Because “you’re never fully dressed without a smile,” there is a way to get your smile straighter and whiter before you even leave the house.
The direct-to-consumer (D2C) brand SmileDirectClub has been fixing and brightening smiles since May 2014. Cofounder Alex Fenkell is one of two summer camp pals who grew up, reminisced about the terrible experience of having braces and knew there had to be a better way of getting people better smiles.
Through a unique pricing model, the invisible aligners show up on the doorstep after the choice of taking the impression at home and sending it in to the company or stopping by one of the business’ Smile Shops. A new set of aligners gets shipped out every six months and includes not only aligners to tweak the smile, but also whiten it.
PYMNTS spoke with Fenkell about the growing D2C concept, where the business is headed and the best part of the business — which obviously involves smiling.
PYMNTS: What is SmileDirectClub?
AF: We are the first digital brand for your smile. With new technology, we are able to deliver our invisible aligners as well as whitening directly to our customers. This helps them avoid costs and save time. We just don’t think that they need to pay a small fortune for a better smile.
There are more than 50 million people in the U.S. who want a better smile, and not everybody has access to treatment options. So we’ve made it our mission give more people faster, better and more cost-effective options than there were previously out there.
Other invisible aligners companies and even the orthodontist can run you $6,000 to $8,000 per situation. We’re a $1,500 flat pricing, or through our SmilePay it’s $250 down and then $99 per month through the end of the treatment.
PYMNTS: How does it work?
AF: There are two convenient options to get started. There are the Smile Shops in select cities offer quick, 30-minute scans, while our at-home kit allows customers to do impressions with their teeth whenever they want. Our team of orthodontic partners look at each case, and we provide the invisible aligners as well as whitening directly to our customers. The consultations and treatments are done online or via the phone, rather than repeat trips to the doctor’s office.
All the aligners come with our premium whitening, so you get both — a whiter smile and a straighter smile.
PYMNTS: Talk about these Smile Shops.
AF: They’re standalone brick-and-mortar shops. Right now we have five shops — two in New York City, one in D.C., Detroit and Baltimore — but we’re opening up one in Baltimore and one in Detroit.
PYMNTS: Can you explain how the business was founded, likely involving an experience with braces?
AF: It was founded in May 2014. I met my cofounder at summer camp at age 13. We both had a full mouth of braces, which was just a miserable experience. So we became best friends, business partners, and we were reflecting on this pain point in our youth and thought there had to be a better way to go about this. So we started looking into the invisible aligners market and were shocked by how expensive they were and how little the market was actually being reached. We figured that we could bring affordable, invisible aligners to the masses by the convenience of home, which was a real opportunity to help people.
PYMNTS: Thinking back on personal experience, how do you get kids to keep on the braces?
AF: We currently only treat kids ages 12 and up. And we haven’t run into any compliance issues.
PYMNTS: How much funding has the business received?
AF: As a private company, we don’t disclose those numbers.
PYMNTS: How about number of users?
AF: We don’t disclose those numbers either, but we’ve seen tremendous growth. Over the last quarter, we had 300,000 smile assessments. Those are people raising their hand and saying they want a better smile.
PYMNTS: What is your take on the “Warby of X” concept?
AF: Warby Parker has revolutionized the eyewear industry by cutting out a step in the supply chain, offering a quality product at an affordable price that is then conveniently delivered to the home. SmileDirectClub is applying this same model to orthodontics and similar to Warby we are primarily direct to consumer but also have a retail channel where we allow our customers to get fitted at our SmileShops. Being a disruptive direct to consumer brand means reaching a whole new audience of people, creating additional access and growing the overall market.
PYMNTS: Can you share a hurdle that the business has overcome?
AF: This is a very complicated business, between the regulatory structure and the mass customization of the product. It was extremely difficult really early on. We had to search the world to find the best retractors and dental trays and it took us awhile to refine our instructions and video tutorials. It took a lot of trial and error, and we’re now seeing over 90 percent acceptance rate for the impression kits, which we’re really excited about. When we started, identifying the right materials and figuring out how to get customers to take an accurate impression were hurdles for sure.
PYMNTS: What’s been the best part of the startup experience?
AF: Witnessing customer results and the effect of SmileDirectClub on people’s lives. It’s a rewarding feeling to see that transformation, as well as bringing self-confidence to our customers.