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Good As Gold: Bijoux Terner Dazzles the World with Costume Jewelry [New Miami magazine]

by Hope Katz Gibbs
New Miami magazine / Cover story
Photos by Deborah Gray Mitchell
Design by Kevin Jolliffe

CALL HIM THE EARL OF FAUX PEARL EARRINGS, the Baron of the Rhinestone Brooch, the Duke of Glass Diamond Chokers. He’s the man who keeps many Miami socialites (he refuses to name names) in costume jewels while the real thing comes out only for the most special occasions.

His name is Salomon Terner, a businessman who is at once charming and shrewd in dealing with his customers, the thousands of retailers who stock their stores with Terner’s brand of affordable glamour.

“My philosophy is simple,” he says. “We take care of the customer like there is no tomorrow. They are treated like royalty here.”

Terner’s business philosophy has made him a wealthy man. A Cuban exile that repaired handbags for a living in Miami in the early 1960s, he now runs a multi-million-dollar international business empire called Bijoux Terner Inc. Annually his company cashes in by selling jewelry that is much less expensive than it looks.

Call him the King of Illusion.

ALL THAT GLITTERS

Thousands of twinkling necklaces, bracelets and earrings fill the Bijoux Terner wholesale outlet in the Miami Merchandise Mart, just a simple hop from Miami International Airport. This is a supermarket of women’s accessories.

A new line of bejeweled women’s clothing is on display, too. T-shirts adorned with red and blue rhinestones mix and match with lacey leggings and gold flame skirts. The back wall is jammed solid with belts. Six-foot-tall racks are stacked with gold-leaf barrettes and leather headbands.

Every aisle at the Bijoux Terner outlet seems to bustle with activity. On an average day, about 800 customers—many from the Caribbean and South America—line to up buy merchandise. It’s a noisy place. Chatty customers debate the pros and cons of the vast inventory, about 12,000 items in all, everything from $ 10 rhinestone earrings to $ 100 fake-pearl necklaces.

On a recent day, a French businessman named Maurice Levy strolls through the aisles with a shopping cart. Clad in a T-shirt and jeans, Levy is on his monthly shopping spree to buy the accessories for his chain of 50 costume jewelry stores in Paris. “The French women like the Bijoux Terner merchandise very much,” Levy says. “They like the quality. The American-made product is probably the best-made product in the world. “
Another customer, Gemary Aguilar, picks up a denim blue patina earring and puts it in her shopping basket.

“This is beautiful,” says Aguilar, who flies to Miami once a month to visit the Bijoux Terner outlet and buy merchandise for her retail store in Puerto Rico. “They offer a lot of good-looking merchandise,” she says. “It’s pretty inexpensive and it sells very well when I get back to my store. What I like most about shopping here is that there is no pressure from the sales people.”

Aguilar says she spends about $1,000 per visit, and “I also pick up a few things for myself.”

She is one of 50,000 retailers who regularly shop for merchandise at Bijoux Terner wholesale showrooms around the world. In addition to the flagship showroom in Miami and another local showroom downtown, there are nine other wholesale outlets around the world: two in Europe and four in Latin America.

The wholesale operation is just a slice of the Bijoux Terrier empire. Other operations include a costume jewelry manufacturing plant in Miami. Terner also is launching a franchising venture that will create several hundred retail stores in Brazil. “I can’t say for sure, but there is a possibility we could do these all over the world.”

FASHION FACTS

When it comes to running his company, Salomon Terner gets many help from his daughter, 33-year-old Rosa, and his second in command.

“The philosophy of Bijoux Terner is to take a fashion theme and put it into accessories which fit every price point and every social structure,” Rosa says. “You can’t toss out your whole wardrobe every time a new fashion trend comes in, but you can update with accessories.”

That fashion fact has made fake jewelry a very real industry. Costume jewelry accounts for $4.9 billion of the $17.2 billion in U.S. retail sales of women’s fashion accessories, according to “Accessories,” a trade publication based in Hartford. Sales of costume jewelry have more than doubled since 1978—when they totaled $1.9 billion.

“Accessories are updated every season, are relatively inexpensive, and provide a psychological lift for a customer on a budget,” says Karen Alberg, Accessories editor. “Even during the retail recession, accessory departments have been ringing up the best sales in the stores.”

A number of companies are vying for bigger shares of the wholesale market for costume jewelry, but Miami-based Bijoux Terner apparently hasn’t been slowed by its competitors: Crystal Brands (with sales of $857 million in 1989 that sells under the Monet, Trifari and Marvella brand names); and Victoria Creations (with sales of $56 million in 1989) which sells Karl Lagerfeld and Givenchy, among other lines.

Insiders say that what distinguishes Bijoux Terner from the other costume jewelry wholesalers is its marketing strategy.

Crystal Brands and Victoria Creations sell mostly to large department stores and specialty retail chains that place large orders. Salomon Terner’s calls his approach “wholesale cash-and-carry.” He caters to smaller retailers who make purchases directly from his showroom floors. No 90-day delay. No minimum purchase required.

“Most of the larger companies in the costume jewelry industry require exorbitant minimum purchase orders,” Alberg adds. “It is difficult for smaller retailers to commit to huge orders early in the season because it is difficult for them to predict what will be popular. The cash-and-carry system removes the risk. This is a godsend of an idea for the smaller companies who can’t afford to make those kinds of orders. It’s a brilliant system. It’s surprising no one thought of it before.”

As the cash-and-carry concept caught on with customers, at least one Bijoux Terner competitor tried to copy it—but with little success. Two years ago, Victoria Creations tested the waters at two wholesale marts where Bijoux Terner operates—the New York Accessory Mart and the Miami Merchandise Mart—by opening cash-and-carry outlets under the name Treza. Although the two Treza outlets are still in business, they haven’t gained much ground against Bijoux Terner.

“My predecessor made an attempt to compete with Bijoux Terner,” says Paul Markovits, president of Victoria Creations. “We have no plans to try it again.”

STARTING FROM SCRATCH

Born in Cuba in 1934, Salomon Terner immigrated to the United States in 1960 after Fidel Castro confiscated his family’s handbag factory. In tow were his wife, Rebecca, and their two daughters, Ana, 4, and Rosa, 2.

“We moved on October 14,” recalls Terner. “I will never forget that date. We left everything behind. When I got here, we rented an apartment and I was making $50 a week making handbag repairs at Burdines, and at night was selling them door to door.”

Within a year, he and his brother Luis and his father Benjamin had their own handbag factory on Miami Avenue (where the Dade County Public Library now stands). They also costume jewelry, and by 1974, decided to separate the handbag and jewelry businesses and operate them independently.

Salomon took over the costume jewelry business, leasing 1,000 square feet of space at the Miami Merchandise Mart. By the late 1970s, his major customers from South America began feeling an economic pinch, and Terner lost a good percentage of his clientele.

It was rough going for a while. Terner found it more difficult to place large minimum orders required by his suppliers in New York. And Terner found he wasn’t alone.

“If you’re a small dress shop, maybe you only need the red or the white earrings, not a whole assortment. And maybe you need them tomorrow to go with a dress that’s in stock today.”

By 1982, Terner began placing all his orders with more flexible South American manufacturers. He also expanded his space at the Miami Merchandise Mart from 1,000 to 3,000 square feet, and introduced the cash-and-carry concept.

Another turning point came several years later, when Terner met David Roberts, a trustee of the Rockefeller Corp., who made an equity investment in Bijoux Terner and several of its real estate investments.

Terner began a massive expansion. Since 1985, the company has opened showrooms in New York City, Atlanta and Los Angeles, Paraguay, Mexico City, Sao Paulo, Colon, Barcelona, and Paris. And more are on the way in Chicago, Dallas and Puerto Rico. Terner is also in the final stages of negotiating a joint venture with a Japanese company to open an outlet in Tokyo. And another may be in the works in the Soviet Union.

Terner has also gotten funding locally from Capital Bank and Trade National Bank—banks where Terner has known the presidents since their boyhood days in Cuba.

“By the time he moves on something, I know Salomon has thought it through completely,” says Abel Holtz of Capital. “I have never seen him fail in any project he’s undertaken. That makes him a reliable investment for the bank.”

In fact, Terner owns about 1,500 acres of property outside of Disney World in Orlando, and nearly all of the buildings where his showrooms reside.

“He carries very little long-term debt,” Holtz adds. “It’s good to have no debt. Of course, I like to encourage the opposite.”

FAMILY PHILOSOPHY

Although Terner won’t confirm it, Accessories magazine estimates that the company’s annual revenue was $18 million. “Money is very secondary,” Terner believes. “Most important is the company. If you only do it for money, you can stop at some time. To keep it growing is a challenge.”

For him, catering to the customer is key. And so despite the company’s earnings, Terner’s customers see the company as a small family-owned business.

That’s why Mollye Shockett, owner of the Mollye Shockett Handbag and Jewelry Shop in the Eden Roc Hotel on Miami Beach, has been a loyal Bijoux Terner customer for 30 years. “Shopping at Bijoux Terner is more than business,” she says. “They are like family.”

That feeling keeps employees hanging around, too.

Leticia Cianfoni manages the Bijoux Terner outlet at the Accessory Mart in New York City. Previously, she worked at Gucci in Rome and Palm Beach, but joined Bijoux Terner in 1987 because she likes the way the Terner do business.

“Most New Yorker wholesalers are so rough and mean,” Cianfoni says. “The buyers will go into other wholesalers and get abused. When they come in here, we give them some cappuccino or some tea, or we’ll order them lunch. It’s like spending the afternoon with friends. And that makes the experience nicer for them—and for us.”

An experience fit, in fact, for a king.

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"I get by with a little help from my friends," says Hope, who gives special thanks to:

• MICHAEL GIBBS, website illustration and design: www.michaelgibbs.com
• MAX KUKOY, website development: www.maxwebworks.com
• STEVE BARRETT, portrait of Hope on Bio page: www.stevebarrettphotography.com

Contact HOPE KATZ GIBBS by phone [703-346-6975] or email.

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