By Craig Patterson
Innovative New York City-based, value-priced prescription eyewear retailer Warby Parker has secured a location for its first location in Vancouver, which it intends to open in early 2019 in the city’s trendy Kitsilano area. More locations will follow as the retailer ramps up its Canadian store expansion.
The Kitsilano Warby Parker will be located at 2290 West 4th Avenue in a space that is nearly 1,800 square feet on one level. The trendy area is home to some unique independent and chain retailers, and Warby Parker will be directly across the street from a Whole Foods grocery store.
The store’s design, according to Warby Parker co-founder and co-CEO Dave Gilboa, will be reminiscent of a library. Mr. Gilboa said that the reason West 4th Avenue was chosen is because Warby Parker “loved the feel of Kits, and the building could lend itself to a unique design”.
As with other Warby Parker store openings, the Vancouver location will feature a unique art and design component, as well as an exclusive product offer for the city. The company will reveal further details in January.
Warby Parker was represented by Trevor Thomas of brokerage JLL in Vancouver as well as Wilson Vick of Open Realty Advisors in Dallas TX, who acted on behalf of the retailer in lease negotiations. Barb Burrows of MacDonald Commercial Real Estate Services Ltd. listed 2290 W. 4th Avenue and negotiated the deal on behalf of the landlord.
In some ways, the Kitsilano location is similar to where Warby Parker opened its first Canadian store in Toronto in August of 2016. Located at 684 Queen Street West, the 1084 square foot Warby Parker store is at the centre of a trendy area which Vogue Magazine named as being the ‘second-coolest’ in the world in 2014.
Warby Parker opened its second Canadian store at Toronto’s Yorkdale Shopping Centre in December of 2016. That store, as well as the Queen Street store, feature something of a ‘library theme’ with books on display, some of which are also for sale.
With many of its glasses/frame combos priced at $150, Warby Parker is entering an increasingly competitive value-priced eyewear market in Canada. Canadian brands such as Montreal’s BonLook are expanding rapidly across the country — value-priced BonLook is also entering the Vancouver market this month and plans to operate as many as 50 stores in Canada by 2020. Aussie retailer Bailey Nelson, which also offers value-priced eyewear, recently informed us that it plans to operate about 50 stores in Canada.
Hong Kong-based MUJOSH opened its first North American location at West Edmonton Mall in March of 2017, and more are on the way. UK-based value-priced Ollie Quinn leaped into the Canadian market in April of 2017 with nine locations and more have since opened. Funky US-based value eyewear retailer SEE opened its first Canadian location on Cumberland Street in Toronto’s Bloor-Yorkville area in November of 2017 and has not yet opened any other stores, though more are expected.
In Vancouver, as well, high-end eyewear retailer Oliver Peoples opened a small boutique at 1061 Alberni Street in the heart of the city’s ‘Luxury Zone’. Vancouver-based Clearly began opening stores in Canada in 2013 but only ended up opening three locations — two in Vancouver and one in Toronto.
Warby Parker has been growing rapidly in the United States. When Warby Parker opened its Toronto store in the summer of 2016, we reported that the brand had 30 stores in the United States. As of now, Warby Parker operates 86 stores in the United States as well as the two Toronto locations.
Mr. Gilboa said that Warby Parker is looking to operate about 100 locations in the United States, as well as several in Canada. He said specifically that the Vancouver market will see more than one location, though no other leases have been signed in Canada.
Warby Parker was founded in 2010 as a pure play online retailer with a $2,500 seed investment by students in the Venture Initiation Program of the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia. Shortly after its launch, the company was featured on Vogue.com, and GQ, referred to as 'the Netflix of eyewear'. The company has grown substantially and now boasts 30 brick-and-mortar stores in the United States. Last year, the company was reportedly valued at US $1.2 billion. Warby Parker designs its glasses in-house and sells directly to customers -- prices are therefore generally lower than regular optical stores, which may mark up product substantially.