Byline: David Moin

NEW YORK — The tennis bracelets, butterfly pins, even the minaudieres are selling, and there’s no debt on the books. So what could possibly be bothering Nat L. Hyman, the founder and chief executive of Landau? Perhaps it’s the subdued persona of the Landau fashion accessory and jewelry chain, despite having great locations in many of the nation’s flashiest malls and most famous hotels.
“We’re the quietest high-profile retailer in the country,” Hyman said, during an interview. Landau is the kind of store that draws plenty of impulse shopping, situated in plain sight right off the escalator of the New York Hilton Hotel, or smack in the middle of Florida’s Boca Town Center. There’s also a Landau shop on Bond Street in London, and shops in other heavily trafficked centers such as The Mall at Short Hills in New Jersey; The Forum Shops at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas; Water Tower Place in Chicago, and Somerset Collection in Troy, Mich. “These are prime-time, 50-yard line locations,” Hyman said.
Yet Hyman believes Landau could be more of a shopping destination. It will never have the allure of a Gucci or the draw of Tiffany, but the chain has several new strategies that could help this small, private firm make a bigger impression.
Landau shops, generally around 500 to 800 square feet in size, are being remodeled with limestone floors and rich wood tones, at a pace of five to 10 a year, just as many leases are coming up for renewal. The new fixtures are mahogany and oak, and illuminated signs are being hoisted above entrances, for a brighter image. A store on the most visible of venues — Madison or Fifth Avenues — Hyman would love, but a lease signing is not imminent.
In addition, Jeanne B. Daniel has been hired as a merchandising consultant. “She spends about a day a week here, reviewing the product mix and the merchandise. We want to make it more focused and productive, and to determine areas of opportunities,” Hyman explained. Daniel worked briefly at Saks Fifth Avenue as executive vice president of merchandising, and had a longer tenure at Tiffany.
Hyman also hired Marshall Felenstein, of Felenstein, Coniver, Stern, a real estate consultant, to evaluate which sites should be enlarged, downsized or closed, and where stores should open. Hyman did say there could be a few store closings, but he sees a net increase in square footage, planning 12 to 15 openings this year.
Though he’s pleased by the performance of the 62-unit chain — he says it’s always been profitable, but won’t disclose any figures — he’s eager to sharpen the focus, project a stronger brand image and raise sales productivity.
Landau is said to have posted about $50 million in sales last year. It’s part of the Hyman Companies Inc. holding company, which also operates Boccelli, a four-unit upscale handbag retailer.
About 90 percent of Landau’s merchandise is private label, with one exception being Faberge eggs. The bulk of the products are made in Spain, France, Germany and Austria. The company is based in Allentown, Pa., where Hyman is from, and has 320 employees, including 40 at the headquarters. A staff of 10 is devoted to merchandising, design, distribution and buying. Hyman characterizes his jewelry as “fine fashion,” saying that it’s of higher quality than costume jewelry, but below that of fine jewelry.
Recently, Landau has done best-selling jewelry in moissanite, a new stone with the brilliance and hardness of a diamond, but about one-tenth the cost, and about 10 times as expensive as cubic zirconia. Moissanite tennis bracelets range from $649 to $1,899.
Other bestsellers are cubic zirconia tennis bracelets set in gold overlay, from $149 to $289, and cubic zirconia tennis bracelets set in 14-karat gold at $1,200. Minaudieres range from $700 to $6,500, and butterfly pins in rhodium with crystal are $39.
About 80 percent of the floor space is occupied by jewelry; the rest is accessories, with such items as two-tone Italian leather handbags, priced at $160, and floral bags in Italian leather, around $180.
Forty-two of the stores are in malls. The other 20 are in hotels — which has its pluses and minuses. “You know the number of rooms, the average occupancy rate, people per room, and what the attained room rate is,” he said. “We love tourists. People typically spend more when they are on vacation.
“The downside is that you are entirely tied to that hotel, its occupancy rates and marketing plans. You are subject to hotel policies and grooming standards.”
The 39-year-old Hyman started the business 15 years ago. His mother gave him the idea. He had the entrepreneurial spirit, but she narrowed the focus. To this day, she does much of the buying. “She told me to look into high-end costume jewelry because nobody was doing it well,” he said.
Mother knew best.

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