People to Watch: Entrepreneur: Robert Grimmett

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From the August 1, 2013 edition

Robert Grimmett, the founder and president of boutique office supply store Robert Mason, grew up idolizing his grandmother, a pioneering businesswoman who launched a chain of dress stores in her West Virginia home.

“I loved being in those stores,” Grimmett said. “I remember they had this desk where they did the wrapping. She was very big on service and the customer experience.”

Grimmett, 33, takes a similarly hands-on approach to his work at Robert Mason, which opened on Valentine's Day as a pop-up store inside the Gay Street Sugardaddy's and will expand to a 6,000-square-foot space near the CCAD campus sometime next summer.

In the interim, Grimmett remains his sole employee, working open-to-close in the 208-square-foot space to better familiarize himself with his customer base (“If I'm frontline I'm hearing everyone's reaction,” he said) and to find new ways to better distance himself from his competition—big-box companies he approaches with the same wariness as Harry Potter speaking about “He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named.”

“We also carry all the office staples,” he said, pausing to reconsider his terminology. “Not to use that word. Let's call them 'consumable office products.'”

Grimmett, who founded his first company, Robert's, in West Virginia at 12 years old, is adamant in his belief stationary and office supplies can be both stylish and, yes, sexy, and the setup of his current shop reflects this mindset in everything from the low lighting to the custom radio station streaming a danceable mix of songs.

“Those super stores all look and feel the same,” he said. “When you walk out you're not sure which one you've just been in.”

Robert Mason, in contrast, is built around Grimmett's colorful personality, which is why it's wholly possible to get a sense of who he is as an individual by simply stopping in to peruse his wares.

“It's very intentional,” he said. “There isn't a huge divide between me and the brand.”