Nieman Marcus Plans New Chain of Jewelry and Gift Stores

By Donna Frischknecht
Executive Editor

Neiman Marcus plans to concentrate on watches, including Concord watches, in its new concept stores.Chestnut Hill, Mass. - The Neiman Marcus Group is tightening its already firm grip on the nationís most affluent customers. The company, based here, plans to expand into free-standing fine jewelry and gift stores.

So far, three stores, tentatively named The Galleries of Neiman Marcus, are planned for 1998, according to Robert A. Smith, president and co-chief operating officer.

The first store is slated for the Beachwood Place Mall in Cleveland. The other two locations have not yet been finalized. The company has identified 30 to 40 affluent markets for the stores.

The stores, which will average between 10,000 and 15,000 square feet, will carry the same designer jewelry featured in the companyís 30 in-line stores. Names include Henry Dunay, John Hardy, JFA Designs, Alfieri & St. John, Chopard, Lagos, Paul Morelli, David Yurman, Rudolph Erdel, Piaget and Concord.

"They have a strong name, they are successful with fine jewelry, and they obviously want to get more aggressive," said Robert Bockstruck of Bockstruck Jewelers, Edina, Minn., about Neimanís new venture.

This fall, Neimanís aggressiveness in fine jewelry was evident as the company doubled the number of watch and fine jewelry pages in its famous "magalog," The Book. Presently, the company has no plans to launch a separate magalog for The Galleries of Neiman Marcus.

The company told National Jeweler at press time that the project was in its early stages and that it was much too soon to comment on the look of the free-standing stores.

Neiman Marcus has a reputation for being a pioneer in designer jewelry retailing. About 75% of its current inventory is branded. Thus, the concept of a free-standing specialty store is a natural progression for Neiman Marcus, industry insiders say.

Top that off with a pristine image for impeccable service and quality, and, many say, the concept should be a success for the company, which recently celebrated its 90th anniversary.

"Neiman Marcus walks into anywhere in the world denoting quality and service," said Jim DeMattei, senior vice president of the John Hardy Collection, New York.

But what happens when a Neimanís specialty store walks into a guild jewelerís neighborhood?

"I think when a store like that opens and brings attention to fine jewelry, it is good for the businesses around it," said Nick Greve of Carl Greve Jewelers, Portland, Ore. "Tiffany opened in Palo Alto, Calif., and the other stores on the same level are doing fine."

Greveís sentiments echo that of the industry. Many jewelers across the country, while a little apprehensive at first of more competition on the way, agreed that a store of Neimanís caliber can only stimulate more interest in designer jewelry overall.

"Itís such a small percentage of the industry to be going after, but that kind of store will help better the market," Bockstruck said.

Gary Gordon of Samuel Gordon Jewelers, Oklahoma City, agrees, saying that no matter what cities Neiman Marcus selects, ultimately it would improve the retail jewelry environment in that given market.

"Iíve discovered that the real truth is that, to a certain extent, the more competition we have the better off we are. But I underline Ďto an extent,í" Gordon said.