How Warby Parker and STORY approach innovation

Sr. Director, Content Strategy
Retail Gets Real
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Warby Parker’s Neil Blumenthal and STORY’s Rachel Shechtman may come from different backgrounds, but they both built brands with a fresh take on retail. Although one company sells prescription eyeglasses and the other has become a uniquely New York attraction, they were both founded by entrepreneurs with a keen eye for innovation.

The two friends and entrepreneurs joined Retail Gets Real to chat about building a brand around a crazy idea and how retailers can evolve with the changing retail landscape. 

Neil Blumenthal (center left) and Rachel Shechtman (center right) joined co-hosts Jennifer Overstreet (right) and Bill Thorne (left).

Neil Blumenthal (center left) and Rachel Shechtman (center right) joined co-hosts Jennifer Overstreet (right) and Bill Thorne (left).

Blumenthal didn’t intend to go into retail, but he had an idea to build what he thought of as “a business that would change the world.” In lieu of pursuing a career in business consulting, he created Warby Parker with three friends from his MBA program. “I think we were excited and passionate about the opportunity because eyewear is a $100 billion market globally,” Blumenthal says. He not only wanted to change the eyeglass selling model, but give back by donating a pair of eyeglasses for each pair he sold.

Retail was already a familiar industry for Shechtman, who established STORY in 2011 in response to the convergence of the physical and digital retail worlds. After wondering, “Why aren’t we rethinking business models and changing consumer expectations?” she founded STORY: A retailer with the point of view of a magazine that changes like a gallery and sells things as a store. “Our version of an editorial narrative is curating merchandise around a certain subject matter,” she says, “and then having events that bring that subject matter to life.”

What advice do these innovators have for aspiring entrepreneurs? Blumenthal suggests taking a step back to break down big, risky decisions into smaller, bite-sized pieces, while Shechtman suggests taking an entry-level retail job to learn how to engage with customers on the sales floor.

Listen to this episode to learn how Blumenthal and Shechtman built their one-of-a-kind businesses. For more inspirational stories about entrepreneurship, check out past episodes.

Jennifer Overstreet is a co-host on NRF’s Retail Gets Real podcast. Meet all the co-hosts and learn more about the show.