As founder and creative director of Studio at Fred Segal, Robin Coe-Hutshing is the undisputed queen of the indie retail scene. While she’s consistently tweaked the store’s formula in a continual evolution, this year she decided to revolutionize. The time was right: In addition to an infusion of cash thanks to new partners Intermix Capital, there’s also been an influx of competition. Coe-Hutshing and her partners have rethought every aspect of the business, even renaming it Studio BeautyMix. Coe-Hutshing is also readying a number of new brands for launch, in her own store and others. Here, she unveils her new vision.
YOU RECENTLY REVAMPED YOUR STORE, STARTING WITH A NAME CHANGE. WHY?
Studio BeautyMix better represents what we’re now doing, which is more of a multi-pronged focus and direction. Retail is definitely the platform and the core of what we do, but there are other aspects, too. We have a very active product development aspect, which includes Memoire Liquide, Burn Candles and several other brands coming down the pike. We have Studiobeautymix.com launching in April. Plus we are and continue to be a serious brand incubator. One of the most important things we feel we as a company do that others have ceased to do is give home to nascent brands and give them a start in the industry. Intermix, my business partners, and Studio BeautyMix have an interest from an investment side with some of the small brands. It’s a multi-pronged approach so the name change reflects a much broader base of business than what we’ve done in the past.
CAN YOU DESCRIBE THE MAJOR CHANGES THAT ARE TAKING PLACE?
We’ve gone deeper and leaner in our assortment, with much stronger brand affiliation and branded areas in the store. We’ve carved out areas where you can recognize and visually be guided towards different branded or category areas, so the store is more shoppable. We’ve edited our assortment to eliminate some consumer confusion. We’ve always had a pretty sharp editing pencil, but we’ve made it sharper. We’ve worked on building our brand relationships. We’ve got a lot of events going on to draw consumers into the mix. We’ve been marketing to our consumers in a different way, speaking to them in a different way, communicating with them much more closely. With our own brand development, I’ve been working hard to develop brands that fill what I consider to be a void in the marketplace. I try to see everything that’s available and if I can’t find something in a category of business, I go to the drawing board and try to create it myself.
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WHAT’S AN EXAMPLE OF A NEW INNOVATIVE IN-STORE EVENT THAT YOU’VE IMPLEMENTED?
We had Nadine Habosh read from her book, Confessions of a Beauty Addict, which was really well-attended. We recently had a group of Ivy League graduates who came for a mashup of services, makeup artistry, skin care and hand massages and we served wine and cheese. We had a huge party with Smashbox, with over 300 people, which was different than most events in that we normally don’t do a single vendor sponsored event.
HOW HAS YOUR COMMUNICATION STRATEGY EVOLVED?
We’re working really closely with the blogging community. The press is also important. But really, the one-on-one communication and interface with our customer, especially within this economic time, is key. It’s important to stay in touch without becoming stalkers. We have an e-mail database and a very full event calender, so we do invitations, bag stuffers, active sampling programs. We’re instituting a lot of new programs, like a Pleasure Hunt, where people can come into the store and there will be something grafittied on the fl oor, which they follow from place to place to pick up samples and information about new products. That will be coordinated with our weekly happy hour event. We’re scheduling more and more things that will draw bodies to us. We’re also doing more outreach and charitable tie-ins with our community. The Fred Segal business at large is in essence a neighborhood business. It’s internationally known, but we have a local clientele that we depend on.
WHAT’S DRIVING THE EVOLUTION?
Having gotten great partners, we have better resources and the organizational structure to do some of the things we’ve always wanted to do. We have all of our gears in order. Our product development is in full swing. Reinvention is part and parcel of what we do. Every six months since I started the business, I’ve looked into my crystal ball and thought, ‘How do you keep this vital and how do you keep this going?’ If you don’t do that, you’re dead.
HOW HAVE YOUR CUSTOMERS’ NEEDS, WANTS AND SHOPPING HABITS EVOLVED AND CHANGED?
Online shopping has been a huge factor. Cross channel shopping has been another factor. In terms of economic factors more recently, shopping per se may not be the acceptable social outing it might have been a couple of years ago, so you might not see the same flow of traffic pattern that we’re all used to. Everybody has to make accommodations, especially in the brick and mortar world. There are various ways to do that and speak to your customer without pandering. I don’t like all this recessionista talk, because to me, this is an issue that’s not frivolous. We’re going to be dealing with this for some time, so I don’t think you can make it into a marketing ploy or some cutesy tagline. It’s has to be strategically handled and built into how you address a lot of the things that are done in the business, from adjusting price point in the assortment to merchandising.
HOW WOULD YOU DESCRIBE THE CURRENT STATE OF INNOVATION IN THE BRAND LANDSCAPE?
Whenever you have economic difficulty, innovation can suffer. But in my mind, it’s a perfect time for innovation to thrive. If somebody has a really good idea and the resources to support it, it’s a good time to do something. From a production standpoint, there are labs that are awaiting work and production facilities that are raring to go. There’s opportunity from a developmental standpoint. The success ratio factor depends on sensitivity to the market and the consumer and the ability to deal well with the retailer.
WHERE DO YOU SEE HOLES?
There are a lot of holes. There are amazing products that exist, but there’s no single category that couldn’t be improved with a great original idea. That’s always going to be true. The prestige side could use a great new innovative color brand. I haven’t seen one for a while.
INTERMIX HAS JOINED YOU AS A BUSINESS PARTNER. IS IT STILL FEASIBLE FOR INDIES TO GO IT ALONE TODAY AS IT WAS WHEN YOU FIRST STARTED?
It’s challenging. I went it alone for a really long time. It’s more difficult. It just depends on how good a business plan and how well funded you are. It really depends on your business acumen and your determination level.
DO YOU HAVE PLANS TO OPEN MORE DOORS?
We are open to opening other doors but probably under the auspices of store within a store, such as a hotel or a department store. We recently did Memoire Liquide at the One and Only Palmira resort. We’re being offered leases but at this point, to start from ground zero is not high on our priority list.
YOU’VE SET UP AN INCUBATOR TO DEVELOP BRANDS THAT YOU PLAN ON DISTRIBUTING IN THE MARKET. WHAT ARE SOME OF THE LINES YOU’RE READYING FOR LAUNCH?
Soft Corp is a line of body softeners. I created it because I couldn’t find the perfect [cream] for the body. There are fragranced body butters, cellulite creams and more medicinal dermatological type products, but nothing I wanted to use every day that kept my body soft, that wasn’t overly fragranced, that was a range of products that worked together. We’ve also got Memoire Liquide Reserve, a library of five scents launching at Bloomingdale’s in late Spring. Another new product we have for wider distribution is a fragrance called Nudite Intense, which is coming for fourth quarter. It came out of the Memoire Liquide range and is one of our top sellers that we’re doing as a stand alone brand with ancillaries. It’s a very easy-to-wear fragrance. Everyone loves it.