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Tiffany & Co.’s most recent attempt to attract new customers is an invitation to breakfast inside its storied Fifth Avenue flagship.
The luxury jewelry giant may have spent centuries as an American darling, beloved for its high-priced trinkets, modern 1970s jewelry, and the silver “Return to Tiffany” collection that was all the rage in the ’90s, but today it’s on a long list of retail kingpins losing relevance.
After several years of weak sales, particularly in stores, Tiffany knows its customers need a fresh taste of its exclusive in-store experience, which seduces shoppers into buying into its luxury price point. But how does a 180-year-old brand rediscover retail sex appeal? The answer, of course, is to give the people what they want, and what the people want is an IRL experience — otherwise known as Instagram bait.
Here, it comes in the form of the Blue Box Cafe, opening this Friday on Fifth Avenue. Nearly everything inside is the color of the company’s iconic hue: the cafe’s walls, the upholstered dining chairs, the fine bone china, the delicate trinkets inside the glass wall displays — you feel as though you are swaddled inside one of those little blue boxes.
On a visit earlier this week, even the ties and aprons of the attractive waiters were Tiffany blue. Featuring a set menu — $29 for breakfast, $49 for tea — shoppers can now really have breakfast at Tiffany’s (and not just from the outside looking in, a la Holly Golightly).
Like many heritage brands due for a refresh, Tiffany has a problem with shoppers, especially millennials. As luxury analyst Mario Ortelli told Racked back in February, “In the past few years, Tiffany missed a big way to make consumers enthusiastic. The product innovation was not there. The management must shake off the dust and make it shiny.”
Things Tiffany & Co. has tried to court millennials with include a Super Bowl campaign featuring Lady Gaga, partnerships with cool shopping destinations like Net-a-Porter and Dover Street Market, and bright, feminine renovations of their stores to speak to the self-purchasing woman (a buzzy term for the jewelry industry’s fast-growing customer segment). Tiffany, which wouldn’t make any executives available for this story, has also shaken up its management as it attempts new tricks; this year it got rid of both its CEO and design director, the latter of which was replaced by Reed Krakoff, Coach’s former executive creative director.
Krakoff’s debut jewelry collection, which is expected this spring, must pique shoppers’ interest in order for Tiffany to get back on track — the company is, after all, a jewelry brand. But there’s still the problem of in-store visits, which is where Tiffany is hoping the cafe will come in.
The Blue Box Cafe is located on the fourth floor, which was just gutted to mirror that bright and feminine design palette you’ll find at newly renovated Tiffany stores around the country. Just outside the cafe, the fourth floor also features Krakoff’s just-launched home goods collection. Mixed into the assortment are some delightfully absurd items, like a $350 rose gold straw, a $1,000 sterling tin can, a $300 silver yo-yo, and what might be a $1,500 Lego set. Krakoff has also updated the kinds of home goods Tiffany & Co. offers: Instead of the latest 10-piece china set, customers will find a leather camera case, silk scarves, pet accessories, cashmere blankets, and branded luxury candles, because of course.
Tiffany’s Blue Box Cafe emerges from two pervasive trends. The first is offering in-store experiences. From the barbershops inside Frank + Oak to soft drinks and laundry services at American Eagle to Walmart throwing more than 20,000 holiday parties this season, anyone with retail real estate is thinking of new ways to get shoppers through their doors. In many cases, dining has been a go-to. Urban Outfitters has restaurants, coffee shops, and even bars; Ralph Lauren has its Polo Bar in New York City and is opening a London location in February; and streetwear brand Kith has its cereal and ice cream bars. The fact that a legacy brand like Tiffany & Co. is resorting to a dining experience truly speaks to a sign of the times.
And then there’s the social media pandering. The Fifth Avenue flagship is already a tourist destination, and now fans can nibble on a croissant inside what is basically a human-sized jewelry box. Insta-bait! The ultimate recipe for success in 2017. Blockbuster exhibits like the Museum of Ice Cream, the Museum of Color, and anything from Yayoi Kusama attracted mobs of attendees, most of which were there for the ‘gram, Beyoncé included. Who knows how much Mansur Gavriel’s New York City stores are selling, but customers sure do love to post pics of the extreme millennial pink interiors. Restaurants have caught onto the game, too, opting for extravagant wallpaper, props, and lighting to lure diners in.
A cafe splashed with Tiffany’s iconic robin’s egg blue certainly runs the risk of losing some brand exclusivity, a particular pain point for the company. Back in July, The Wall Street Journal reported that one of the many internal gripes aimed at now-ousted CEO Frederic Cumenal was that the executive wanted to scale back on the use of the shade, and chairman Michael Kowalski admitted that how and when to use the color often caused strife at Tiffany. But there’s no doubt that a full-blown Tiffany blue experience is what shoppers, especially tourists at the Fifth Avenue flagship, want. Overexposure here could actually translate to sales.
For now, Tiffany’s new dining concept will only be on Fifth Avenue, although based on the response, the company is willing to assess extensions to other stores. If there’s anything we’ve learned about the world of Instagram — the hashtags, the weird businesses that spawn and multiply, the sprawling network of influencers — it’s that it can spiral small things into full-fledged movements. So expect to see a whole lot of Tiffany & Co. blue in New York City and beyond.