alexander convertible crib Web site:

Bellini pitches itself as the antidote to giant baby superstores. Instead of a cavernous building stacked to the ceiling with baby gear and clueless salespeople, Bellini boutiques are about 3,000 square feet and carry their own in-house line of furniture and accessories. The goal is personal service and a narrow focus on better merchandise. Example: some stores stock nursery accessories made by local artists.

This franchised chain had its heyday in the 80’s and 90’s—during those decades, its business model was selling imported Italian nursery furniture with $700 price tags. Of course, that was long before Buy Buy Baby and Pottery Barn Kids, not to mention the slew of luxury baby gear web sites.

In the last decade, like many independent retailers, Bellini found itself struggling to compete against chains selling better quality goods and the online world of baby gear discounters. After closing many locations, the chain now has 13 stores, most of which are in the Northeast as well as Atlanta and Miami.

As with other crib sellers, Bellini abandoned its Italian import strategy and now imports most of its furniture from China. Cribs run $700 to $3000, with an average price of $900-$1000. Dressers range from $625 for a simple three drawer to $1000-$1800 for a double dresser.

Delivery takes about ten to 12 weeks on average, although some orders can be filled in just two to three weeks.

New to the line, Bellini has partnered with Newport Cottages (reviewed separately) to produce exclusives for the chain—their first effort is the Stella, a made-in-the-USA crib the chain describes as “clean, transitional” in style. Bellini has also beefed up their web site in the past year; now you can see each of the available finishes for their furniture. And yes, there are even prices online.

Quality of the furniture is good (the company has never had a safety recall) . . . but the real question here is: does Bellini’s customer service justify the price premium? After all, you can buy similar furniture at a Buy Buy Baby or online for 20% to 30% less. And if you want to avoid furniture made in Asia, Bellini isn’t on your list.

Reviews of Bellini posted on sites like Yelp have turned sharply negative in the past year. While we take Yelp reviews with a grain of salt, there is a disturbing pattern there: lousy customer service. Many parents complained about a lack of communication from the chain when it came to delayed or backordered items. Promised delivery dates come and go at Bellini, with nary a word from the store about delays, say parents.

Some of this can be chalked up to being a franchised chain, since each store is independently owned and managed. But if Bellini wants to compete against high-end specialty stores and chains like Buy Buy Baby and Pottery Barn Kids, it can’t be inconsistent. You can’t charge folks $1000 for a crib and then treat them poorly after the sale.

Bottom line: we’re lowering Bellini’s rating this time out. While we understand that some folks are turned off by big-box stores and are attracted to buying from a small boutique, Bellini’s customer service woes prevent us from recommending their boutiques. Rating: C-