• Apr 28, 2014

It takes more than a fire to kill a dream.

22 years ago, I had an idea, that became my dream, that became my hobby, which became a store and then became a brand. Robert Mason Co. is more then a store… it’s my life. Robert Mason is also my name creating even more emotional attachment. The stores themselves are my self-expression and are emporiums of what I consider to be the coolest fashion-forward office products on earth.  

On Tuesday, April 15th, 2014, I lost one of my proudest creations. A fire destroyed the pop-up RM store that housed the laboratory for the Robert Mason brand and our Columbus retail & e-commerce operations.

My heart broke that night.

I am learning a new life lesson, which reinforces the old adage “what doesn’t kill you will only make you stronger.” Yes, things can be replaced. It took me time to understand, process and accept that the physical store at 11 E Gay Street was forever gone in 1 night. It’s surreal.

The community’s support through this difficult time has been overwhelming.

I realized that I was not the only person dealing with a loss. I have received hundreds of e-mails, texts, phone calls and messages with people very angry that they also lost “their place”. Just as a parent would be proud of their child for their accomplishments, I feel very humbled that Robert Mason held a special place in many hearts around Columbusland. Some comments go as far as asking “what am I supposed to do now?” I also felt that way in my shock period, but I now have a forward plan for Robert Mason and how we will endure this tragedy to emerge bigger, stronger and more awesome.

I have created this Q&A as my first blog post on the new robertmasoncompany.com so that you know why this store cannot reopen in it’s previous location and what my plans are for the company as we rebuild. I believe in true, authentic and open communication. This blog will enable me to brag about our latest designs, our newest products and for me to share with you what is going on with the brand. That’s what self-expression is all about right?

 

Thank you for being awesome.  

-robert

 

Q & A

1.     What happened? Will you rebuild at 11 E Gay Street?

No. We will not rebuild the pop-up store. The store at 11 E Gay Street was destroyed. The building, a former bank, was built encased with a marble grandeur exterior. What the exterior doesn’t show is what truly happened inside which was nothing short of horror. Flames from the basement level spread through the floor and into our co-tenant, Sugardaddy’s. This required that the firemen cut the floors to fight the fire. Robert Mason was built on top of the banks original vault protecting RM from the fire in the floors, however firemen cut the walls at RM & Sugardaddy’s to gain access with a straight-line hose from the street after breaking the glass out of the RM doors that face Gay Street. This caused RM to become the chimney for the fire and took on smoke heated at nearly 600 degrees. Our warehouse and shipping in the basement had it far worse. Flames and hotter smoke combined with 8-10 inches of water, electrical foam plus a thick soot ravaged our space and destroyed everything.

 

2.     Can you pop-up in another space?

Due to the nature of our business of fashion, seasonality, design and custom-built, the length of time for RM to build assortment required for another pop-up store would be equal to the time that it would take for us to build a full-line store.

I am committed to building a full-line store in another part of downtown that has not yet been announced. This was always the original plan, the timing is just off and will expedite our efforts.

 

3.   What’s next for RM in Columbus during rebuilding time?

We have turned to our online store to keep our business running during the rebuilding period. Since the fire destroyed our shipping area and all inventory that the web & the pop-up store shared, we are diligently working to bring back the styles and product that you remember from the pop-up store. RM Online was pulled down that night and recently re-opened with an abbreviated collection. We have so many amazing people stepping up to help and have done the impossible to completely overhaul the former site while adding select styles in less then 2 weeks. Part of the reason we can make partial collections available is that product reorders and parts of our Spring Collection had not yet made it to the pop-up store before the fire. This product is our first step back into the online business. All of our vendors are working tirelessly to bring us back up in all categories.

Because the online store is our only presence in Columbus, I have planned for phases of updates that will bring more brands, more products and more features then we had before. Partner brands that weren’t able to come into our assortment until our larger store is built will now come online sooner for you to enjoy. Consider it an early expansion, virtually.

If you miss our faces… you can see us at the May Moonlight Market, where we will setup a logo shop in front of our former store so that you can own a piece of Robert Mason history whether it be a commemorative logo tee or inspire leather wrist-band and see some of the assortment. Pretty much, we just miss you and want to say hi.

 

4.   Did you have insurance?

Yes. Insurance is a tricky thing. You never know when something like this is going to strike. Our policy review for 1 year of insurance coverage was planned for the week of April 20th, consequently the fire took place 5 days prior. For those of you that remember the pop-up the way it was originally built, it was vastly different. We had converted into more RM brand and higher-end goods and expanded all other categories. Unfortunately, we did not have enough coverage to cover the pop-up store as you remember it. Furthermore, the expense of the aftermath impacts the numbers even more. It’s a lesson learned.

 

5.   How are customers taking it?

I love our customers. This is why I am a retailer. I miss them. They are my friends and neighbors and people I attend social functions with and people I get to see daily, weekly, some monthly or when they can make it in. When I see someone on the street or if I am just grabbing coffee, we play the game of who will start crying first. It means the world to me that this little store meant that much to the community. It’s that proud parent feeling. That inspires me to come back with such a great comeback, it will be off the charts. I will pay tribute to the store that was lost with the store that now has some pretty big shoes to fill. Weird when it was only 208 sq ft right?

 

6.     I don’t see my favorite product online, will it come back?

Because the store was destroyed and our product lost, we are working in a fierce way to bring everything back. All RM brand, Robert Mason Signature brand and Luciano Robert Mason brand product will come back in the next several weeks as we re-build the collections. If you have a specific product in mind you can e-mail info@robertmasoncompany.com to pre-order products that are in production or to find the ETA of their arrival.

 

7.     What are the fundraising campaigns for RM?

Robert Mason Co. has never asked for funds to cover our business loss. Our customers have been so helpful and so supportive that crowd-funding sites have been established to help us get back on our feet. You can’t plan these things, and when your store (in this case both store and online) closes for even 1 day, cashflow starts to decrease in big numbers right away. I had no choice on the night of the fire but to let my staff go. These funds helped me bring them back, save their jobs and give me the much-needed help to get started on our immediate rebuilding. It’s humbling. I feel very loved in Columbus.

 

8.     Is the West Virginia store taking over for the Columbus store?

The West Virginia store is my original concept. The only thing the 2 stores shared, was their name. I do not own the original store. When I made the decision to go to college, I sold WV to my parents who still own and operate under a brand licensing agreement. West Virginia does not sell the same merchandise, nor does it have our systems. The WV team is heartbroken for us and has been nothing but supportive, but they cannot take on any of the Columbus stores business operations as we operate independently.

Product will now ship out of our e-commerce offices setup on S Third Street in Downtown Columbus

 

9.     Who is helping you rebuild?

Robert Mason customers.

The number of people who have reached out, called, texted, messaged, stopped by, are just too many to name individually.

Robert Mason staff.

I couldn’t be more proud of what we have accomplished just post-fire. I had a few days where I needed to deal with what happened, but the staff was there to keep me up and focused even through those really difficult days. They knew how critical it was for us to stay on track, just to stay in business.

My best friend from college, Torre Gentile started the community crowd-funding site to help RM;

youcaring.com/robertmasonco

Our friends at Cement Marketing with offices near our former store on Gay Street started the community crowd-funding site;

Helprobertmason.com

PR expert, Michelle Chippas, alongside, Marketing Director Melissa Fast from Capital Crossroads Special Improvement District offered their services pro-bono to assist.

Capital Crossroads Special Improvement District has had their hand out to help us from the evening of the fire, and allowed for us to use their facilities through our severe lack of resources.

Offers of support, help, services and tangible items have come from all over Columbusland in support of our staff and their well-being, and to help to rescue the business.

I am forever grateful to everyone. We will get through this and be even better… because of YOU.