Tiny Jewel Box, whose customers have included the likes of Barbra Streisand, the late Washington Post Co. chairman Katharine Graham, and a bevy Middle East potentates, got some free publicity when the gift appeared on worldwide television. One customer from Mumbai called the store to say he recognized the shopping bag.
Tiny Jewel Box is one of those Washington landmarks, nestled in a cozy, six-story building a few steps from the Mayflower Hotel. Its red awnings and its brass nameplate project an air of exclusivity that reminds me of something out of New York’s Upper East Side.
It was once home to the Elizabeth Arden cosmetics store.
The business, now owned and run by the third generation of the Rosenheim family, is remarkable for its staying power in a highly competitive industry. I asked Jim Rosenheim, its ebullient chief executive, how the company has survived while many of its competitors in downtown Washington have closed or moved.
“The secret of my success is our philosophy of being a store out of the 1940s or 1950s,” said Rosenheim, 70, who made his first jewelry sale at age 6. “We are not about making sales. We are about building relationships.”
The culture begins with the sales associates who forge those relationships. TJB’s salespeople are salaried, long-time employees.
They are paid extremely well by retail standards, have a 401(k) with a match, and health care. The average tenure for one of his 30 or so employees is 10 years. Rosenheim’s late mother sold at the store into her 90s.
“The only time employees leave is when they retire, get sick or die,” said Rosenheim, who personally interviews every job candidate to ensure they have the right chemistry.
Each employee undergoes an exhaustive annual written review that covers their sales, how they follow store policies, interaction with customers, and how they cooperate with each other. Some end up with bonuses that can equal 10 percent or more of their salary, depending on how they and the store did financially that year.
“If the store has a bad year, everybody suffers,” Rosenheim said. “If it has a good year, a rising tide floats all boats.”
He estimates that he has a core group of 35,000 customers, with the biggest bunch coming from Washington’s legal establishment.
“It’s a pretty conservative clientele, with lots of attorneys and bureaucrats,” he said. “Their lifestyle has to reflect stability. You don’t see many women with 25-carat diamond rings on their fingers like in New York or Los Angeles.”
But TJB still has his share of bold-face names. Rosenheim once kept the store open late so the brother of Jordan’s late King Hussein — and a retinue of security guards — could drop by for some exclusive shopping.