designs,” he says. “Personally, I have really loved a frame style and wanted to get it in other colors but would hesitate because the cost of the lenses. Being able to just swap out the lenses is a great solution for that.”

San Diego-based Eric White, OD, says he’d be interested in Frameri as an alternative for online optical retailers.

“E-commerce is here, and we have to find a way to expand and introduce our patients to it without losing them,” he says. “I feel this would be a good alternative, especially if the company is willing to work with the independent OD.”

While Ryan Powell, OD, in Kansas City, MO, says he has not had experience with Frameri, he’s intrigued by the concept.

“I think that the patients and customers purchasing glasses in my opticals would be interested in an interchangeable lens option. That would be something new to the market that is interesting,” he says.

That said, Dr. Powell does have his concerns with online optical companies.

“When you say ‘inexpensive, online,’ my first thought is poor quality,” he says. “A poor quality frame with low-end lenses would not be something we would be interested in offering our patients or customers. We want to be able to provide eyeglasses that we can stand behind. We want to feel confident that the buyer of the eyeglasses at our practice is getting a quality product and that the value of the product is found in the longevity of the lenses and frame and the quality of their vision.”

But Lisa Frye, ABOC, of Birmingham, AL, says after reviewing Frameri's site, she is impressed with both the concept and the frame quality. She says the concept could help encourage multiple-pair sales. 

"Although I have reservations about patients popping their lenses in and out themselves, I have often practiced this personally by purchasing the same model in several colors," she says. "I believe optical professionals would benefit from being part of e-commerce, and the patient would retain help from the skilled eyecare professional needed to ensure proper fit and accuracy. We train insertion and removal of contact lenses, so why not eyeglasses, as well?"

Next: Why eye care has become a hot spot for startups

 

Why eye care has become a hot spot for startups

Frameri is just one of many new startups to hit the eyecare space in the last few years. Companies like Warby Parker, Blink, and Opternative have attempted to change aspects of the eyecare experience. So, what makes this industry so attractive to startup companies?

The startup community is growing in all industries, Billetz says, but eye care has been a very promising space because there hasn’t been a lot of innovation in the industry in the past.

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“This is a marketplace that is very ripe for disruption,” he says, using Warby Parker’s massive success as an example. “I don’t want to say that what’s currently done is broken, but I think that there are a lot of areas for improvement. The difficult part has been working in such a traditional field while still trying to create new things.”

Billetz says that you would never look down upon innovations in the tech world, but that’s how the eyecare and eyewear industry tends to react to these startups’ new ideas. There is a sense that change is bad, he says.

“I would hope that the industry begins to understand that this is a collaborative movement to improve things. We’re looking at making things better, and let’s embrace that and accept that, really see what works, and make things better for the customer,” he says. “It should be everybody’s goal at the end of the day.”

Next: Online optical becomes big business

 

Online optical becomes big business

Frameri joins the ranks of online optical retail companies like Warby Parker, which just raised $100 million to expand its brick and mortar stores from 12 to 20 by the end of the year. Just five years old, Warby Parker is now valued at $1.2 billion.

And Frameri, while not even a year old yet, has been getting a lot of attention. Last year, a month before the company even launched, company founders appeared on the ABC show Shark Tank to pitch their concept to the show’s lineup of investors.

Frameri didn’t walk away with a deal, but that was OK, says Billetz. In between the time the show approached the company about appearing and the time he went to shoot the episode, Frameri had already secured some significant investments.

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Last summer, Frameri won a $100,000 investment from America Online co-founder Steve Case. And Billetz, 28, made Forbes’ 2015 30 under 30 list in the manufacturing and industry category.

Frameri recently added Greg Lechner, former executive at both Coastal Contacts and Luxottica, who will bring his experience to the team as chief operating officer.

“He’s been in the eyewear industry longer than some of the people on our team have been alive,” Billetz jokes.

Next: What you can learn from online optical companies

 

What you can learn from online optical companies

Dr. Bazan says ODs can learn from the growth of these online optical companies.

“It is becoming more apparent from the popularity of companies like Frameri that more and more consumers are looking for trendy eyewear that is in the $100 to $200 range,” says Dr. Bazan. “The average Main Street OD should be studying these companies and finding ways to be competitive in their own offices. Incorporating a frame line like this into their optical would be something to seriously consider.”

When his patients request their prescription with plans to use it at an online optical retailer, Dr. Bazan says he uses it as an opportunity to bring their attention to his moderately-priced frames.

“Often, they will find something they love, and we can get it done for them on the spot,” he says. “Other times, it will lead them down a path in which they learn the differences between that eyewear and the premium eyewear we have in our optical. They key was to at least have something competitive in our optical, which gave us an opportunity to do business with them.”

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