The Tiny Jewel Box takes up a street

By Hedda T. Schupak

Tiny Jewel Box is full of things you want to own.

The 12,500-square-foot luxury jeweler is undergoing a 6,000-square-foot expansion, set to be finished this fall. (The average high-end jewelry store is 3,675 square feet, according to Jewelers of America, a trade organization.) When the dust settles, the store will have 90 feet of prime retail frontage and a coveted corner entrance at Connecticut and M Streets in Washington, D.C.

"Our name has gone from descriptive to ironic," says Jim Rosenheim, chairman and second-generation owner, with a laugh. His son Matthew is president.

The original store, founded in 1930 by Rosenheim's parents, Monte and Roz, was tiny indeed: It measured only 100 square feet and specialized in antique jewelry.

Its first expansion was to 450 square feet in a 1958 move to the intersection of Connecticut and L Streets. Roz wondered how they would fill the larger store.

In 1971, that location was torn down to build the Farragut North Metro stop, and the store moved one block. In 1992, it moved two doors down to its current location in a 1926 building that's on the National Register of Historic Places.

Vintage jewelry still is part of the product mix, but designer jewelry, luxury watches, diamond bridal rings, giftware and corporate products account for the lion's share of both merchandise and revenues. The expanded store will have retail on street level, with the remaining floors used for manufacturing, design, watch repair, corporate sales and administrative offices.

Expanding the size and product line was a bone of contention between Jim Rosenheim and his parents. The Great Depression left Monte and Roz fearful and risk-averse. But Jim, born in 1942, grew up comfortably middle-class with no fear of change. Even as a teenager working in the store, he embraced new ideas to expand beyond antique jewelry. By 1971 he was running the business but often butting heads with his parents. He bought them out in 1996 -- acrimoniously, he says. Even so, Monte and Roz worked at least part-time until their deaths.

"I lived all the acrimonious situations you read about in family businesses. It both scarred and enlightened me, and I thought a lot about it with Matthew," Jim says. "The acrimony I had with my father left a scar on our relationship, and I didn't want to damage my relationship with Matthew.

"I realized through a lot of introspection and therapy that it has to be the older generation that makes it work. Parents want to hold on and treat their kids like kids. That's a bad business dynamic. I don't want to be like that."

"I knew I had to come in very serious and ready to work," says Matthew, 44. "At the time, we had eight employees that weren't family and they were all significantly older than me. I had to earn the respect of these people if I would someday be their boss." Today, Tiny Jewel Box has 36 employees. Marcia Rosenheim, Jim's wife, is involved in buying and in the expansion, but scaled back her day-to-day role. Matthew's children, Josh, 16, and Rachel, 13, are slowly getting exposure to the business.

When Matthew joined in 1993, he saw opportunity in expanding the bridal department, and requested $300,000 to launch a marketing campaign. Jim gulped at that one, he says, but stuck by his determination to let Matthew try new things. Matthew's hunch about bridal paid off. After the expansion, the entire first floor of the existing building will become a bridal salon. And Matthew's marketing budget has doubled twice since his first ask, says Jim.

The two say they disagree rarely—usually about how to do something, not what to do. For example, growth in the watch department is a driving force behind the expansion. Despite the ubiquity of cell phones, fine watch collecting is on the rise: Swiss watch imports rose 6% in 2014.

"We're on the same page. I saw those opportunities, and Jim is willing to support those changes," says Matthew. 
 

Hedda T. Schupak is an editor and analyst specializing in fine jewelry and luxury retailing.

Copyright 2015 by Family Business Magazine. This article may not be posted online or reproduced in any form, including photocopy, without permission from the publisher. For reprint information, contact bwenger@familybusinessmagazine.com.

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