Consumers love instant gratification. With that love comes a growing expectation to be able to order whatever service they want, whenever they want, which extends to every corner of the consumer market. Eyewear is no exception.
Delivering quick service coupled with high-quality products is something former optical consultant Larisa Ginzburg, owner of Vint & York, understands very well. Vint & York’s dedication to selling affordable, high-quality eyewear inspired by 1920s fashion has earned the brand a large celebrity following, as well as coverage by major media such as Bloomberg, Supercompressor and Thrillist.
Since starting the company in 2012, Larisa’s team has grown to include two additional employees and a permanent storefront located in Lower Manhattan. Here, Larisa tells us why she created a vintage-style eyewear company, and how Vint & York successfully transitioned from an online-only store to a hip boutique in one of NYC’s most fashionable neighborhoods.
A Winning Combination: Design + Quality
Larisa: Prior to starting Vint & York, I helped run an optical store that carried major brands. But they were expensive, and I noticed customers wanted stylish eyewear at a reasonable price point without compromising style. That was my initial idea: to design and source eyewear, then offer it at a reasonable and affordable price point.
Vintage-inspired clothing and accessories have been a really strong trend in fashion for quite some time. At Vint & York, we’ve taken some of those fashion elements from vintage-style accessories and clothing and combined them in the glasses we sell.
We’ve also introduced unique selling points to help drive sales and meet the needs of our customers. Our price point is highly competitive—$109 with prescription included—considering the high quality lenses, wide range of unique designs and 20-minute service guarantee customers receive compared to other retailers.
From Online Retailer to a Brick-and-Mortar Store
Larisa: Getting to the point where we were ready to open a physical store required significant time and effort. In the beginning, Vint & York products could only be purchased on the web. However, we wanted to develop a greater New York presence.
To build our NYC customer base, we started selling our eyewear at flea markets around the city, which turned out to be a huge success. We then moved to popular events and shopping malls, such as the Northside Festival in Williamsburg and Chelsea Market in Downtown Manhattan.
The high demand for our eyewear at Chelsea Market proved that our marketing strategy was working. Chelsea Market is also very touristy, so we hit international markets as well. We sold to customers visiting from Australia, Brazil, France and the United Kingdom. And we offered worldwide shipping, since our shipping rates were economical.
Choosing the Right Location
Larisa: Choosing our physical store’s location was a long process. We first thought our store should be in the Lower East Side where rents are still relatively affordable.
But we also realized we needed lots of foot traffic. Although you save on rent in some spaces, there’s a reason why the rent is so low. We then looked at Soho. However, the commercial rents were astronomical and way above our budget. All in all, we probably searched for a period of nine months.
When we saw the space on Elizabeth Street, we thought it was perfect. We loved the location, and the layout of the store fit our vision for the brand. It’s an up-and-coming neighborhood that’s friendlier to privately-owned stores and small businesses, compared to other parts of Manhattan.
Financing the Smart Way
Larisa: I used my personal finances to launch the business. While I’ve considered raising venture capital, I don’t think we’re there yet. Eventually, we do want to expand Vint & York beyond just one location and grow the company on a larger scale. There are small business loans available through banks. But ultimately, our goal is to stay debt-free.
Using Star Power to Promote the Product
Larisa: We’ve tried everything when it comes to marketing. In the beginning, we did traditional PR and celebrity gifting. Vint & York eyewear has also been featured on talk shows, such as Extra and Wendy Williams.
As for social media, we’re on Facebook and Twitter. Though the recent change in Facebook’s algorithms makes posting a bit trickier. Unless you boost your advertisement, your Facebook update doesn’t get much exposure.
Our other social media channels are Instagram, Pinterest and YouTube. We’re on Google Maps, Google Local, and do quite a lot with Yelp. We’ve also partnered with influential fashion bloggers such as Leandra Medine, the founder of the blog Man Repeller.
Vint & York has been featured in several magazines and publications. But we’ve realized that nothing is better than word-of-mouth. It’s more cost-effective when it comes to marketing spend.
We’ve also built a great celebrity following. For the Golden Globes Awards, a pair of Vint & York glasses were included in the goodie bags distributed to attendees.
Future Plans for Vint & York?
Larisa: We’re definitely looking to open more locations. As far as market share, we see ourselves capturing the marketplace where people are searching for more affordable but stylish eyewear.
For example, we’d like to target the customer who can purchase three pairs of glasses and have one for every outfit or occasion. We’re on track to meet that goal, as we update our collections every six months and always try to introduce something new in terms of colors and styles that will wow our customers.
If you’re looking for more startup lessons from successful and growing businesses, check out our article on New York fashion brand Ooshie.