LVMH has finally gotten Tiffany & Co. to say yes, announcing a deal on November 25 to buy the iconic New York jeweler for $16.2 billion.
The deal, the largest ever in the luxury goods industry, will bolster the French conglomerate’s jewelry business, which has long lagged that of Swiss rival Richemont.
But the potential upside goes further than that if LVMH succeeds in improving Tiffany’s middling business performance.
LVMH and its massive resources could turn Tiffany—an 183-year-old company iconic for its robin egg blue boxes, engagement jewelry, and the Fifth Avenue flagship in Manhattan made famous in the classic 1961 motion picture “Breakfast at Tiffany’s”—into the kind of global luxury jeweler it has long striven to be.
Here is Tiffany’s dirty little secret: It’s not really a luxury brand like, say, a Harry Winston or a Cartier. Sure, it sells $138,000 necklaces and tons of diamonds. But about 30% of its revenue comes from relatively inexpensive silver items, giving Tiffany something of a mass product image in a big part of its business that’s only a couple of notches above a Zales or a Kay Jewelers.
LVMH has a good track record of taking a brand upmarket and that will inform what it does to lift Tiffany up. In 2011, it bought Italian jeweler Bulgari and focused on that brand’s heritage and standout products, restoring its aura. As a result, revenue has doubled, according to Bloomberg News. It’s worth noting that Tiffany CEO Alessandro Bogliolo worked at Bulgari earlier in his career. (Tiffany did not immediately respond to a question about whether Bogliolo will stay.)
Watches are another area where LVMH can help Tiffany finally reach its potential. In 2015, the company relaunched its men’s watch business, or at least tried to, after a long partnership with Swatch fell apart. Executives were hopeful Tiffany’s previous history in watchmaking would lend it credibility with big spenders and make it a player again. (In 1868, Tiffany made the first stopwatch in America.) But last year, for all of those efforts, timepieces still only generated 1% of the company’s $4.4 billion in sales.
LVMH, which owns watch brands TAG Heuer, Chaumet, Hublot, and Zenith, will likely help Tiffany bolster that business and get into women’s watches, where Tiffany is absent.
Tiffany was also slow to embrace e-commerce, though it has sought to address that with partnerships such as the one it has with Farfetch. Last year, including orders by telephone, non-store orders only generated 7% of Tiffany sales, the same percentage as the two prior years. LVMH’s firepower should help it finally build up its e-commerce further.
As a major international luxury conglomerate, LVMH can arguably help Tiffany finally become a true global player, rather than an American company trying to branch out abroad. Tiffany, founded in New York in 1837, is still highly dependent on the domestic market, getting about 41% of sales there. (About 10 percentage points of that comes from its iconic Fifth Avenue flagship.) But sales in the Americas, 90% of which come from the U.S., fell 4% in the first half of the current fiscal year.
Much of Tiffany’s U.S. expansion has centered on opening stores in suburban malls, some of which don’t quite reach the status of a luxury space.
One Wall Street analyst said Tiffany could close some U.S. stores, something easier to do as a company no longer required to report quarterly results. Tiffany’s “productivity is better in non-U.S. markets which could indicate opportunity to raise productivity in the U.S. and rationalize square footage,” Cowen analyst Oliver Chen wrote in a note.
In addition, LVMH’s resources and deep understanding of Europe might help Tiffany finally master that market, the bedrock of the luxury industry. Sales in that market were down 4% in the first half. Even in Asia, long a source of growth for Tiffany, business has been a mixed bag. LVMH, whose massive portfolio of 75 brands includes the likes of Louis Vuitton, Christian Dior, and Givenchy—and ranges from clothing to alcohol to jewelry—knows how to expand in China and choose the best real estate.
And perhaps most crucially, LVMH’s resources and operational prowess might help Tiffany become more profitable. Rival French luxury jeweler Cartier, which has been more deft at launching new products and more successful at winning new shoppers, boasts operating profit margins twice those of Tiffany.
According to terms of the deal, expected to close in mid-2020, LVMH agreed to pay $135 per share, or a 37% premium above the price before media reports surfaced about a potential deal last month, if Tiffany shareholders sign off on the deal.