Flattened By COVID, Zenni Optical Banked On Nimbleness To Battle Back

When COVID hit, companies that did business with China were flattened early on. Just ask Zenni Optical, whose brand communications officer spoke about it at Tuesday's MediaPost Brand Insider Summit D2C.

"It had a roller coaster, whiplash effect," he said, speaking on a panel. "We were truly worried about the business. Production shut down in China. We're getting ready for a long, cold winter. We pulled back on marketing spend. There were shipping delays. Q1 was flat for us."

But it battled back. Zenni has been online for 17 years, but its management still acts like a startup so, fortunately, Pate said, its nimbleness was the key to its success. The last quarter sales were up 25% year over year and it is charting at 40%.

"Some companies are making it up as they go," he noted. "And that's not necessarily the wrong way to go. Who had a playbook at the start of this year? Nobody."

Pate said Zenni has been setting itself up for success by creating a story, a personality around its brand in the last few years. "We've been hugely successful relying on the cost and value proposition of our products." The average pair of glasses sells for $40 at Zenni. 

"We enjoy a pretty strong retention because, at first, people don't believe they can get glasses so cheaply. When they understand that the quality is on par with what you get at the eye doctor, they're sold. Our big challenge is converting people who have been used to buying glasses at retail and that is 90% of consumers. There is that much land for us to grab."

And, now that many retailers are not open or struggling to stay open, it has been advantageous for Zenni. Plus, people have more time online and can experience the act of building one's own pair of glasses.

The panel also included Heidi Dorosin, CMO, Madison-Reed; Karalyn Zamora, Director of Digital Marketing and Growth, Gravity Products LLC; and was moderated by Sarah Mahoney, Editor, Marketing D2C, MediaPost. 

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