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For Ron Robinson, a stimulating customer experience is part of the sale

For Ron Robinson, a stimulating customer experience is part of the sale
Need gift ideas for the holidays? Ron Robinson has some suggestions at his flagship store in Santa Monica. (Kirk McKoy / Los Angeles Times)

Whether you hopped off Santa Monica's new Expo Line stop with dreams of visiting the festive ice rink on 4th  Street, having a sun-drenched day at the beach or shopping at Third Street Promenade, you are merely steps away from Ron Robinson's flagship store.

Ron Robinson, one of L.A.'s time-honored and influential contemporary fashion, beauty and home decor retailers, is celebrating the two-year anniversary of its standalone location in downtown Santa Monica.

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The store sits unassumingly on 5th Street with a brick facade and large windows, and at first glance, it's mildly unclear what sort of establishment you are about to enter. Owner Ron Robinson and his associates say first-time customers often pause right in front of the sleek white doors with quizzical looks.

Perhaps this is because the store blurs the line between art gallery and retail store. Once inside the airy and modern building, you'll see local artists' work hung from the walls, quirky bright garden gnomes scattered throughout the store and neat piles of to-die-for designer clothing. It's a retail venture that seems to have an otherworldly charm.

Ron Robinson's store in Santa Monica carries a bit of everything from bicycles to handbags and briefcases. Yoga classes are also offered at the store.
Ron Robinson's store in Santa Monica carries a bit of everything from bicycles to handbags and briefcases. Yoga classes are also offered at the store. (Kirk McKoy / Los Angeles Times)

During his long retail career, Robinson helped establish the Fred Segal center as a shopping destination and, in 1978, successfully created his own eponymous brand.

Robinson's Santa Monica store is curated to offer a range of products: local, foreign, expensive, inexpensive, rare, trendy and shocking. The store also sells intriguing items such as music speakers disguised as artwork, volcanic ash candles, handcrafted smoke sets from the Marley family as well as skin-care products made from Malibu seaweed.

If you're looking for practical or fun-filled holiday gifts, Robinson recommends several items such as the G-Ro suitcase, carry-on luggage for those family members who travel frequently, or Madeworn original band T-shirts for your music-obsessed friend.

He also suggests giving Missoni hand towels for a simple and easy gift for, say, your fashionable dinner host. "If you come to the party bearing Missoni towels, you will be the hero," Robinson said.

And while you're shopping for others, how about picking up a Gladys Tamez Millinery hat (Lady Gaga wore one on the cover of her new album "Joanne") for yourself?

This patchwork of products at Ron Robinson may seem like organized chaos to the untrained eye, but if you look closer, you'll notice that the store is indicative of the eclectic nature of L.A. and emblematic of a SoCal lifestyle.

Gladys Tamez Millinery hats and assorted designer clothes are sold at Ron Robinson's Santa Monica store.
Gladys Tamez Millinery hats and assorted designer clothes are sold at Ron Robinson's Santa Monica store. (Kirk McKoy / Los Angeles Times)

"The shopping experience that you have at Ron Robinson should be curious, immersive and stimulating from the moment you precariously step foot through the door to the time you leave," Robinson said of the Santa Monica store and his Melrose Avenue location at the Fred Segal center in L.A.

This experience-driven retail model aims at engaging all the customers' senses in a thoughtful way. His brand is also an example of the "lifestyle concept" retail model, which goes beyond simply selling products and instead appeals to the broader notion of one's lifestyle.

Robinson said he also believes that shopping should have a community and social element. For example, his Santa Monica store offers yoga classes and has charity shopping events, book signings and art receptions.

He said this interpersonal element is what is missing from many retail stores and online shopping experiences. Engaging with other people, having beyond-the-surface conversations and forming connections is a huge part of life, and thus needed to be a part of his store, Robinson said.

"The rules in traditional retail are so trite today," he said. "We want to stimulate you. One is missing something by shopping online. I want to bring the social and community experience back to retail."

Ron Robinson's flagship store, 1327 5th St., Santa Monica; if you're on the hunt for additional gift ideas, check out the retailer's holiday gift guide.

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