The average Kitson location encompasses 5,000 square feet, but its two-story Las Vegas location is the largest totaling 15,000 square feet. Although Kitson is deeply rooted in the Los Angeles scene, the company operates 26 stores along the coast of California, as well as in Las Vegas and Portland, Ore. “You have to make stores regional to be successful in business,” Ross explains. “We aren’t going to be carrying tank tops in Portland, Ore., for example, but in Vegas there is so much humidity that it hits over 100 degrees F, so we have to carry them there.”
Ross describes the atmosphere in Kitson as a sensory overload because of the number of commodities available. If customers stay in the store longer they buy more and think of it as a one-stop-shop. “The customer only has so much money to spend, but they are going to buy what captures their attention, makes them laugh or gets them excited to have found that perfect gift for the most difficult person,” he explains. “They may have wanted to buy one product when they walked in, but couldn’t resist something else they saw like that shirt Taylor Swift wore or the hat that Kendall Jenner had on.”
The key to Kitson’s success in attracting new customers has been to offer exclusive, highly-sought-after items – and that buzz over an item is usually created because a celebrity has been photographed with it. “Attracting new customers is about being first on the market with a product,” he explains. “Our customer likes the word f**k. Kris Jenner bought an iPhone case from us that reads ‘Queen of F**king Everything,’ held it up on the red carpet, and it went viral.”
Celebrities photographed shopping at Kitson and wearing their latest purchase contribute to Kitson’s success. The store is so much of a Los Angeles staple that a scene in the upcoming Entourage movie was filmed at Kitson’s location on Melrose. “Celebrities are out to be photographed,” Ross explains. “The more they get their name in the media, the more contracts and endorsements they get. We were always part of that culture and were the first to have newly famous celebrities photographed with an item they bought carried out in what has become our iconic blue shopping bag. As their stars rose, so did Kitson’s. It helps us, them and the product.”
Kitson’s trick to keeping customers coming back regularly is by “keeping up with the Joneses,” being the first to have an item and offering never before seen merchandise on the shelves of the brick-and-mortar stores. “I always say not to put everything on the Internet because there is some kind of excitement behind walking into the store and not having seen the item already,” Ross adds.
Kitson was the first retailer to pair a $10 keychain next to a $400 hoodie so that whoever walks through the door can afford something in the store. “Our merchandising mixes high and low prices,” Ross emphasizes. “There should be something for every customer. The key is understanding your customer and what they will buy.”
The company partners with a number of vendors and manufacturers to create the exclusives and to find the right products for its stores. At Kitson, a brand or designer has about a three-year shelf-life before the consumer starts to get bored. “Customers want newness to show they are relevant and want to post a photo that they’ve got this first,” Ross says. “You have to constantly get new product, so some of it has to go out, and not because it’s not desirable, it’s just that we have bought enough of this brand or designer.”
Kitson buyers travel the world to find the next great item, but are proud of their ability to incubate new Los Angeles designers and to reinvigorate vintage brands. Local film industry heavyweights, like Warner Brothers and DreamWorks, partner with the retailer to create exclusive, licensed product and dramatic, ornate window displays to reinforce film launch marketing efforts.
Inventory is arranged in Kitson based on popular demand. The Kitson floor plan, Ross says, should be thought of as the Monopoly board. “Every manufacturer wants a prime location, but you have to earn Park Place with great margins and by providing what the customer wants,” he explains. “If the product doesn’t become desirable, you are going to go back to the corner or the railroad space. It’s the job of the manufacturer to make what consumers want.”
The relationship between the store and its manufacturers has to be strong and there must be an understanding that, at some point, divorce is inevitable, Ross says. “One side will not be happy, but nothing lasts forever,” he says. “It’s just the way it is. You can’t hug your manufacturers too closely because you will have to go on to someone else eventually.”
Managing the vast inventory at Kitson can be challenging. “Despite forecasts, social media can create a bestseller overnight,” Ross notes. “Once a celebrity wears it, you have to make sure you have enough of it. It’s a juggling act.”
Kitson opened in 2000 and has been through good times and bad. The company believes celebrating its 15th anniversary this year is quite an accomplishment.“I think anyone who has been in business for 15, 20 or 30 years knows that we weathered the biggest economic downfall in history,” Ross says. “We went through this great recession and those who started their businesses five years ago don’t know how bad it was. To have survived through 2009, 2010, 2011 through today is a big accomplishment because a lot of retailers didn’t.”
Moving forward, the company plans to stay successful by harnessing its greatest asset: brick-and-mortar stores. Kitson opened two locations this past holiday season. “It’s unlimited where we can go,” Ross says. “We believe our concept will resonate on a national level and that we can easily grow to 100 stores, while focusing on online growth, as well.”