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Tiffany Montgomery
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Ron Jon's president on new store and more

By Tiffany Montgomery
May 26, 2010 10:22 AM

Ron Jon’s is opening its second store in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina in the beginning of June. It will be the only city with two Ron Jon’s, President Debbie Harvey told me yesterday.

I spoke with Debbie about the new location, why Ron Jon’s is expanding now, what categories are doing well, and how business overall is doing.

Myrtle Beach

Ron Jon’s, known for its large stores that do big volumes in tourist destinations, decided to open a second store in Myrtle Beach because it landed a great location, Debbie said.

Ron Jon’s will open at Broadway at The Beach, a shopping and entertainment center off the beach that has a Hard Rock Café, a Margaritaville, an aquarium, a lake and paddle boats and much more.

“It’s a great location in what is the strongest shopping and entertainment center in the whole area,” she said. It’s the kind of place if you spent the day at the beach, you’d go to shopping center in the afternoon or evening, she said.

And Ron Jon’s can still capture the beach-going crowd with its store near the ocean.

Expansion philosophy

I asked Debbie if she had any qualms about expanding during a tough time at retail.

“I think you have to be ready when there’s a great location for our brand no matter what the situation is,” she said. “Long term, we will come out of this recession or depression or whatever you want to call it. This is probably our only shot to get in this center in the next couple of years.”

The new store is 7,500 square feet – smaller than Ron Jon’s ideal size of 10,000 to 12,000 square feet.

But the company felt comfortable with the smaller space because Myrtle Beach is highly seasonal and Ron Jon’s has the second store in the market.

Given the state of commercial real estate these days, I asked if Ron Jon’s scored a good deal at Broadway on the Beach.

Debbie Harvey“No,” she said. “It’s a fair deal, but you’re never going to get the best deal on the best location. And in my book, location is more important than anything.

When the new store opens, Ron Jon’s will operate a total of nine stores. Does Ron Jon’s have more expansion plans?

“Our goal is to expand when it makes sense,” Debbie said. Ron Jon’s targets tourism markets, and is best known to those who live east of the Mississippi, she said. If a good location that will showcase the Ron Jon brand becomes available, and it makes business sense, the company will expand.

Ron Jon’s is privately owned by founder Ron DiMenna so isn’t under pressure to expand and can be choosey, Debbie said.

The new store will have wood floors, a bright blue exterior and lots of windows and natural light.

“It will have a real surf, tropical feel to it,” she said.

Category trends

Overall, categories that have held up well include the Ron Jon’s brand, which has helped insulate the company somewhat from the decline in consumer spending, Debbie said. Tourists are pickier and want brands that they can’t find at home, so are buying the Ron Jon’s brands because they can only get it at a Ron Jon’s store.

Hardgoods, including Ron Jon’s surfboards, are coming back.

And last week, every Ron Jon’s store reported positive sales in women’s.

Given the industry-wide struggles in women’s, “I’m taking that as a win,” she said.

Companywide, business in stabilizing, though Florida, Ron Jon’s home base, is still coming out of the recession. Florida has been hard hit along with states such as California and Nevada, she said.

“I would say business is tepid,” Debbie said. “It’s not a disaster, but it’s certainly not good. It varies by location.”

Oil spill

Another worry on the horizon: the potential impact of the BP oil spill on the Gulf Coast. Ron’s Jon’s has stores in Key West, Ft. Myers and Panama City - all areas where oil could eventually wash ashore.

“We’re hearing about people canceling vacation plans,” she said.

“People are understandably nervous and concerned about having their vacations ruined.”

The good news is that Myrtle Beach could be an alternative destination, and with its two stores, Ron Jon’s will be ready.



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