More than a decade after Eyebobs was founded, its executives discovered that customers were doing something unusual with their eyeglass readers.
“Hacking your Bobs” happens when customers like their cheater frame so much they replace the reader lenses with prescription. It also happens when customers who don’t need readers choose Eyebobs exclusive frames, each with its own irreverent name such as “Board stiff,” “OY!” “Number Cruncher,” “Fizz Ed,” “Waylaid” or “Peckerhead.”
“Our customers came up with the expression hacking your bobs,” said Mike Hollenstein, the newly appointed chief executive at Eyebobs, who’s worked as a direct-to-consumer specialist for 20 years and joined Eyebobs in 2016.
“It’s multigenerational,” he said. “It could be a loyal customer who needs to move from readers to prescription to a younger person who loves the frame and wants prescription lenses in a reader frame. They like our frames but don’t need reader lenses.”
Julie Allinson founded Eyebobs when the only readers she could find were plain Jane pairs at drugstores or pricey $300 cheaters in optical shops. Now the company wants to expand its brand awareness in a big way. Hollenstein wants to open more stand-alone retail shops, offer prescription glasses, and add more sunglasses and blue light computer lenses, which block blue light rays from digital devices that can strain eyes and affect circadian rhythms and sleep.
“We think online and specialty retail will grow as brand awareness happens,” Hollenstein said. “Right now, the awareness of Eyebobs is low, but once people are introduced to the brand they love it.”
Two years ago former CEO Michael Magerman asked for a formal analysis of how many reader frames were being hacked with prescription lenses. “More than 40 percent of our customers were putting prescription lenses in our frames,” said Hollenstein. “It was an epiphany.”
Eyebobs began formally capitalizing on its discovery last year by opening a retail lab in their office building in Minneapolis. Its success lit the path to further expansion. The company will open a store in Mall of America in May and at an Orlando location later this year.
No traditional frames
More consumers want frames that distinguish them a little or a lot from sensible, traditional frames sold at national chains and doctors’ offices. ”We offer eyewear for the irreverent and slightly jaded,” said Jason Engelman, the product design director, quoting the line originated by founder Allinson, who sold the company in 2015.
Gayle Appelbaum of Minneapolis discovered Eyebobs about 10 years ago. She too started “hacking her bobs” after her eyes worsened from needing readers to prescription several years ago. “The first time I went there I ended up buying four pair of readers for the price of one from the optical shop,” she said. “Now I have more than 40 pairs. I organize them by color.”
Her current favorite? A frame called Luna See that’s orange on the outside of the frame and red on the inside.
Demand grows for glasses
In 2016, U.S. consumers spent $27.6 billion on eyeglasses, according to the Vision Council VisionWatch, and that number is growing. Prolonged exposure to such devices as smartphones, tablets and video games causes eyestrain and increases the chances of future vision problems, according to Grand View Research in San Francisco. In addition, fewer consumers are getting Lasik. Laser vision correction surgeries have fallen by more than 50 percent since 2007, according to according to Market Scope.
Hubert White men’s store in downtown Minneapolis was one of the first non-optical stores to take a chance on Eyebobs in the early 2000s. “I told Julie [Allinson, the founder] that I didn’t think it would work,” said Brad Sherman, vice president and general manager at Hubert White. “We weren’t very good at selling accessories.”
Allinson suggested a 60-day trial run. “We were reordering before the agreement was up,” Sherman said. “Even now, we usually sell a pair every day before 10 a.m. because someone forgot their readers, and they’re heading to a meeting.” The line is so popular at the store that it will be one of five vendors featured at an upcoming Super Bowl party for customers.
Eyebobs are now sold in more than 2,000 stores nationwide from optical shops to Nordstrom.com, Anthropologie, Neiman Marcus and Von Maur. Katie Couric, Bryant Gumbel and 96-year-old fashion icon Iris Apfel have worn Eyebobs in Stand Up to Cancer ads for the charity.
Apfel is known for wearing mega round frames with lenses as big as baseballs. Eyebobs designer Engelman said that is the type of frame that attracts customers. “From the beginning, Julie wanted to push the envelope in everything we did from the names of the frames to the designs,” he said. “Customers may not buy the jacked-up piece, but it gets them in the door.”