On the corner of an alley in the Short North sits a leather-bound experience where Robert Mason Company puts a fresh spin on home, fashion and office supplies.
What started as a 12-year-old’s dream in his parents basement in West Virginia has evolved to an experienced entrepreneur, Robert Grimmett, making that dream a reality. Although the first, and still-operating, store in West Virginia started with a bigger focus on office supplies, Grimmett has been able to expand the store by adding his own line of products and a large variety of accessories like shaving lotions, book bags and candles.
Following attending the Art Institute of Chicago, Grimmett made the move to Columbus where he says he fell in love with the city. After linking up with business owners throughout the city, Grimmett was given an opportunity from Mark Ballard — co-founder of Sugardaddy’s brownies — to start a store with the leftover office space from his store on Gay St. A year after opening in 2013, the store was destroyed in an office fire. The new location opened in February of 2016 at 17 Brickel St in the Short North.
“It’s been something you can never learn in a textbook for what you are going to have to deal with afterwards,” Grimmett said of rebuilding the store after the fire.
The combination of bills and a stoppage of revenue forced Grimmett to make tough decisions regarding the brand after the fire. He ultimately decided to invest energy into his fashion brand which includes canvas book bags and laptop bags, but still looks back on the decision with questions.
“The consumable side of the store is how you keep people coming in constantly and the fashion side is how you load the brand, but you don’t need that stuff everyday,” Grimmett said.
While the store sells various office supply items, such as journals, pens and cases for electronics, it isn’t a typical Office Max. Grimmet and his staff either creates products through collaboration with suppliers, or handpicks existing products to stock the store. A vintage element is consistent in many of the products chosen. Aside from fashion items, the Robert Mason brand includes leather-bound journals with embroidery, locally made leather-scented candles and new twists on greeting cards based off the staff’s personalities.
Although Grimmett says overcoming the losses from the fire has been testing at times, he says the new location for the store is ideal. With the Short North area being a shoppers market and events like Gallery Hop, he said his store is doing better than his already high expectations.
Grimmett said the biggest mantra for himself and his company is a personable and memorable experience when dealing with customers. He credits learning from his grandmother in her store when he was younger along with his first job that he admits he wasn’t thrilled about initially.
“It goes back to what I learned when I was young and my experience at Bath and Body Works, and it was really big on the store-experience side,” Grimmett said. “I didn’t know what I was getting myself into, but this experience was the most turning for what the brand would become today.”
He learned that it is about more than just the products, it is about the overall experience.
“I walked in and thought, ‘How are people so mesmerized by soap?’ It was the design of the store; it was the marketing package they put into it; the product design; the music they were playing; the smell inside the store. It was an experience.”
First-time customers Mark Speer and Emily Clemons said when they drove by the store, they had to stop in to check it out. After browsing the store for a few moments, Speer and Clemons described the store as a well-appointed hipster happy place for school supplies.
Although the store has an online version of the store, e-shoppers will miss out on the smell of leather and sound of easy-listening indie music that fills the industrial-designed room.
Robert Mason Company, located at 17 Brickel St., is open Monday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. and Sunday from noon until 6 p.m.