Interview with President and CEO of Robbins Brothers

Andy Heyneman, the president and CEO of the now-ten store chain Robbins Brothers, very generously took some time to speak with me tonight. Highlights follow:

Where is Robbins Brothers as far as the Chapter 11 process?


Our process has been completed. Chapter 11 is behind us. As we speak today, we are what we refer to as “newco,” which is the new Robbins Brothers. Our transaction with Weston Presidio officially closed last week. We are now free and clear. We are out of bankruptcy, and, for the first time in a long time, breathing deeply and sleeping well at night. We are a newly owned company and very excited about the future.


Will anything change with Robbins Brothers going forward?


This has been a real humbling experience. To say it’s been difficult has been an understatement. So we are going to be very careful and prudent so we don’t get to this point again. We are doing a lot internally, restructuring the expense and the cost structure of the business. Many of the disciplines that we’ve picked up in Chapter 11, we are going to adhere to. Things like watching every nickel and making every dollar do the work of ten.


Candidly [in the past] when we began to grow we extended ourselves thinking that our current track record would be a sure sign of what we’d accomplish in the future. We were all kind of caught by surprise by the economic “perfect storm.” We have to run the business based upon the lowest set of expectations rather than the highest. We are taking a very realistic view and realistic approach to the business.


Our digital capability is something we’ve been very focused on over the last year. We really need to get down to what moves the dial for us from a creative standpoint. Any business in our segment needs to be much more inclusive to the woman in the relationship and recognize that she has just as much a decision in this process. In the early days our marketing was much more geared to the guys and didn’t really resonate well with the woman. But now the woman is just as involved in this purchase from an emotional and financial perspective.


One thing we don’t want to change is the way we treat our customers. We have to be open and welcoming. When people come to us, it becomes a seminal moment. It’s not uncommon for our sales associates to be invited to the wedding. I don’t know where else that happens. It’s an emotional time and an emotional purchase. I’ve seen it become so emotional that sometimes the groom gets down on one knee and makes a proposal right there. It’s pretty moving stuff.


We are moving forward prudently with a very conservative approach, but we are going to stay committed to our service level. Fundamentally we think our model is strong and that’s been echoed by the vendors and partners willing to come in with new investments.


Will Steve Robbins still be involved in the company?


Steve will continue to be emotionally and spiritually involved in this company. But he is not involved in the company on a day-to-day basis. For the first time he is having the opportunity to spend some time with his family. He was instrumental in helping us achieve this goal. Just this morning, I wrote him a note thanking him for being a mentor for me. Even in the midst of this difficult time he was a tremendous teacher. I feel he wouldn’t have chosen me to do this job unless he really felt I could carry on what is critical and important to the culture of the company.


How have the vendors reacted?


Without the support of the vendors we wouldn’t have been where we are. I am hugely thankful to the vendor community and, had it not been for them, we would not have been able to come out of bankruptcy.


How about your sales associates?


The thing that I’m consistently amazed by and truly heartened by is how, even in the most difficult of circumstances, people have been so committed to the company. Without their effort, and the way they stepped up, we wouldn’t have made it. They are our other important constituency. I am so proud of them.


What happened with the Chicago stores purchased by Spence Diamonds? Have they been closed?


Although Spence bought the Chicago and Houston markets, they did not choose to operate the Chicago stores. If there is anything that I want to add is that there were huge ups and downs in this process. And one of the very difficult aspects was having to say goodbye to some very dedicated and loyal people. I wish there was a way to have achieved this end goal, without having to make those very difficult decisions.


There were some very hard decisions and deep emotions to face during this process. It wasn’t easy on anyone involved. I certainly regret the losses that anyone had to endure throughout this process; the hardest loss for me to deal with was having to say goodbye to these very dedicated individuals.

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JCK News Director