Shock jock jeweler
Published in the April 2014 issue
|OWNER: Steven Singer | FOUNDED: 1980 | OPENED CURRENT LOCATION: 1999 | LAST RENOVATED: 2008 | AREA: 6,500 square feet | EMPLOYEES: 51|
Steven Singer landed in the jewelry business when he was just 17, working part-time for a Philadelphia wholesaler.
When he graduated from high school, he thought he’d delay college for a semester, but when he announced plans to leave his wholesale job later in the year, his employer told him, “You can’t leave now — it’s Christmas time!”
“So I took a whole year off 39 years ago and I never did go to college, I bumbled into the jewelry business instead,” Singer recalls.
Instead Singer worked for the wholesaler through four Christmas seasons, and then got a job as a sales rep for a chain company, traveling regularly in Pennsylvania and New Jersey and elsewhere around the country.
“Going in and out of dozens — if not hundreds — of stores I realized what a poor job everyone was doing in marketing and merchandising,” he says. “Naively, I thought I could do a better job than everyone else.”
So Singer impulsively took on a tiny retail store along with his wholesale duties, eventually focusing on the store alone when it all got to be too much. He sold diamonds and gold jewelry, dog-tag and initial jewelry and other personalized jewelry. “To the extent we could afford inventory, we had engagement rings and earrings and pendants, but we had pretty sparse inventory in 1980 when we opened up,” Singer says.
His business really took off when he devised the “I Hate Steven Singer” advertising campaign (men hate him because women love his jewelry) and launched it on the Howard Stern radio show. Jewelers in his market were running commercials on The Morning Zoo, a radio show with unbelievable ratings in Philadelphia.
So, rather than join the ranks of his competitors advertising on the Morning Zoo, he waited for the next big radio phenomenon, which turned out to be Howard Stern, who was expanding from New York into Philadelphia. “I was one of the first to sign on when they couldn’t find a sponsor, and we’ve since become their longest continuing sponsor. It’s been very, very nice for us.”
Singer bought the current store location in 1999, which was formerly seven small and historic stores on Philadelphia’s Jewelry Row. He was able to gut them and create one four-story 6,500-square-foot building. To comply with historical building codes, he had to maintain the exterior look, but he was able to tweak the ground level exterior — adding granite and marble and reworking the windows — because that façade had already been changed from the original.
“It’s interesting, inviting, pleasing but not over the top,” he says of the store. “It’s comfortable.”
On one side are eight show windows; on the other side are eight curved, quarter round windows. No light fixtures are visible in the interior; everything is hidden in the ceiling or the cases, which creates a clean look. “Anywhere you look you are going to see jewelry; in the wall cases, left, right, down on the bottom. It’s a nice visual no matter where you look.”
Despite jewelry seemingly everywhere, only about 5 percent of inventory is on display, with 20 times that tucked away inside the giant vault in the basement, where four people work.
In 2008, he renovated the second and third floor, adding a training center, customer waiting area, private viewing rooms, restrooms and another wet bar. There are two kitchens in the building as well as a call center for Internet sales.
Customers also have a glass wall view of what’s going on behind the scenes. Although Steven Singer doesn’t do repairs, it is a full-service jeweler with a master jeweler, diamond setter, wax maker, designer and polisher on staff.
Singer has no doubt that he was lucky when he got sidetracked into jewelry.
“I was supposed to be an accountant, but I would’ve failed miserably having done that. I have dyslexia; it would have been a disaster, probably. Ironically I’ve never gone to school and I’ve been approached by three colleges to teach marketing and communication classes.
“I love the jewelry business. I have never been on crack or a drug addict, but I imagine it’s much like being on drugs. I love jewelry whether it’s a costume piece for $50 or a $50,000 diamond. I like it if it’s pretty; it turns me on.”
He also likes the happiness surrounding the symbolism of jewelry gift-giving occasions. “Nobody is coming to me because Grandma died or the roof is leaking, and I liked that then and I still do four decades later.”
FIVE COOL THINGS ABOUT
STEVEN SINGER JEWELERS
1 FOCUS ON DIAMONDS: “Our sweet spot is a $6,000 carat or carat-and-a-quarter engagement ring, but we sell a lot of rings from $2,000 to $20,000. We sell only diamonds, not colored stones, pearls or watches. We don’t do repairs. No gift items, no clocks. We’re very focused on diamonds, diamond jewelry and bridal.”
2EVENTS: Steven Singer Jewelers has events almost weekly, many on site. They’ve orchestrated the world’s largest bubble bath and have been the principal sponsor for the largest indoor eating contest, which drew 24,000 people. “We do a lot of unique things, different things,” Singer says. “If you’re looking for Tiffany’s, classical music and white gloves that is really not us.” Every day is considered a special occasion, though, with fresh-baked cookies, Philly soft pretzels, coffee, beer, champagne, hot chocolate and wine offered. “This is our house,” Singer says. “We try to make it fun and inviting.”
3COMPANY CULTURE: “My whole job is to make my staff happy and their whole job is to keep customers happy,” says Singer, who claims to have one of the highest paid staffs in the industry. He also pays to send everyone to GIA classes and organizes training on and off site. “We make sure we get the right people on the bus who believe in our values and our culture and we set them free. We have very few rules and regulations. Our only rule is to do the right thing, and people, if they are entrepreneurial, seem to do well with that.”
4MARKETING: Lee Ann Kindness, marketing director for Steven Singer Jewelers since 2004, was named marketer of the year in 2013 by the Philadelphia Chapter of the American Marketing Association. Kindness worked with Trellist Marketing and Technology on a campaign that leveraged the company’s irreverent and offbeat brand, closing the gap between brand awareness and conversions — increasing e-commerce transactions by 52 percent over the previous year, with an ROI of 1,028 percent. Kindness helped develop the jeweler’s now famous “I Hate Steven Singer” campaign.
5 E-COMMERCE:In-store business is strong, Singer says, but e-commerce has exploded, limited it seems, only by technology. So Singer launched a sixth website in 2013, after having spent hundreds of thousands of dollars and several years on technology, infrastructure and fulfillment. “Our goal in the next 36 months is to be at $150 to $200 million in sales online.”
Cool Store: Steven Singer Jeweler
E-Commerce Made Easy The website ihatestevensinger.com makes shopping easy for guys venturing into the sometimes intimidating world of jewelry shopping. Gifts can easily be located by clicking on price range, metal type, customer rating, etc. Merchandise is also classified by top 10 gifts, birthday, anniversary and push presents and gifts $199 and under.
Jack Johnson or John Mayer on the more laid back days; Justin Timerberlake and Beyoncé to match the hustle of the store on a busy Saturday; classic rock, Motown.