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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22 February 2019 | of money to make sure we get seen online. And, for the amazing amount of customers we've developed over years in-store, they can access us anywhere, so it's a very important part of what we're doing. We still do more business out of the retail stores, but the website is growing at quite a fast pace." THE SMELL OF SUCCESS Robinson's early online presence and digital community played a key role when he decided to venture into fragrance as both a retailer and a new manufacturer. Having a natural affinity for fragrance and pack- aging (which he developed as a youngster from admiring his grandfather's cologne collection), Robinson decided to add a single fragrance to his beauty offerings. It was an unknown brand, which initially sold, one bottle at a time, through word of mouth. But when a major celeb mentioned it in a magazine article, phones rang off the hook! Luckily, Robinson had the foresight to get online in late '98–never dreaming it'd be a viable avenue for selling fragrance. But amid the celeb-induced frenzy, staff members were able to direct wannabe buyers to the site, generating orders from around the country. Suddenly (long before crowdsourcing was de rigueur), Robinson had an idea: Why not tap into this group of customers who clearly appreciate and purchase unique fragrances? "So I wrote 100 of them a letter: 'How would you like to be part of a group that helps me create our own signature fragrance?'" Robinson recalls. "Back then, I wasn't thinking of using the internet to generate business, but to communicate with my customer– not knowing that that was the future. Today, everybody wants to communicate with the customer, create community and create ideas together." Within days, Robinson received 100 yeses. He also reached out to some celebrity fans, such as Drew Barrymore and Jennifer Garner, to pitch in. With help from a perfumer and a clinical psychologist, he assembled survey questions, created a dozen fragrances and selected three labeled A, B and C to be sent out to the test group. After several rounds of reading and interpreting responses, then tweaking accordingly, they landed on a scent that eight of 10 participants agreed upon. The fragrance, also called Apothia "If", launched in Ron Robinson stores in 1999, soon surging across the States and finally overseas to Europe and Japan in the early 2000s. "We now have about 50 accounts in the United States and a huge market in Japan, where people said we wouldn't sell; we can't keep it supplied fast enough there," Robinson says. "We created Apothia in a way that was much different than anyone else ever had–and I don't know of anyone who's created a fragrance like that ever since." The Apothia fragrance business has since expanded to candles (winning an award for Interior Scent of the Year from The Fragrance Foundation); new formats for its first scent, If (including roll-on, aromatic diffuser, candle, body wash and lotion); and three additional fragrances. The retailer has made sure to reflect its in-house ethics in the manufacturing process. For example, when making Apothia Hand & Body Wash, Robinson shunned sodium lauryl sulfate for apricot kernel oil, a much pricier but healthier alternative. "I learned over time that we have to be honest and true to who we are and what we're doing," he says. "If we're going to talk about being forward thinkers and progressive people, we have to deliver that in the product we produce. And I learned that if you believe in something, put it out there. Say it, stand behind it, let everyone know you believe in it. Don't assume everybody knows everything you're thinking or doing–because they don't!" Finally, when it comes to fragrance as a whole, Robinson follows his customers' shopping habits. For example, he doesn't carry anything labeled "for men" or "for women," noting that fragrance is highly personal and the dichotomy of male/ woodsy and female/floral is now passé. "It's an independent decision; they buy based on what they like or don't like," he explains. "We're not judges, we're fragrance people. You decide what you want." UNIFYING THEMES Robinson looks at everything he does, from beauty to home accessories, under the lens of art and fashion. That translates to putting a premium on design, from beautiful bottles to eye-catching graphics. He's also able to cross-pollinate his knowledge, with ideas garnered from one category inform- ing another. And, like any successful entrepreneur, he knows that on-the-job learning never stops. "It's amazing that 40 years have passed so quickly, and I can't believe that I'm still learning stuff today," he marvels. "But it's all about good product. It's efficacy and whether I provide something that's cool, as well as the customer and how they're treated." For Robinson, juggling multiple categories, omnichannel success and a still-growing legion of fans from around the world are all in a day's work–and all part of the ever-changing retail landscape. "Things change, and are changing more rapidly today than ever before, but as retailers we have to be challenged by that change, anticipate it and direct ourselves to a place where we can be activists of change," he says. "That way, we're not only prepared, but we can say, 'Here's where we think you're going to be.' That keeps us fresh and on top of things. It's a difficult task, but what choice do we have?" Coming from a legendary retailer with true staying power, this is wisdom to heed. ■ Tracy Morin is a freelance writer and editor based in Oxford, MS. "Things change, and are changing more rapidly today than ever before. But as retailers, we have to be challenged by that change, anticipate it and direct ourselves to a place where we can be activists of change." GET CONNECTED! @ronrobinson @ronrobinson78 Book signings and product launches with celebrities attract new customers to Ron Robinson.

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