As a mother of three, Heidi Hertel knew firsthand the struggle of finding the perfect pair of glasses for kids. Measuring their faces and finding the color and style they want can be a struggle, to say the least.
Going through this process while shopping for her two daughters who needed corrective glasses at young ages helped Hertel come up with the idea for Fitz Frames: a business that uses an app to design custom glasses for children and 3D printing to create them. The process eliminates consumers' search for eyewear retailers and cuts the cost of glasses from several hundred dollars to $95 for a pair of glasses.
In addition to providing a needed service for parents and their kids, Fitz Frames partners with nonprofits Vision to Learn and Black Girls Code, using its manufacturing process and 3D printing technology to spark kids' interest in learning about science.
Turn problems into profit
Like many moms, Hertel was looking for an efficient, economic way to meet her children's needs. At very young ages, her daughters needed glasses, as they were diagnosed with amblyopia and strabismus. Amblyopia is when one eye has diminished eyesight, while strabismus is a condition in which both eyes do not align properly.
"When I went through this issue with my own family, I wondered if it was just me, and I went to other parents and found out it wasn't," Hertel told business.com. "Everyone was having the same issues finding glasses that they loved, and it helped me realize that there was really something here, and it gave me the validation I needed."
According to The Vision Council, more than 22 million children in the U.S. wear glasses. Given the costs of purchasing multiple pairs of glasses, and how often kids break or misplace them, the cost for glasses adds up. Hertel considered these obstacles and transformed them into a solution useful for parents facing similar struggles.
"I have yet to meet a parent that was like, 'Oh no, I don't get it,'" Hertel said. "Every single one has had to deal with this in their own family, and deal with it in their own way. Including my co-CEO Gabriel Schlumberger whose son wears glasses. So, he understood, and it really resonated with him so much that he wanted to get on board and work on this, too."
Fitz Frames also tackles longstanding, thorny return issues inherent with the eyewear industry, issues that are common with companies that manufacture their products overseas. Unlike other popular designer brands, Fitz Frames makes their glasses in the U.S. instead of China or Italy. The advantage is that if parts are missing or an item is returned, the turnaround is much faster, which means fewer days children are sitting in classrooms without their glasses.
"Glasses are the first thing they reach for when they wake up and what they take off before they go to bed," Hertel said. "It's important to them and how they see the world."
Identify how your business can better serve a niche target market
Although Fitz Frames is not the first eyewear company to offer a digital facial-mapping feature, it is the first brand crafted specifically for kids.
"I knew enough about glasses to know there was a better way to buy them," Hertel said. "It's about a color they're excited about, at a price you can afford, for a pair that can actually fit and that they'll want to wear."
Here are four ways that Fitz Frames makes its glasses – and the process of purchasing them – better for children and their parents.
Sometimes children are a little careless, especially with their glasses. For this reason, Fitz Frames makes them with snap-fit hinges, which means the arms of the glasses can be snapped off. This not only prevents active kids from breaking them, but allows them to be creative and change the style of their frames by mixing and matching colors if the child has multiple pairs. These safety features also make the product appealing to parents, who are footing the bill.
2. Kid-friendly styles
Fitz Frames strives to remove the stigma of wearing glasses, which can be a deciding factor for parents of insecure children, by offering multiple styles in an array of colors.
"It's cool for kids to see that getting glasses doesn't have to be a bummer," Hertel says. "I think it takes away the feeling that getting glasses has to be such a big deal."
Fitz Frames offers a "color of the month," and you can buy blue-light-filtering lenses for screen time, or specialized lenses for an extra fee. Your child's name can also be engraved into the frames to personalize them further.
As children grow, their eyesight develops, and glasses are lost or broken. Fitz Frames understands kids may need multiple pairs. For $185, the company offers a subscription plan that includes two pairs and unlimited frames for the year.
4. Easy fit and ordering process
Using an augmented reality feature – which applies a computer-generated effect over the image from your phone's camera – kids can digitally try on glasses and measure their faces for the perfect fit. The app is easy to use and feels familiar to children who use other social mediums like Instagram or Snapchat. This eliminates a learning curve and makes the app fun for kids to use.
"Instead of taking them to the store and getting their frames readjusted or a new color," Hertel said. "I just hand my phone to my kids, and they can remeasure themselves and order."
The application is beneficial to both parents and children. Within the app, parents can manage each child's profile, which allows them to update their prescriptions, track orders and view previous selections.
Find a way to give back to the community
By giving your company a mission, you open a door for potential customers who value what you do and stand for. For Hertel, it was important that her company offer education opportunities, and that it partner with nonprofits to encourage kids to learn about science and technology – and to embrace what makes them different.
"For me, I wanted the company to also offer education on eye health and awareness, but I also wanted to educate kids in general," Hertel said. "This isn't just a company for kids with prescription glasses. We decided to work on kids first and advocate for everything eye health-related, and why it's so important."
Fitz Frames hosted a field trip to its Youngstown, Ohio, facility for Cornell Elementary School students to encourage the children's science and technology ambitions. The children were given a tour of the building and shown the 3D printer that makes the frames.
It partnered with Black Girls Code, an organization dedicated to increasing the number of girls of color who have access to computer science and engineering spaces, by donating its earnings from a featured color of the month to the organization. It has also partnered with Vision to Learn, a nonprofit that provides eye exams and glasses for low-income communities. Connecting with these organizations promotes Fitz Frames' brand in a positive way, and supports equality and community enrichment.
"We admire what they're doing and how they serve people who really need it," Hertel said.