She’s scaled the Heights, and Trish Roberson is still movin’ on up
Store owners do all sorts of things to appeal to broader demographics, but few uproot their three-decades-old location in the midst of a recession. In October 2008, Trish Roberson left the Heights—the affluent area of Little Rock, Ark., that Roberson’s Fine Jewelry had called home for 25 years—and settled into a less-proven but rapidly growing neighborhood. The move has earned her local business and industry accolades and awards, but what means even more to her is the recognition from her customers. Roberson’s is being touted as a business to watch. And for a retailer that’s been around for more than a generation, that’s saying something.
What made you completely revamp your business model at the start of the economic downturn?
Our building was starting to show signs of age; we tried several facelifts, but nothing changed. In the summer of 2008, we knew an economic storm was coming. Our choices were to ride it out in the old building, or completely shake it up and turn it upside down in a new building. Despite all that was happening, we stuck to our guns with our moving plans and did everything humanly possible to make it work.
When the new store opened, what changed?
Customers, for one. My husband, Steve, created the perfect springboard for the business to soar. [We had] a database full of good, loyal customers, and we worked hard to bring them to the new location when we opened in May 2009. We were thrilled with the results of foot traffic going up 46 percent in our first year in the new store. But what was amazing was that in the same year, 47 percent of our sales came from new business.
What benefits does the new location bring?
The new store is in an up-and-coming lifestyle center with mainly boutique-type stores operated by local businessmen and businesswomen. There is only one big-box retailer in the whole center. When we scouted the new location, we knew we were buying into this concept. Neighboring businesses have joined us in many cross-promotional events, which even included co-op ads. They handed out gift cards during Christmas when we held a ladies’ night. We’ve used restaurants and a bakery to cater food and gourmet cupcakes.
You overhauled your marketing and promotions.
The first major change was selling Roberson’s, not the product, in new TV commercials. Some of these ads are customer and staff testimonials under the “We Love the Way You Love” campaign. Another series of commercials uses ballerinas to model jewelry. The ads are very cultured, fashion-forward, and edgy, which is a unique combination. Of course, the ballerinas [from Dance Dynamics in Little Rock] are classically trained. People love them. Customers ask for autographs and pose for pictures with members.
How are you complementing this with new-media platforms?
If a customer posts on our Facebook wall, Paris Henderson, our store manager, responds as quickly as possible. Our postings show we have a fun time running a very serious retail operation. Facebook postings are all about events, reminders for important shopping dates like Valentine’s Day, and content from other sources such as fashion forecasts we think customers can benefit from. Paris’ blog is similar in spirit and content, but offers more detail.
You went from 200 to 2,000 Facebook fans in one year. How’d you do it?
Each customer that friends, fans, or posts a comment on Facebook is contacted via Facebook e-mail. They are asked if we can contact them to ask about their favorite pieces of jewelry. Customer input is very important to us, and we’re not shy about asking for it. At the recent Centurion Show I was texting back and forth with a number of customers on jewelry seen at the event.
What makes shopping at Roberson’s fun?
There’s never a dull moment at the store. On Saturdays, we always have sports on the flat-screen. Whether we’re encouraging a client to join us in a hula-hoop competition or a staff member is holding an impromptu gem class with children, we are always up to something.