Robert Mason Grimmett is only 32 years old, but he’s no stranger to retail businesses. He started his first venture at the age of 12 years old and is currently working on bringing his latest concept to Downtown Columbus. Prior to opening a full-fledge Robert Mason store, he’s launching a temporary 208 square foot pop-up shop inside Sugardaddy’s on Gay Street, which opens on Valentine’s Day.
We spoke recently with Grimmett to find out more about his success at a young age and why he picked Columbus to launch the new retail store.
Q: First, can you tell us a bit about your background as it relates to your business? I understand that you’ve been around for awhile?
A: This is my 20th year in business. For only being 32 years old, you can see that I started Robert Mason as a childhood dream. I have always had business in my blood. I built stores out of my grandparents garage selling jewelry, novelties or whatever I could get my hands on to resell. It was when I turned 12 that I saw that I could sell my craft. I began marketing design services out of my parents basement. In a day when computers were not common in every household, I was able to pick up several clients with design / printing needs. Before long, the city approached my parents as I was not paying B&O taxes and I was operating out of a residential area. I’m from Ravenswood a small town in West Virginia, population 4,000, so this was more a lesson for me then a technicality.
I prepared my business plan and presentation for the city council and in return I was awarded a city business license. This is the drive that any entrepreneur would find as adrenaline to build the business bigger, and that I did. At 14 years old, I negotiated an arrangement with a cellular company that had office/retail storefront space available. I handled their graphic design work after school and my pay was space in the retail center. This became the real deal and official Store #01.
At that time, I operated as Robert’s Design Studio and added essential office supplies and services that in 1994 I felt would compliment my existing business. I added a ship center, full-size copiers and business grade printers. The supply side grew and within 6 months, we outgrew the space. Key decisions had to be made to allow growth. My mom came to work for me that year as the bookkeeper and I went to work on our new store plan. I found space in the most dynamic shopping real estate in town, the power center where most only chain stores operated including GNC, Radio Shack, Fashion Bug and Big Lots. The center was owned by mall developer The Cafaro Company out of Youngstown, Ohio. I negotiated our 1,400 sq ft space and signed for the next store to be an expanded concept of what I already knew was working. We took the space as-is and completely demo’d, designed and built-out to become the 1996 version of Robert’s. Offering aisles of office, school and art supplies, expanded services and a Copy & Print Center. We offered the Robert’s Charge program and free delivery tackling the B2B channel that same year.
My dad joined the company in 1997 leaving his career in sales managing large territories in West Virginia, Ohio and Kentucky. The tables turned as my parents worked for Robert’s and it very quickly encountered every dynamic that a family business faces, both good and bad. The best way for us to work was to segregate the business into Divisions of Responsibility aka departments, that we were each stakeholders and responsible for. I quickly remind them even to this day that my name is on the building.
The new Ravenswood Plaza store exceeded expectations and beat the business plan in year one passing $100,000 in annual sales before the year was over. I continued to build the business and look at expansion plans when it occurred to me that I was off-track. I found myself at 20 years old, out of High School without completely fulfilling my dream. That dream was to go to art school. I applied to the Art Institute in Chicago and was accepted. In 2000, I made a very hard decision to sell my interest in Robert’s to my parents who were capable of running the ship and the proceeds funded my way to the Windy City.
During my time in college, I decided to start building my plans for the future Robert’s and what the next concept could become. I worked for major retail brands for the next four years to learn everything I could including; Limited Brands Bath & Body Works, J. Crew, Abercrombie & Fitch, The Bombay Company and crossed into services by waiting tables at Pizzeria Uno. I wanted to learn everything I possibly could about service, brands and the customer experience. After graduating in 2005, I stayed in Chicago converting to the corporate retail side and became the Retail Stores Visual Manager for OfficeMax Corporate Offices. Vastly different in experience, I learned an incredible amount from all of these retailers.
I was waiting for the right time to build Robert Mason and the downturn in the economy in 2007/2008 was certainly not it. After helping my parents weather the storm, I realized it was time to freshen the store and concept in West Virginia. I added my middle name “Mason” to the company’s branding while building a vintage and nostalgic brand persona. The West Virginia store officially converted to Robert Mason in 2009 and experienced 10% sales growth that calendar year.
The business plan for Robert Mason and the new concept I am bringing to the Columbus market has been in progress since the day I left for college. Taking the experience I had in operating the store in West Virginia, adding my cultured eye from the cities where I’ve lived and experience from some of the worlds best retail brands, the plan evolved nearly every night over those 12 years. Columbus knows retail, and is the testing ground for the nation in new concepts, and I couldn’t be more excited for Robert Mason to debut here.
Q: How did the collaboration with Sugardaddy’s come about?
A: When it comes to Robert Mason, I could never be described as timid. Ask anyone that has ever worked for me. I am aggressive because it’s my dream. I cold-called Mark Ballard of Sugardaddy’s after time in his Downtown Gay Street store where I found it refreshing that there were so many entrepreneurs with successful businesses in Columbus. I wanted to know everything I could about Downtown Columbus, the market, Gay Street, sales potential, traffic-count, you name it.
Mark was completely receptive to meet with me. I think I apologized for the cold-call 10 times that first meeting. We met at Cafe Brioso, I showed him my plan for Robert Mason and what I wanted to build in Columbus. He shared valuable information about the area and his business before mentioning that he was thinking about offering space inside Sugardaddy’s to a business that would make sense. I think he saw the potential long before I did of Robert Mason having temporary space, but I quickly learned of the great possibilities. With my plan for our larger store to be built-out in the Downtown area, we would be absent from the market until we can make that happen. Instead we’re opening a pop-up store, showing Columbus what Robert Mason is and giving a preview of what is to come later. Our brands work really well together because Mark and Sugardaddy’s understand branding. I’m very appreciative to Mark and his support of a young entrepreneur. Business is not for the faint at heart. You face many closed doors before finding a door that is open. Mark has been super-supportive of our efforts to locate in Columbus.
Q: So what types of products will you be carrying in your pop-up store?
A: Our pop-up store inside Sugardaddy’s is a mere 208 square feet, but we will be filling it with a plethora of exciting office, school and art supplies ranging from the debut of Robert Mason brand to our partnerships with brands producing for us, such as Cutter & Buck, Balmain Paris, A.T. Cross, Papyrus and many more.
The store will feature a “Pen Bar”, one of West Virginia’s most loved attractions where you can test miles of pens, pencils, markers, in every color, size, type before determining the best fit. We’ll also feature Robert Mason inspired messenger bags, leather goods, padfolios, iPad & Kindle cases, fine writing instruments, journals, planners and notebooks will make us the place for fashionable and trendy office supplies. My goal is to bring fashion to the office supply industry where it does not exist today.
In addition to our RM brand of products, we will also feature name-brand and commodity office supplies such as Sharpie, HP Ink, Post-it & Pilot Pen. I have a great deal of respect for local artisans and will feature product from local sources in our stationery lines, soft lines and specialty offering. RM Home is our vintage-inspired line of home accessories and lighting that allow you to immerse yourself in the Robert Mason Vintage lifestyle. The RM Vintage #01 Home Fragrance line will debut in our new Columbus store. A collaboration between Robert Mason and Thompson’s Candle Company that captures a spicy vintage nod to the past.
The store will also feature artist and entrepreneur Nathan Minnehan and his line of handmade leather notebooks and journals. Proceeds from the sales of his line benefit a scholarship fund Nathan has built to support study abroad and student exchange. This extraordinary line is produced by Amish Craftsmen, available in leather colors from Turquoise to Ginger to Red, or Black and Brown, not your everyday find.
In our upcoming phases, the RM website will convert to e-commerce and support our B2B channel. We will offer over 100,000 office, school and art supplies from over 1,000 manufacturers. What is not carried in our pop-up store is available for 24 hour delivery to the Columbus and West Virginia markets in which we serve. Catalogs will be available until our e-commerce site is live.
Q: When will the pop-up store open and how long will it be popped-up?
A: Robert Mason inside Sugardaddy’s will officially open on Valentines Day, February 14th and observe Sugardaddy’s operating business hours, 7 days a week. I hope to keep the store inside Sugardaddy’s as long as it makes sense with our other Columbus expansion plans. With our systems and access to product, I have high hopes for this new store.
Q: Anything else we should know?
A: Robert Mason will offer a broad range of copy and print services out of the Sugardaddy’s location. That includes on-site copy services, custom-print ordering and specialty wedding, baby and special announcement planning. The Print Center can design and order business cards, brochures, post cards, magnets, business stationery, sales sheets, rubber stamps and custom print jobs. The RM Brand Shop is our new service offering high-quality custom promotional materials such as pens, keychains or mugs from name brand manufacturers like Sharpie, Pentel, Bic with your brand or message. We also offer design services. By the time RM opens inside Sugardaddy’s, we will have an online upload area on our website for our services.
More information can be found online at RobertMasonCompany.com.