June 13, 2003 – About a hundred jobs, more than half of them corporate positions, will be lost on St. Thomas in the next eight months with the relocation of Little Switzerland's headquarters to Boca Raton, Florida, and its warehousing operations to New Jersey.
The retailer, which has been suffering financial losses, will relocate as many as 60 corporate staff members from St. Thomas to Boca Raton according to the South Florida Business Journal. Little Switzerland spokeswoman Zona Corbin declined to confirm the figure on Thursday, saying "I have no idea" how many transfers are planned.
Corbin said, however, that "the corporate offices and the warehouse" will be affected. And she said that the relocations will take place in three phases: "the first part around August, the next wave in September and, finally, in January."
She referred queries about the number of people to be transferred or laid off to human relations director Claretta Bostic-Holland. Asked how many persons will be relocated from St. Thomas to Boca Raton, Bostic-Holland replied "I'm not at liberty to say." Asked how many are to be furloughed, she said "I'm not going to release that information, either."
A Little Switzerland corporate employee, who spoke on condition of not being identified, said "about a hundred people" will be affected, including about 40 warehouse workers who will lose their jobs. Employees were notified of the planned relocations on April 15, the employee said, and corporate personnel given the option of moving to Boca Raton had 30 days in which to decide. Most of those offered transfers took them, the individual said.
Many of the corporate personnel to be transferred are St. Thomas homeowners as well as longtime employees of the company, and they are now faced with putting their homes on the market.
Little Switzerland was founded on St. Thomas more than four decades ago when tourism was just beginning to catch on in the Caribbean. The high-end tourist-oriented retailer, which today has shops throughout the Caribbean and in Alaska and Key West, Florida, was acquired in whole last year by New York-based Tiffany & Co. in a $37 million stock sale and tender offer deal.
The Little Switzerland corporate offices have always been on St. Thomas. Since the 1990s they have been housed in the office and warehousing facility in Crown Bay that has served as the distribution point for the company's outlets as well as the headquarters for all operations except marketing. According to Corbin, some 250 to 300 persons currently work there.
The South Florida Business Journal reported that Little Switzerland has leased 17,000 square feet of office space in a Boca Raton building in the "high-profile" Arvida Park of Commerce. It quoted David Browne of Julien J. Studley, the real-estate firm that handled the lease transaction, as saying the company is set to move as many as 60 corporate staff members from St. Thomas.
A telephone message for Little Switzerland president and chief executive officer Robert Baumgardner left with an aide in his Boca Raton office on Thursday afternoon was not returned.
Mark Aaron, a Tiffany vice president, told the Business Journal that Baumgardner, a former regional vice president for Tiffany & Co., has been commuting from Boca to St. Thomas.
Moving the Little Switzerland corporate headquarters to the U.S. mainland makes operational sense now that Tiffany owns it, Aaron told the Business Journal. He said that Tiffany has no plans to move any of its operations into the Arvida Park space.
The Business Journal said that "Little Switzerland continues to bleed red ink, losing $1.1 million in the third quarter of last year, public records show." However, it quoted Aaron as saying that Tiffany believes it can turn the company around by expanding into the Western Caribbean. "We are optimistic on its long-term growth," the publication quoted him as saying.
Over the last three years, several major cruise lines have begun focusing more on the Western Caribbean, with itineraries out of Tampa, New Orleans and Corpus Christi, Texas, as well as the Miami area. While St. Thomas is on the stop for virtually all Eastern and Southern Caribbean cruises, it is not a part of the Western Caribbean circuit, which typically includes the Cayman Islands, Jamaica and the Gulf Coast of Mexico.
Corbin said Little Switzerland currently operates 22 retail outlets — four on St. Thomas, one on St. John, two in St. Martin/Sint Maarten (one in Philipsburg and one in Marigot), six in Aruba, one in Curaçao, one in Barbados, three in Key West and four in Alaska (one each in Ketchikan and Juneau and two in Skagway).
The shops carry name-brand lines of jewelry, watches, china, crystal, fragrances and giftware including Tiffany, Gucci and Louis Feraud.
Just three weeks ago, Little Switzerland opened a new boutique at the Westin St. John Resort and Villas. In a release announcing the opening, Baumgardner referred to it as the company's "first new store venture of 2003."
The release stated that "Little Switzerland plans to explore opportunities for growth that exist in the Caribbean and other potential areas of retail interest. St. John, as a U.S. territory, is the first of many new ventures."
Publisher's note : Like the St. Thomas Source now? Find out how you can love us twice as much — and show your support for the islands' free and independent news voice … click here.