From the source: Bruce Jeffrey, Dresden Vision

GoGet co-founder Bruce Jeffrey may not have had experience in the optics industry, but it didn’t stop him from creating a simpler eyewear buying process for customers and launching an eyewear brand. Here, we chat with Jeffrey about international expansion, sustainability and disrupting the optics industry.

Inside Retail Weekly: Tell me about how Dresden Vision launched.

Bruce Jeffrey: We started the business in 2015, after working a year-and-a-half on the manufacturing system. Quite simply, we wanted a glasses system that was super-convenient and super-strong from a customer perspective, doing away with fragile frames that are easy to break with great optics and were really affordable. That’s what we set out to achieve.

We started with a blank sheet of paper and redesigned the entire product from scratch. In essence, what we hope to do is make glasses that are really dependable and are easy and fast to purchase. Our experience of the current retail situation is the opposite. It’s slow, it’s confusing, it’s not transparent. 

IRW: How did you go about creating these glasses?

BJ: We essentially built a team of people who didn’t have experience in the optics industry and we tested a lot of the assumptions behind why things are done, and we came with a different system that mirrored what the customer needed and less about what the industry needed. That’s an ongoing process. It’s a hard thing, especially as the business is growing in different countries. It does sound cliched, but we continually have to be focused on the customer.

Fundamentally, the massive difference in the glasses is that we have our own modular frame system that we actually manufacture, in which every part is interchangeable and every part can be replaced. If you break a part, we have a lifetime warranty on the frame, so we can replace any part. And the modularity of the system means it’s very quick to fulfil. Most of our customers have a prescription and can get a pair of glasses in 10 to 20 minutes. That’s a radically different model. We are positioning the product as something you can access on a day-to-day basis, rather than as a long-drawn-out purchase.

IRW: How have you made the glasses affordable?

BJ: The first thing is you have to completely rethink the supply chain. We’re not in the current prescription frames supply chain, we built our own. It’s super-efficient. So if you think about a regular prescription frames supply chain, not only do they have lots of SKUs, but they are continually changing and updating. What we’ve done is actually just present the customer with one system of frames, which has led to massive cost advantages and also, just advantages from our ability to fulfil. 

IRW: Sustainability and purpose also play a large role in the business, right?

BJ: It’s embedded in what we do, it’s who we are. We don’t understand why something so important as prescription glasses – something people need to live – should be made as crappy and fragile. It doesn’t suit a lot of customers. We had no idea how many people don’t have access to glasses because of the way the current industry works. And I’m not talking about poorer countries, I’m talking about Australia. A lot of people need them don’t have them. We just thought to ourselves, “Why, in 2019, is this necessary product not available?” 

As a manufacturer, we set out with the goal of being a completely closed loop and having no waste from our process. When we make the frames, there’s zero waste. We achieved it a year-and-a-half year ago. It’s been a huge success for us to get to a point where we can make a pair of frames in a really super-efficient way and we can basically incorporate recycled product into our process. 

Our partnership with Sustainable Salons is a dramatic example of taking shampoo and conditioner bottles from hair salons and fully recycling them into a final product. We’ve invested really heavily into setting up our manufacturing to be future-ready. It’s about getting ahead of the curve because consumer sentiment is changing. They expect things to be manufactured responsibly. We’re really excited about the small role that we can play in showing that products in the future can be not only sustainably made, but help solve all these problems we have with plastic waste. 

Sustainability goes throughout the whole business. Essentially, we’re top to bottom, trying to work out how to reduce waste because the more efficient we are, the more affordable our product is and the more people we can serve. 

IRW: A lot of people still like to try their glasses on before buying them. How does that work with your online store?

BJ: What’s amazing about what we’ve achieved is by having this one modular frame system, it works for a lot of wide range of people. It simply means that unlike a regular e-commerce site where you’re choosing from lots of different styles, you don’t have that choice with us. 

Effectively, we’ve simplified the glasses buying process and it can be confronting for a lot of customers. We’ve chosen the frame and there’s hundreds of colours you can choose from, but ultimately, we’ve simplified it and we hope that makes it easier for us to sell online. 

IRW: How would you describe the current optics market right now?

BJ: It feels like a 150-year-old business that hasn’t changed – that’s how I see it, fundamentally. And what counts as “innovation” in the market isn’t innovation in any other market – it’s seen as business-as-usual. I guess it as an extremely conservative industry and ripe for disruption.

They’ve always had new entrants because there are low barriers to entry, but there’s not much change to the actual model and how it’s distributed. 

IRW: What would you say are some of the challenges in the sector?

BJ: Ninety per cent of the challenges are not to do with optics and are to do with just having a business in Australia. They’re the same challenges as other retailers. We’re a vertically integrated business, so our challenges are much more around how there’s rapid change in the economy and the way that landlords and retail spaces are not keeping up with these dramatic changes

Customers are the same, whether they’re online or offline. But most of the thinking out there is that if you have online customers, you treat them differently, but for us, we’re working hard to integrate the experience so it’s the one experience. That’s really hard to do.

IRW: Tell me about the in-store experience at Dresden Vision.

BJ: It’s fun and easy. I think most customers find it surprising because if they’ve bought glasses in the past, they think it’s more complex than it is. What we’ve done is remove a lot of mystery behind the product. We hope that it’s empowering for customers. What we like to see is when the customer understands what they need. In a lot of other experiences, they’re just getting sold what the retailer thinks they need. We genuinely try to cater to what the customer needs. 

They walk into our stores and they’re able to choose what they need in a very no-fuss, straightforward, trustworthy way, so they know they’re being sold stuff that they understand. Most importantly, once they’ve got the glasses, they can repeat order them easily if they need a second, third or fourth pair. It’s a straightforward process. To me, that’s the most important experience from a customer point of view – to relax.

It might be buying a pair of glasses for a child and at the moment, it’s a daunting process. They’re expensive and the kid will probably break them. At Dresden, it’s more fun because the kid can choose a colour they want and have some ownership over it. The parent will pay less than normal and know there’s a lifetime warranty on that frame. If the kid breaks them, they’ll just replace it.

We have the same frame style in four sizes from XS to L and basically the arms, face and lenses can be swapped, so you can turn those clear prescription glasses into prescription sunglasses. If you want, you can swap your arm colours, then the front of the frame. That’s the system. 

IRW: You guys recently launched into New Zealand. Whereabouts are your stores at the moment?

BJ: Basically, we’ve got seven stores in Australia and we’ve also opened up in New Zealand and Canada and we’re growing fast there. New Zealand is early days, but we’re off to a good start. The key thing we’ve demonstrated is we’re fulfilling the same customer need there as we are here. That’s the stage we’re at. We tested the market and saw that there is a market and we’re now working out how to distribute ourselves across the country.

We opened up a store in Toronto in April last year, which has since grown to three stores. Again, we’re at the early stages at testing market fit and we’ve successfully developed a really loyal customer base there. It’s been a real success. We built Dresden to be globally scalable. New Zealand is a fantastic country, but not a great test of global scalability because it’s so similar to Australia. Canada was a good test of our ability to deploy a shoe-manufacturing fulfilment retail system in another hemisphere. We’ve learned a hell of a lot of what works and what doesn’t work.

We’ve entered the international market and we’re excited. We think we could operate anywhere in the world, so now we have to work out how to do that, especially from Australia. We’re trying to get some processes and systems in place to support that growth. It’s all manufactured in Sydney and we’re an exporter.

Online is a huge part of the business too. Our product was that it was designed to buy online. That’s how we approached it.

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