If three’s a trend, Fraser Ross is on to something.
The specialty retailer has opened a third store on Robertson Boulevard, a new concept he’s calling Los Angeles General Store.
Ross, founder of Los Angeles retailer Kitson and newest specialty concept Kitross, also operates the Kitross Kids store, bringing his total to three doors across roughly 10,000 square feet on the south end of Robertson.
The 2,500-square-foot Los Angeles General Store, in a space previously occupied by BCBG and most recently Reservoir, is focused on baby in sizes 0 to 2. Ross, true to form as a master at merchandising, took a very calculated approach to the assortment. He employs the same tactics used to grow the Kitson boutique and now more recently with the opening of Kitross last year and Kitross Kids earlier this year by packing in tables and other displays with related merchandise to entice customers into a sale — or two or three.
Ross also quietly launched e-commerce for Kitross recently, although he said he’s still in the midst of fully preparing the business’ back end for what the web requires, looking to use the second floor of Los Angeles General Store for online fulfillment.
The ramp up of Ross’ business is an interesting one largely for the backstory behind the circumstances surrounding the closure of his previous enterprise Kitson in December 2015. Ross lost control of the business prior to the closure and a court battle with a number of allegations against the lenders and chain’s former chief executive officer are now winding their way through the legal system in a strange tale first reported by WWD in July.
Rather than await the outcome on Kitson, Ross has busied himself on his latest ventures, hardly missing a beat.
“The thing with this [Los Angeles General] store is that the baby had to come out of there,” he said, motioning to Kitross Kids next door. “It’s a growing business. Look at this. The sku’s [stockkeeping units] in baby are huge. When you sell baby, you can sell a book, a rattle, a this, a that. It’s five units per baby transaction. These people who come in for baby, they’re always in a rush: ‘I need a baby gift.’ They’re like the world’s ending. ‘The baby was born. It was two weeks early.’ So they run in, in panic mode.”
And while it would sound as though Los Angeles General Store is the overflow space for Kitross Kids, Ross is far more strategic. While Los Angeles General is plump with the baby assortment — Kitross Kids covers 2 to 14 — Ross has also sprinkled in ornaments, toys, candles, activewear and sweaters.
“While they’re getting baby, they go, ‘Oh, I need something for the mother.’ Then, ‘I need something for the littler brother — a toy — or the father.’ And then they say, ‘Oh, I can buy this for myself,’” Ross said. “So they’re in a moment of buying for themselves in a baby store, which has never been done really. The baby is the focus, but then we end up selling a $350 cashmere sweater.”
Ross also lucks out with his stores’ proximity to Cedars-Sinai Medical Center — about a five-minute walk away — making his stores a good option for those looking to purchase gifts for someone at the hospital. He’s also always historically nabbed a healthy tourist following, aided by the fact that the Four Seasons and other hotels are nearby.
Ross’ dexterity at knowing how people shop, what it is that they want and the appetite for Los Angeles-branded merchandise gives him the confidence the concept could do well in other locales and noted its flexibility when it comes to store size requirements.
“It’s a store that could go anywhere and it’s what malls need. They need a place for someone to get a cup, a book, a card, gift wrapping and a baby gift. Sure, it’s in department stores, but we’re much more specialty oriented,” Ross said.
Los Angeles General Store, he added, would allow him to expand beyond the local market based on lessons learned from past endeavors with his Kitson specialty boutique. Although Kitson made it out of the Los Angeles market, with growth like that, a merchant runs the risk of diluting the brand, Ross said. Any growth of Los Angeles General would allow him to keep Kitross the Los Angeles destination for locals and tourists, while the former could go much more broadly. Plus, Ross said, he’s carefully selected the assortment for each in different ways.
“Kitross I could go from a $2,500 fur jacket to a key chain, where this [General Store] appeals to a larger market,” he said. “I took the best of the best out of the [Kitross] store in each category and worked it in.”
There’s plenty of overlap at his stores, too, with merchandise found at one also at another and he’s made it work.
“There’s stuff that’s here in the other store and people don’t know it,” he said. “In L.A. they don’t walk the street. They’re here and then they go back to their car. They’re not used to walking.”
Lackluster pedestrian traffic is a bit of a double-edged sword though for the greater street. It’s been dubbed a part of the Robertson Village neighborhood, which is looking to make a comeback after being hard hit by the fallout from the Great Recession and landlords that may have been a bit slow to react accordingly to the times with their rents. Ross, along with tenants such as Nicole Sassaman and the owners of the Cuvée eatery, has worked with the city to clean up the sidewalks and paint the parking structure — once a red-orange eyesore — to more neutral shades beige and gray. The ground floor of the Robertson Plaza office towers is now looking to serve as a neighborhood food anchor on the street with the recent opening of Blue Bottle Coffee and Bibo Ergo Sum, along with more tenants on the way.
Ross said his sales over Black Friday weekend were robust, surprising even himself. He said he only carried promotions on select items, such as jackets and watches, and he sold more apparel than he expected. Activewear has continued to be hot for him and it’s laced throughout his stores.
“I still say activewear is the best business to be in,” Ross said. “It’s a much better business at retail. Denim it takes 14 minutes for people to try on a pair of denim and then they might buy it. And now people are wearing activewear everywhere. You can dress it up or down. It’s a business for a retailer to be in because it takes up less space and they don’t try it on. With denim, people have to call five people, Instagram it and Facebook it before they buy it, [asking friends] ‘Does it look good on me.’ With men’s it’s much different; we sell men’s denim much more.”
And for as much as people lament the change taking place within the industry, and Ross acknowledges those shifts, too, he has also built businesses on being able to keep up with the rate of change and figuring out what will sell in any given period of time.
“It’s item-driven stuff. It’s very specialty, one-of-a-kind stuff that’s not out there,” he said. “This is what malls miss. The general store concept, which is very hard to do, is more important than the food aspect. There’s a million food things in the mall, but somewhere like this to go for 10 minutes to occupy the child, or people are on dates and they want to go into a store and not feel uncomfortable. There’s things to be amused for the grandparents, the mother, the daughter. Everyone’s got to buy a birthday gift or an anniversary gift, a teacher gift, graduation, Easter. There’s always that category you can sell.”
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