New tack at Tiffany's: more stores, mail order, corporate sales

For many of the people who shop at Tiffany's, the image of the store is just as important as the jewelry, silver, and glassware they buy there. That image is important to Tiffany's, too.

For about 35 years, for example, Tiffany & Co. sold its sterling silver flatware - knives, forks, and spoons - through jewelry and department stores, as well as in its own stores. But in 1981 those ''trade accounts'' were closed, says Tiffany's president, Anthony Ostrom, because ''they weren't representing us very well. . . . we found in some stores, the silver wasn't being cleaned, wasn't presented properly.

''So we thought the only way we could control that, without being discriminatory, was to shut down the entire (trade account) operation rather than just try to eliminate individual people.''

But the red brick castle Tiffany built near New York City in 1897 to house its factory can still turn out a fair amount of silver and other baubles that have to be sold somehow. So the company has begun putting new emphasis on expanding the number of its own stores, plus mail-order and corporate business, to sell some of that ''pricey'' merchandise.

This week, for instance, Tiffany's, a subsidiary of Avon Products Company, opened its first ''corporate sales showroom'' on the 40th floor of a new office building in Boston's financial district. Here, corporate customers can select from a variety of pens, wallets, watches, clocks, flatware, money clips, glassware, bowls, plates, and other trinkets. The finery can be used as gifts for clients, awards or incentives for salespeople, and prizes. There are also dishes and silverware for those penthouse-level corporate dining rooms.

''We've had this [corporate] division for some 25 years in New York,'' Mr. Ostrom said. ''That has worked very well. But we need to get closer to the customers. That requires a lot of personal service.'' Depending on how the Boston office performs, there may be similar corporate facilities in other cities, he said.

Tiffany is also continuing plans to open full-service stores in other cities. There are now stores in six cities, in addition to the original one on New York's Fifth Avenue. In October, says Albert E. Edwards, senior vice-president for sales, a seventh branch will open in Kansas City, Mo. He expects a new store will be opened about once a year after that.

The Tiffany image also plays a role here, Mr. Edwards says. ''Site selection is a very important consideration. We would prefer in every city to be in the most fashionable downtown shopping area.'' In a year or so, for instance, Mr. Edwards would like to be back in Boston to open a retail store here, but so far he has not been able to find a site that suits the firm.

''You can't just pick a city and be there tomorrow,'' Mr. Ostrom adds. ''You have to have the right location, the right setting - for Tiffany's.''

Perhaps the most aggressive sales tool for the company is its mail-order business. Although Tiffany has had a mail-order catalog since 1845, it has not been a major part of sales until recently.

But after discontinuing its sales through jewelry stores, Tiffany began a new push on mail order. A new catalog was introduced, advertising was increased, and a mailing list of likely Tiffany customers built up.

''Last year was the first full year we did not have flatware sold through jewelry stores (other than our own),'' Mr. Edwards said. But because of mail order, ''our flatware sales were better last year than they were when we were operating through those stores.''

Again, image is important when a Tiffany's mailing list is being put together. ''Our mailing lists are a little bit slower to develop than one for a Sears or Montgomery Ward would be,'' Mr. Edwards observed. ''It takes a little bit longer to put a good list together. But when it is done, the number of people who are buying through direct mail, and buying $5,000, $6,000 items through the mail - sight unseen - is quite large.''

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