Don’t ask for a discount if you’re shopping at Tiffany’s. President Lincoln didn’t get one when he bought a pearl necklace for Mary Todd Lincoln back when the 151-year-old firm was still a fledgling.
And forget about sales; there aren’t any at Tiffany’s.
High-quality merchandise and better control over inventory are now the hallmarks of the fine jewelry store whose name is synonymous with good taste. And on the subject of good taste, don’t ever expect to find men’s diamond rings at Tiffany’s counters.
“We listen and we watch the market. But we still don’t sell men’s diamond rings,” says Tiffany & Co. Chief Financial Officer Thomas Andruskevich in drawing the line that Tiffany sets to accommodate different tastes.
The company’s earnings rose a hefty 54% in 1988 and its fourth-quarter sales were up 20%, the 12th consecutive quarterly gain. But the picture was not so rosy nearly five years ago when Avon Products Inc., which bought the company in April, 1979, decided to put it up for sale.
Andruskevich, who came from Avon to Tiffany’s in 1982, remembers the dark days. “Tiffany’s was supposed to become Avon’s flagship of specialty retailing,” he says.
“When Avon took control of Tiffany’s, they moved their customer focus downscale in the attempt to enlarge their customer base and, in turn, their profits,” said Harry Ikenson of S. G. Warburg & Co., who follows retailing stocks. “But they lost the old customers and didn’t make it with new ones.”
The company was also plagued with a revolving door of leaders after the departure of Walter Hoving, who had led the company from the 1950s, and before current Chairman William Chaney, who had been a president at Avon, came in.
Chaney eventually led a leveraged buyout of the company in October, 1984, and concedes that the changes made in the post-Avon era could have been undertaken sooner.