Inside Ron Robinson’s Latest Expansion

Ron Robinson Inc. is betting even bigger on the kids’ business.

The retailer, which leases and operates an enclave of boutiques in Fred Segal’s Melrose Avenue location in Los Angeles, unveiled a 2,000-sq.-ft. expansion in March that heralded the addition of kids’ footwear and tween apparel.

“We’ve had baby and children’s clothing [up to size 6] at the store for more than 30 years, but [the new categories] give us an opportunity to round out the offering and transition kids right into our adult merchandise,” said VP Stacy Robinson, who oversees the children’s business for the company founded by her husband in 1978.

She noted that the kids’ footwear mix, which includes such brands as Converse, Vans, Native, Dolce Vita and Mini Melissa, is curated to complement Ron Robinson’s trendy fashions. “We’re not a traditional shoe store by any stretch of the imagination,” she explained. “We carry shoes to accessorize our clothing. Everything in our shops is done with a lifestyle approach.

“We would never stock a shoe line that isn’t consistent with the type of clothing we carry. It’s all to present a very specific point of view,” she added.

The company also operates an e-commerce site with select products from its Fred Segal boutiques, which stock men’s and women’s wear, cosmetics and gifts. Kids’ merchandise makes up a significant and growing portion of the website’s sales. “It’s a good complement to what we do in-store. It’s a bit challenging in that we’re not highly promotional on the site, and obviously the Internet is very promotional. But we want to be consistent with our in-store strategy,” Robinson said.

The assortment is driven by current trends and constantly changes. “We try to find those trends happening and represent them in some way,” Robinson said, citing Birkenstock as an example. “A lot of designers, from Givenchy to Isabel Marant, have done Birkenstock-inspired looks in their collections. We wouldn’t typically carry Birkenstock, but we felt it was important to have it this season.” Dr. Martens, also riding a comeback in the kids’ market, will be added for back-to-school.

Although Robinson said heightened competition has made it difficult to stock truly exclusive merchandise, the store still finds ways to differentiate itself, whether that’s tapping a local artist to create hand-painted Vans sneakers or buying special capsules from well-known labels.

“Especially with the Internet, it’s harder and harder to be exclusive — everything is so accessible,” she said. “But what does make us stand out is the way we select and curate our assortment, the way we present and merchandise it. We have a reputation for being a fashion destination and having unique products.”

For footwear vendors, the shop’s high-fashion focus provides access to a boutique audience. “With their ‘mini-me’ styling, they speak to that parent looking for something more trend-forward. It allows us to grow from the top end and tell unique stories that appeal directly to that high-end customer,” said Maddison Ek, kids’ product line manager for Vans. “We’ve had a lot of success in Fred Segal [with our] Classics and Vault collections.”

In addition to stocking directional merchandise, Ron Robinson focuses on customer service to set itself apart. The retailer recently introduced “Ron Robinson to Go,” a free local delivery service that has been popular with busy parents. “We have a customer who just had her third baby, and it’s not very convenient for her to make the drive from Santa Monica,” Stacy Robinson said. “We put together a big package, had it delivered to her home, did a return pickup the next day, exchanged sizes, and in three days she’s done.”

The store also maintains regular contact with its customers. But rather than barrage people with information that doesn’t interest them, Robinson said her team takes a targeted approach, reaching out to customers one-on-one. “Our sales associates know what [customers] like, so when new merchandise comes in that would appeal to them, they call or email them” she explained. “We’ve found that a personal touch works well in the kids’ market.”

Hilary Beck of LA’s InPlay Showroom, which manages sales for Native, described the store as “the retail holy grail of service, product and location.” She added, “You can have great product, but without great staff and service, you won’t keep the best customers coming back.”

With the economy picking back up and customers responding well to the expanded kids’ offering, Robinson is bullish about a category in which the company was an early pioneer. “When Ron started this, fashion-forward children’s product was not readily available. But he knew his customers. They didn’t want onesies printed with balloons and puppies; they wanted cool stuff like black motorcycle jackets and Levi’s 501s,” she said.

“What began as a little section of merchandise in a hallway at the store has grown into a very, very substantial part of our business today,” she added.

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