Interview with the People Behind the New Fortunoff

As we reported earlier this week, Fortunoff is coming back
to the jewelry business. The new version of the chain, a legendary name here in the Northeast, will be run by Four Leaf Designs, a
partnership between siblings Esther and David Fortunoff, and Lester Friedlander
and Shaun Apgar, the principals of jewelry wholesaler Clover II. Fortunoff and Friedlander very generously took some time to talk with me  yesterday about the new venture: 

So tell me about your plans.


FORTUNOFF: We are not going to be
opening up a store right away. We hope to have a wonderful looking e-commerce
site up around November. And then we will look at opening stores in mid-2011.
 
What will the new company carry?


FORTUNOFF: We want to have
forward-looking merchandise at prices that makes sense. There is currently a
bifurcated market of low-end and high, but not that much in the middle. And
with the recession, consumers are spending money in a more thoughtful way. The
jewelry has to be the right product and there has to be a reason to want it.
 
And where will the stores be located?


FORTUNOFF: It is too early to say.
 We are working on a new format that is the evolution of the jewelry
shopping experience.
 
You have already licensed Fortunoff
outdoor furniture stores. How are those doing?


FORTUNOFF: They are doing well. They
are stores that function as a showroom, so it’s a different kind of concept.
 
We get emails all the time asking us when the jewelry business is coming back.
There are some people who will only buy jewelry from us. We were part of
people’s lives. There are customers who went to us for three generations of
memories and celebrations. That’s really the essence of the jewelry business.
 
Clover also owns the Robert Lee Morris
brand. Will that work together with the new brand?


FORTUNOFF: We are not expecting any
synergies.
 
FRIEDLANDER: Robert Lee Morris is a
separate brand that became part of Clover in 1998. That will be run separately,
and managed separately. In the same way, Fortunoff will be run separately from
our other products. Clover manufactures a wide variety of products for many
major retailers, and we will keep doing that.
 
Clover will act as the sourcing company for Fortunoff. All the specific brand
characteristics will be driven by Esther. She will be the chef, and we will be
the kitchen.  Fortunoff always had high quality standards. That is what
kept people coming back. They had good prices and high quality.  
 
The family didn’t control the business
over the last few years, but even so, Fortunoff went Chapter 11 twice and hurt
vendors. Do you think that suppliers may be leery of the new company?


FRIEDLANDER: When large investment
firms take over the management of your business, you don’t have control.
Unfortunately that has been the cases in many instances in the jewelry
industry. Clover has been involved in a number of unfortunate situations where customers
we had relationships with were taken over by hedge funds and other investment
groups, and where the final outcome was less than stellar.  So we
understand.
 
But Clover has been in the business for 22 years. We separated from our
previous affiliation with M. Fabrikant and Sons and during that separation we
were able to make the trade 100% whole. Not 95% or 50% whole.  We didn’t negotiate;
we didn’t give people a haircut. That’s because of our long-standing industry
relationships.
 
The Fortunoff family was deeply saddened by the actions of the people who took
control of their company. If the Fortunoffs had control of the business, they
wouldn’t have let anything happen to their valuable suppliers and people they
had relationships with.  
 
This is a privately held venture, not something where we don’t have control.
There is no other entity involved other than the principals. We wanted to run
our business in the way we always have.  
 
Esther, you have been involved with
jewelry associations for the last few years, but not in the jewelry business.
Are you glad to be back?


FORTUNOFF: I am very excited. This
is something I’ve been working towards for many months.
 
David and I did an exhaustive search to find the right partners.  Now we
have a lot of work to do in a short period of time.
 
FRIEDLANDER: When you bring
something back, you want to make sure it is everything people remember and what
they expect it to be. That is the challenge at hand.

JCK News Director