Beauty Store Business

FEB 2019

Beauty Store Business provides solutions for better retailing! New products, industry news, savvy business moves and important trends affecting both brick-and-mortar and online retailers are included in each issue.

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20 February 2019 | LIFELONG LEARNING Robinson has spent his life in retail, but his path was perhaps predestined: His mother, father and both grandfathers were in the business, and his on-the-job education commenced while working for his parents. Harboring a pronounced interest in fashion, Robinson landed a sales position at the elite Fred Segal store in Los Angeles in 1968. He rose from manager to buyer to executive vice president before taking the leap and leasing space within the store for his own retail selection in 1978. "I don't know if it was in the DNA or what–maybe so–but retail wasn't something I intended to do," Robinson confesses. "It's just something I happened to be good at and, thankfully, became successful with." He also soon found himself exploring the vibrant world of beauty. As a buyer at Fred Segal, he was the first to bring color cosmetics to the store around 1975. In his own space, he expanded the collection of fashion apparel to later include, at the outset of the '80s, a cosmetic and beauty area called Apothia–a mash-up moniker blending "apothecary" and "utopia." It was a bold move for the time. Consumers bought either luxury beauty at department stores, specialty beauty at beauty supply stores or mass products at drugstores. That was it. Yet his retail store offered a robust beauty selection of innovative, unique luxury products. And, despite having years of experience, he admits that ownership was a very different game. "The most important learning happens once you own a store, and all of the responsibilities fall on you," Robinson says. "You have to make sure things are going right and you're progressing and you're taking care of your people and you're finding new product. Then you know what it's all about. I didn't know diddly about cosmetics and beauty, but I learn what I know I have to learn." Robinson also had to know his customers: a forward-thinking bunch in the heart of the nation's entertainment capital, always on the lookout for new, one-of-a-kind items from around the world. As he built a reputation for stocking trendsetting products, budding brands sought placement on his shelves. Indie beauty may have soared in recent years among the general public, but Robinson tapped into that spirit decades ago. "I could give small entrepreneurs a platform if I deemed their product was right for us–and, in many cases, helped build and launch them," he says. "Over the years, it became clear that if you're a unique and up-and-coming brand, this is one of the places you've got to go." Carefully curating product remains a cornerstone of Robinson's success, and he credits that ability for his longevity in the business. He committed to exploring multiple avenues to discover the next big thing–whether it's a local packager tipping him off to a new manufacturer or by-chance meetings with small apothecary owners in New York. (Robinson was the first L.A.-based boutique, for example, to carry a then-little-known brand called Kiehl's in the early '80s.) Shunning mass-distributed and department-store labels, he instead mined esoteric brands like Creed and Diptyque. He'd scout out trade shows from Europe to Japan to score the coolest finds for customers. "Because of online business, we're told this idea that brick and mortar is dead. Well, I'm here to say, it's not dead. Our business is flourishing." Ron Robinson retailing on Melrose Avenue in the late '70s. Robinson's original scent Apothia "If" is available as a body wash and body lotion (shown), aromatic diff user, candle, eau de parfum and roll-on oil. The highly curated beauty section at Ron Robinson's Santa Monica location features fragrance, hair care, cosmetics and skin care.

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