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Old World Comes to Long Island: New Libutti jewelers is an expression of owner’s faith

Libutti Jewelers

Libutti Jewelers

Address: 336 New York Avenue Huntington, NY 11743
Telephone: (631) 427-0126
Website: www.libuttijewelers.com
Owners: Jeannine Libutti Tiemann and Jim Tiemann
Employees: 7
Year founded: 1943
Major expansion: 2005
Showroom: 1,700 square feet
Annual sales: $1.5 to $2 million
Top selling brands: Philip Stein, Natalie K, Hidalgo, Lau, BA Gold, H. J. Namdar and Le Vian


The minute Jeannine Libutti Tiemann saw her husband’s face, she knew the masked teens beside him weren’t neighborhood trick-or-treaters. She screamed, and began pelting the intruders with Halloween candy. In the milliseconds of surprise, the Tiemanns were able to shove the shotgun-wielding pair out the door and slam it. But the near-robbery stirred the couple to search their souls: Should they keep their family jewelry business in a cramped, 600-square foot showroom when three competitors now shared their block in Huntington, NY? Sales were heading south; a new building was costly. “The safe thing to do was to get out of the jewelry business,” Jim recalls. “Jeannine would have none of that.” Their decision is the new Libutti Jewelers: 1,700-square feet, computer-savvy, customer-friendly — and thriving. — Harriet Howard Heithaus

A COMMITMENT TO COMMUNITY

A Street and a Store

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The Libutti name is so familiar in Huntington Village there’s a street — Lt. Gen. Frank Libutti Way — named for Jeannine’s highly decorated cousin in the military. “We have a name people know, of course, because we’ve been here 60 years. We’re seeing generation after generation of customers from the same families,” observes Jeannine, who has been working in what was her parents’ store since she was 6 years old. “We’re becoming people’s family jewelers, so to speak, from when they’re kids, when they’re looking for engagement rings. There’s a level of trust.”

Their history in the community cemented their decision to expand, not fold, after the attempted robbery. It had been the second time; a break-in six months earlier took valuables and household goods. In the foiled Halloween burglary, the family lost a pet, when one of their dogs went after the robbers and was shot to death. The family response has been more dogs, more locks, almost a fortress feel. “That isn’t good,” Jim laments. Still, he adds: “Huntington is where we were both raised and where we raised our children. Most of our family and friends reside in Huntington and we are devoted to the town and our customers.”

INDEPENDENT, ARTISTIC

Keeping Creation in the Store

The Tiemanns specialize in custom design, especially in updating estate jewelry for clients. “Jeannine doesn’t give herself enough credit,” Jim says. “She’s a wonderful artist. She custom-designs a lot of things for customers. That’s another thing that sets us apart. She’s universally respected around town for her designs.

“Chris, our master jeweler — an artist himself — can custom-make just about anything you can imagine in-house from scratch with guidance from Jeannine or our experienced sales associates.” If you’re thinking of getting rid of your jeweler and sending everything out, which a lot of stores do, Jeannine strongly discourages it. “One of the things that will always separate a good independent from mall stores and department stores is service,” she says.  So important is on-premises work that the new store has a 6-by-7-foot glass-enclosed jeweler’s area where customers can watch.

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UNDERSTANDING VALUE

DIY Ambience

“There were certainly limitations to what we could afford to spend, but at the same time there was a stubborn unwillingness on our part to compromise with the end result,” Jim says. As a designer, he was experienced with CAD-CAM, and was able to develop an architect’s vague ideas into a jewelry store with both efficiency and ambience.

The $500,000 building was matched by its redesign costs, but the couple saved $18,000 by creating their own floor case track lighting; “I realized I could order full-length halogen light fixtures and cut them to size where needed,” Jim says. He and Jeannine also built the floor case displays and covered them with fabric. They saved thousands of dollars more in fabrication costs through the Internet, bidding on grillwork and cast-iron metal pieces for store detailing and gates.

Custom-designed wall cases were a dream for Jeannine, but she and Jim found they could save by customizing curio cabinets. Jim, a designer who holds five patents, shared his appreciation for value with customers in creating a glass-enclosed jewelry photo station. Camera software installed on a small laptop allows buyers to preview stones enlarged on a computer screen. It also does double duty for point-of-sale identification. A photo of each sold item is stored in the store’s system for identification should the item be lost or stolen. From the computer station a photo can be e-mailed to a customer on a printed appraisal, or the jeweler can dispatch photos to an attached printer, so customers can leave the store with a photo of the item they’ve brought in for work. Jeannine saw the creation of the store’s 7-foot-deep walk-in vault as an efficiency move, trimming display case setup time from two hours to just 15 minutes. The vault holds modified baking racks that allow staff to shuttle the display trays between the showroom cases and the vault.

CARE FOR COMFORT

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Family-friendly

Jeannine insisted the entry have no steps, and it wasn’t out of concern only for senior customers. “You have these people with strollers, and they’re hard to get up steps. I want it to be good for family life. That’s important to me,” Jeannine says. She also added a treasure-chest toy box. “When kids come in they go right for the toy box. There are things that make sounds, so the mother can hear the noise and know what her children are doing but can still focus on what she’s doing,” she explains.

A seating area, with faux fireplace, magazines and children’s books, brings a touch of both economy and comfort. The furnishings were offered to them from friends whose elderly aunt had just passed away. They were old-fashioned, and the couple hesitated; yet the pieces had a homey feel. “In hindsight, I can’t imagine us finding more appropriate chairs if we had searched for them,” Jeannine says.

PERSONALITY, PROFIT COEXIST

Working Together to Start Anew

“When Jeannine handed me a picture of the Palace of Versailles and said ‘Make it like this,’ I knew I was in trouble,” says her husband. “How was I going to fit in the 80-foot columns?” On the other hand, Jeannine knew she was going to have to change from what her business-savvy husband calls “shoot-from-the-hip” decisions. Raising prices, which skimmed too close to unprofitable, would help the store provide better service to its customers, he told her.

Jim set about designing Jeannine’s requests for their new 1,700-square-foot store to include several religious statues and Roman detailing. “I love Italy. I love Italian things,” she admits. She’s also not afraid to include displays of her Roman Catholic faith. However, the milieu is ecumenical; it features the Star of David as well. Traditional dark wood or silver-tone cabinets were not the style Jeannine wanted. She found a creamy limed-wood look on a kitchen-cabinetry van’s illustration, and Jim duplicated it.

In turn, he guided the store to Internet business, putting up a website for online sales. It even offers a personalized diamond search feature and gem education. The new Libutti Jewelers proudly breaks the mold many stores are in. “Sales have increased by over 60 percent compared to our last full year in the old location,” exults Jim. “Better than that, though, we are back to making a profit.” Jeannine calls herself the “princess in her castle.” Her store’s most valuable gem, she says, is her husband: “He’s brilliant.”

FIVE QUESTIONS

Jeannine Libutti Tiemann and Jim Tiemann

Jeannine Libutti Tiemann and Jim Tiemann, owners

1What would your parents say about the store now? Jeannine: My father never would have supported our selling our summer home, mortgaging our house and having Jim walk away from his career, but I’m sure he would have been ecstatic with the end result

2What sets you apart? Jeannine: Our employees average over 30 years each in the jewelry business, and most of them have owned their own business at one time. It costs more to hire people with qualifications like theirs, but they are worth every penny.

3What business practices has a bigger store required you to change? Jim: The biggest challenge has been the transition from a tiny mom-and-pop store run by a seat-of-the-pants-style management to a more up-to-date environment with buying, inventory control and POS all computerized.

4What’s your biggest challenge? Jim: Marketing ourselves effectively. A store like ours has 60 years of goodwill and service to the community to fall back on, but there needs to be an ongoing effort to keep from sliding backward.

5Having three other stores on your block and 14 other stores around Huntington Village is incredible competition. Why so many? Jim: People are drawn to the town — it’s almost like a center for jewelry. It’s a beautiful little town. People enjoy coming into the town and just walking around.

HEARSAY

Said in the Store

They are an old established family business who really service their customers” —GAYLE MOSS, a former employee and current customer

STORE IMAGES

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This story is from the July 2008 edition of INSTORE

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