The fast-growing eyeglasses startup Warby Parker, which is based in New York City and sells its hip frames online and in a growing collection of stores, is opening a new office in Nashville, co-CEO Dave Gilboa tells Fast Company. “We wanted to pick a city that we felt could be a real second corporate office,” he says.
The Nashville outpost will initially house 15 employees to augment the company’s 80-person customer service center located in New York’s SoHo neighborhood. That operation, currently housed in the landmark Puck Building, is staffed by a group of young world-beaters who are recruited straight out of college in a program that Gilboa and co-CEO Neil Blumenthal, who founded Warby Parker while earning MBAs at the Wharton School, modeled on the one used by the consultancy Bain & Company to recruit associates. There are no phone trees, and if a customer calls, the phone is promptly answered by a human being.
Warby Parker’s customer service has won plaudits–and helped the company rapidly expand its reach–but it is wildly expensive as call centers go, even for a company that has raised more than $100 million in venture capital. “As we thought about growing our headcount, we started to ask if it makes sense to add all those employees in downtown Manhattan,” Gilboa admits. The plan is to maintain the company’s current high-touch approach to customer service but to do it in a city that is not among the most expensive to live in in the world.
How did Gilboa and Blumenthal pick the Music City? The decision, like pretty much every move the four-year-old company has made, was based on an exhaustive data analysis project. “We started with a matrix of every city in the U.S.,” Gilboa says.
To narrow down the candidates, Warby considered conventional metrics–average wages, cost of living, percentage of people with college degrees, and the number of direct flights to Warby Parker’s New York home base–and less conventional ones. Gilboa and Blumenthal looked for cities that seemed culturally close to New York, narrowing their list to those burgs where residents spend a high percentage of their incomes on creative endeavors. They also picked locales where a significant number of current Warby employees had attended college or grown up to make it easier to recruit talent and in the hope that some New York-based employees might choose to relocate.
The final four were Salt Lake City, Denver, Louisville, and Nashville. Gilboa visited all four earlier this year, ultimately picking Nashville because Warby had already seen success with a Nashville retail outpost located inside the high-end denim retailer Imogene + Willie, and because the city’s musical heritage seemed most in tune with Warby Parker’s brand. In July, Warby Parker teamed up with the singer-songwriter Beck to release a recorded version of his sheet-music-only album, Song Reader, along with a set of limited-edition frames. That fact created a bonding moment with Nashville mayor Karl Dean, who revealed that he’d gone to a Beck concert two weeks earlier.
Gilboa was sold. “What made Nashville a standout above the other cities was that we felt we’d be able to build the strongest connectivity to New York,” he says. “We didn’t want this to feel like a call center in the middle of nowhere. We want to build a strong presence and hire hundreds of people over time.”
Last week, at the company’s regular all-hands meeting, Gilboa and Blumenthal surprised their staff with the news. After a series of updates about Warby’s fall collection, which also debuts today, they suddenly donned cowboy hats and grabbed hobby horses, unbuttoning their dress shirts to reveal T-shirts emblazoned with what they hope will become a new company motto: “We Love Nashville.”