Eyeglass company sees business beyond the Web
Rivet & Sway has launched a physical counterpart to its women’s eyeglass boutique online, resulting in increased sales.
Seattle Times business reporter
Inside Caruh Salon on Roosevelt Way, Madeline Anderson stands beside a salmon-tinted three-wheeler topped with trendy eyeglass frames and a glamour-lit mirror. She says she has a rounder face with soft features, so the sharply angled frames she’s wearing contrast nicely.
After discussing pricing and other details with customers, she says face shape is the next thing she talks about.
Anderson is a personal stylist who started working for Seattle-based Rivet & Sway three weeks ago when the company launched the newest physical counterpart of its women’s eyeglass boutique online.
“Specs on Wheels” was wheeled into Caruh two weeks ago and will stay in the salon through November.
The cruiser-bike-contraption is equipped with an iPad and about 36 different frames on display. It represents the third leg of Rivet & Sway’s company, which began as an online store in August 2012 and added a Pioneer Square showroom in July. During the last year, the company has also staged various pop-up-shop events in Seattle.
Company CEO Sarah Bryar said the physical outlets have helped to double sales since last quarter, though she wouldn’t give details.
Bryar said Rivet & Sway’s online platform is like a digital boutique. Customers can consult with personal stylists through Skype and read up on face shape and frame size.
Still, she said, many women just aren’t looking on the Web for frames.
“We’re going well with women who are already shopping online,” she said. “But one reason to get offline is to reach these women who have never even thought of buying glasses online.”
Founder John Lusk aimed to tap into what he saw as uncharted territory in the prescription eyeglass market. It’s a small market with a few big competitors, said Bryar, with only 2 percent of total eyeglass sales occurring online.
Bryar was Lusk’s only employee when it launched. Today, the company has eight core team members.
She said starting online gave the company the chance to break into an emerging market, but it’s a challenging one.
While aggregators like Luxotica and Glasses.com tout discontinued frames at low prices, smaller companies like New York-based Warby Parker have established online boutiques designing and manufacturing smaller collections for flat-rate prices.
Rivet & Sway decided to set itself apart by tailoring exclusively to women’s eyewear. Like Warby Parker, it handles its own frame manufacturing and design, cutting production costs. At $199 a frame, Bryar said, women get the boutique experience without the hefty price tag.
And while the Rivet & Sway brand began online, Bryar said it was never meant to stay that way.
Like the showroom and pop-up events, she sees “Specs on Wheels” as a bridge to the customers who don’t ever make it to the website.
And with an iPad for placing the order on the spot, the kiosk and website can still go hand in hand.
“These online and offline channels have to work together to make the experience integrated to provide more solutions for women,” Bryar said.
The Rivet & Sway three-wheeler doesn’t actually travel on its own — unlike Warby Parker’s roving, eyeglass-marketing school bus, which passed through Seattle in June, according to its website.
Other online companies have tried the offline approach as well.
The online arts-and-crafts storefront Etsy held a pop-up shop last Friday afternoon with 12 local Etsy sellers appearing at the West Elm Seattle store downtown.
As for the “Specs on Wheels” location at Caruh, Bryar said the choice came unexpectedly.
“We were just trying to figure out the right channel,” Bryar said. She connected with Caruh owner Cyndi DeSoto through a friend. Bryar recalled, “She said, ‘Sarah, I can sell anything to a woman from the shoulders up.’ ”
Many of Caruh’s stylists have now been cross-trained by Rivet & Sway to fit women with frames, and the salon receives a commission for the sales made on site.
Offering glasses in a setting where customers are already thinking about their appearance “just makes sense,” DeSoto said.
Bryar said there’s no telling how successful the new approaches might be. But she believes that’s part of what makes it interesting.
“We hope that this pilot program will be successful so we can take it national,” she said. “In three or four years time, we could be making more revenue offline than online, so this is all a great experiment to see if it will work.”
Alisa Reznick: 206-464-2195 or firstname.lastname@example.org