This week, Cindy DiPietrantonio, who was appointed president of Alex and Ani last year, sat down for an interview with JCK at the Alex and Ani showroom in Tribeca in New York City. Here, the accessories veteran, who reports to founder and CEO Carolyn Rafaelian, talks how her “meaning-based” brand differs from Pandora, the possibility of an IPO, and Alex and Ani’s upcoming move into high-end and men’s lines:
JCK: You told me you are moving into precious.
Cindy DiPietrantonio: We currently have precious in our line, and we are expanding that, under the label American 925. That collection will premiere this fall.
We are also coming out with a higher-end line much farther down the line.
We are also planning—and this is the first time we have announced this—a men’s line, Alex and Ani Men’s, that will launch next year.
JCK: When you say “higher end,” what price points, and what material?
DiPietrantonio: It is silver, gold, and possibly some diamonds. We haven’t set the price point on all the product yet. But when I say high-end, I’m talking $1,500 to $2,500.
JCK: Do you expect to change your distribution model with that new line?
DiPietrantonio: A lot of fine jewelers already use Alex and Ani to increase traffic within the store. So we are in a lot of independents.
If you look at our business model today, it is not your normal model. We already are in what we consider to be unconventional retailers. It’s not that far of a stretch [to] where we are moving. We are also going to look for high-end retail [chains].
JCK: How many concept stores do you own?
DiPietrantonio: Over 60. We will probably open up 20 to 35 stores this year.
JCK: Pandora seems to be moving away from independent retailers. Do you see yourself going a similar route?
DiPietrantonio: No, we continue with our independents. They have been with us a long time. And we will continue to have a relationship with them.
JCK: You are current selling online. How big a business is that?
DiPietrantonio: We don’t give out numbers. But it’s fairly significant and it’s growing.
JCK: You talk about expanding internationally. How many markets are you in?
DiPietrantonio: Sixteen, and 20 Caribbean islands. We will enter Costa Rica in April.
JCK: What is your second biggest market after the United States?
DiPietrantonio: Australia is second. But we see a lot of potential in the United Kingdom. Ireland is very strong for us. We have heard that in the Irish airport, they ask people to remove their Alex and Ani pieces before they go through security.
JCK: What other opportunities do you see?
DiPietrantonio: We see a big opportunity on the West Coast. We don’t really have a presence there.
JCK: There has been talk of an IPO. Do you see that happening?
DiPietrantonio: 2017 is all about focus for us. I don’t see that happening in the near future.
JCK: Are all your products still manufactured in the United States?
DiPietrantonio: That’s correct, and to talk about that for a second, when I was with [accessories manufacturer] The Jones Group, we bought a company named Victoria, a family-owned business out of Warwick, R.I. The decision was made at the time from the CEO to shut the business and move it over to China. I remember that vividly because I was part of the operations team that went in and told people they were losing their jobs.
Talk about full circle. Now I’m part of a company where the distribution center is in Rhode Island, the factory is in Rhode Island, and it’s never left Rhode Island. Everything is U.S.-made.
JCK: How do you look at yourself compared to Pandora?
DiPietrantonio: They have a very different business model, it’s a very different company. I always go back to how Pandora is not a U.S.-based company, and one of our biggest points is that we are made in the U.S. Carolyn’s father [Ralph Rafaelian], who originally owned the [manufacturing] company [Cinerama Jewelry, predecessor of Alex and Ani], stuck to never leaving the U.S. I don’t know how he did it.
The second is, we are a meaning-based company. We connect to our customers through being meaning-based, and it’s really something that keeps our customers with us. We like to think of ourselves as a humanitarian company as well. With [charitable arm] Charity by Design, we have 55 different partner charities that give back part of the proceeds. [This year,] we will likely hit close to $50 million. That’s a big number.
JCK: Alex and Ani has the reputation of a younger brand. Do you agree with that?
DiPietrantonio: There is a huge bandwidth as far as age for our customers. Our consumer is someone who really connects with our designs, connects with our meaning. That was a surprise to me, when I joined the company. It’s surprising how many people we connect with.
(Photo courtesy of Alex and Ani)