Warby Parker recognized a business opportunity when its founders discovered that the wholesale cost of a pair of acetate eyeglass frames can be as little as $10. Huxley Optical co-founder Ryan Polehonka of Minneapolis decided to go independent when his dad was charged $800 for a basic pair of glasses that Polehonka could get for $200.
Polehonka and T.J. Chanthasene thought they could offer a better and fairer model to consumers, so they opened their first Huxley Optical in Rosedale eight years ago. Locations in Ridgedale and Southdale followed. Huxley’s prices are similar to Warby Parker and Costco. Excerpts from an interview with Polehonka:
Q: What are your prices?
A: Our frames with single-vision lenses cost $149 or $249. The extra $100 is for frames made in the U.S. or Italy. Frames with progressive digital lenses are $299 or $399. Customers with progressive lenses can choose from three reading corridor widths for no extra charge. They’re similar to Verilux or Kodak lenses for people who want a wide corridor or an enhanced intermediate for heavy computer or cellphone use, or an enhanced distance for first-time wearers and people with strong prescriptions.
Anti-glare and anti-scratch coatings are included in the price. We also offer specialty lenses for people with migraines or light sensitivity.
Q: How is your company different from other optical stores?
A: [We] do not accept insurance because of the paperwork on our end. We joke that we’re a company run by millennials, so we like to keep it simple. We don’t accept insurance because of the extra time it takes. I put a photo of my dog Randy on our premium cleaning cloths to keep it fun.
Q: What is Huxley’s mission?
A: Our model is cool glasses and fair pricing. We offer a 45-day money-back guarantee, a one-year warranty on breakages on frames and lens defects, and a one-time prescription change within 45 days.
Q: Your frame prices are less because you don’t offer designer names, right?
A: We don’t have designer names on the frames, but they’re fashionable, durable and appealing to our customers. The frames are made in Italy, Spain, United States and China.
The less-expensive frames on one side of the stores are our own private label, the Huxley brand. That’s about 30% of our selection. We hope to double that in the next year and then wholesale them to others. The other side includes frames like from Article One that are made in Italy, often in small batches.
Q: How do you keep prices low?
A: Finding labs not controlled by big companies is difficult, but we seek out the independents. We go to trade shows and look for vendors and manufacturers. We don’t carry anything cheap because we warranty everything.