As Tiffany & Co. Seeks to Expand Overseas, How Important is Coral Gables as a Key Jumping Off Point? Just Ask Local VP Jonathan Bruckner
By Doreen Hemlock
Luxury brand Tiffany & Co. is known for dazzling diamonds, well-designed silver, a classic movie that bears its name and signature boxes in Robin’s egg blue. Less well known is that Coral Gables hosts its headquarters for Latin America, part of a push by the jewelry maker to expand sales beyond its U.S. base.
Jonathan Bruckner took the helm at the Coral Gables hub in 2018 after 25 years working with Tiffany domestically. It’s been a big change for him. Bruckner is now acutely tuned to how much currency exchange rates determine prices in different nations and checks rates daily. He’s also picking up Spanish and Portuguese, so he won’t repeat an early faux-pas: “I thought I was ordering fish, but a steak showed up.”
Tiffany’s Latin America division employs some 15 people in Coral Gables and some 170 more region-wide. It oversees 41 stores, mainly in Mexico, Brazil, Chile, and on cruise ships. In fiscal 2019, however, Latin America represented less than five percent of sales at Tiffany’s company-operated stores worldwide, compared to 40 percent in the United States, its latest annual report shows.
Bruckner aims to change that, as part of an overall changing of the guard. He was appointed to the Latam post after a shakeup in leadership at Tiffany. The 182-year-old company, seeking to boost its profits and stock price, in 2017 installed a new CEO: Alessandro Bogliolo, an Italian formerly with Bulgari, Sephora and Diesel brands. His mission: to boost sales overseas and online.
Many Wall Street analysts are upbeat. Brian Yarbrough of financial firm Edward Jones sees long-term potential for Tiffany “due to the strength of the brand, presence in emerging markets, significant room to open additional stores in emerging markets, and opportunities to improve profitability.” Bruckner is keen on growth in Latin America, partly because Tiffany’s rivals have only small footprints in the region so far. “The competition is not as intense yet,” compared to the U.S. market, he says.
Yet challenges abound. Latin America’s luxury market has been underperforming, says consumer analyst Josh Holmes of Fitch Solutions. “A combination of onerous tax regimes and high crime rates means wealthy households often travel to the U.S. and Europe to purchase luxury goods, where prices are lower and the environment is more conducive to conspicuous forms of consumption,” says Holmes in a report on the area.
Tiffany entered Latin America two decades ago through Mexico. That was a big leap from the company’s roots as a stationery store in Connecticut in 1837. Co-founder and jeweler Charles Lewis Tiffany switched the focus to jewelry and moved headquarters to New York City soon thereafter. His son, Louis Comfort Tiffany, later gained fame at a separate studio making stained-glass goods.
The future holds change, too. French luxury goods giant LVMH, which owns such brands as Louis Vuitton and Fendi, agreed in late November to buy Tiffany for $16.2 billion, paying a premium for the name. The purchase – the largest ever in luxury goods – is set to close mid-2020. What that means for the brand remains to be seen, but presumably it signifies more marketing muscle.
Bruckner says it’s “very helpful” to run Tiffany’s Latin American business from Coral Gables, where scores of multinationals have similar offices. He often meets fellow Latin American chiefs in the city and at Miami International Airport. Says Bruckner: “I’m on a plane almost all the time.”