Thomas Bendheim, 42, new president of the Colibri Group, one of America’s best-known suppliers to jewelers, plans to “build on the success” of its several product categories, “become more important” to its customers, and “expand the franchise,” he told JCK.
However, he’s doing it without active input from Frederick N. Levinger, 68, who built the company into a $100 million business but resigned as Colibri’s nonexecutive chairman in February (see sidebar).
Bendheim was named president and chief executive officer in December by the investors group that bought Colibri in June from Levinger, whom he succeeded. He has a strong background in marketing, sales, corporate management, and “spotting competitive advantages and highlighting where to grow,” he told JCK in January. He’s also known for business turnarounds, including reviving the Rheingold beer company and Dooney & Bourke, a marketer of luxury handbags.
But Colibri doesn’t need reviving, said Bendheim. Instead, he wants to expand on its achievements. “What Fred did was unique in the jewelry industry, building brands in several categories. I want to build on that success,” he told JCK.
Levinger was one of the first in the industry—starting more than two decades ago—to sell jewelry by selling “concepts and brands,” as he told JCK in 2005. “That was unusual years ago,” Levinger said then, “but it’s one way to differentiate yourself in the jewelry business and get more of a focus.” Today, Colibri’s clients number in the many thousands, and it sells them jewelry under the Van Dell, Krementz, Dolan & Bullock, and Shiman brands; pocket and pendant watches, lighters, and executive gifts under Colibri and Linden; and Seth Thomas clocks and Princess Pride lockets. It’s also the exclusive U.S. distributor of S.T. Dupont luxury writing instruments and lighters.
Bendheim told JCK that rather than try new directions or add more categories, he wants to expand current ones. “There’s still a lot more potential in them,” he said. “We’ll build them up, making more out of them in response to what people demand, including young people who are more and more important to us. In doing so, we’ll broaden our base, making the franchise even more valuable to the customers.”
That’s already happening. Examples include the company’s new outdoor clocks, for poolside or deck; Daring Pearls (an expansion of Krementz’s Daring Diamond and Daring Silver jewelry), aimed at young women; Krementz’s Sideways lockets (tilted hearts in 14k and sterling silver, a redesign that turns lockets into fashion jewelry); and Dolan & Bullock’s men’s titanium, 18k, and stainless-steel jewelry, a first in the industry. “We’ll continue to do what we’ve done, building on it and using all marketing vehicles we have” to promote it, Bendheim said.
After Colibri was sold in 2005, some assumed it would explore new opportunities overseas (now 5 percent of its business), especially in China. But, Bendheim said, “While overseas has potential, our strength is here.”
Bendheim implied that the Colibri organization itself—headquartered in Providence, R.I., with over 500 employees and manufacturing and distribution facilities in Providence, Cranston, and North Smithfield, R.I.—will expand. “A strong infrastructure can support a big business, and [Colibri] can be bigger,” he said.
Currently, Bendheim is spending much of his time in the field, getting to know Colibri, its people, and the industry it serves. “I’m meeting and listening to as many people as I can, both our representatives and our customers,” he said. “I want to hear about what we do well and what we don’t.”
He’s learning other things, too, including the diversity of the industry and the enthusiasm of the people in it. “They have a real passion for it and such a commitment, that when they leave one company, they just go to another one in it,” he says. What’s impressed him most, though, is their friendliness. “Though it’s very competitive here, there’s a lot of camaraderie, even among competitors.” That’s uncommon in business, he noted.