Rapaport Magazine

People Love to 'Hate' Him

By Nancy Pier Sindt
RAPAPORT... As Philadelphia jeweler Steven Singer tells the story, his “I hate Steven Singer” promotion started with a customer, a local man whose voice is familiar to many in the area for his commercials and sports voice-overs. He and his wife bought their diamond engagement ring from Singer and the husband returned years later for a larger, twentieth-anniversary diamond. Nine months after the anniversary, the wife, already the mother of two grown children, gave birth to a baby girl. She was delighted. “I love Steven Singer,” she said. Her husband was less enthusiastic about changing diapers and getting no sleep. “I hate Steven Singer,” he said, kicking off one of the city’s most successful ad campaigns ever.

Singer thought the “I Hate” concept was great, but initially he was in a distinct minority. He had a billboard with his store name overprinted with what looked like graffiti that read “I Hate Steven Singer.” The website was redesigned to look the same way. A radio commercial repeated the message. The problem was no one wanted to run the commercials or display the signs because they were afraid of getting sued. Singer used all his powers of persuasion to get the campaign launched, admitting that it took months to get the first ad on the air.

The tag line reads: “So why do men HATE Steven Singer? Because women LOVE him…and his diamonds.” His website includes gift ideas for the shopping-impaired, a series of single life versus married life cartoons and a top-ten list of reasons to hate Steven Singer, including “Flowers and chocolates don’t work anymore.” The theme — along with the media placement on billboards and radio drive-time shows — is particularly popular with the coveted young male audience, a group that appreciates the irreverent tone of the ads and the idea of buying an engagement ring in an unintimidating environment.  

From the beginning, the results of the campaign were unprecedented. To counteract the “bad press,” customers began tying up the store’s phone lines to assure Singer they loved him and his store. People visited the store to sympathize with the “defacement” of his signs. Steven Singer Jewelers became a destination for tourists, a stop on a local scavenger hunt and the recipient of untold publicity for its unique stunts and promotions. He regularly gives out joke promos of tee shirts, fake gold balls and pencils and other “gifts” with “I Hate Steven Singer” imprinted on them.

Singer’s sense of humor extends to his in-store events, which range from the fanciful to the outlandish. With a local radio station, he cosponsors an annual in-store “bubble bath,” where contestants search through floor-to-ceiling bubbles for those containing prizes, and a chicken wing eating competition. The promotions receive additional coverage from other news stations such as CBS, NBC and FOX. About his activities and style, Singer says, “We do more fun in one year than most people do in a lifetime.”

Making History in his Teens
Singer’s slogan is certainly not a typical retail jewelry ad campaign. But then, he is not your typical retailer. He wasn’t your typical high-schooler either, setting up a business as a jewelry wholesaler in Philadelphia’s Jewelers Row at the age of 18. In October 1980, at age 22, he opened his first retail store, earning the dual distinction of being the youngest first-generation jeweler in the town and having the smallest — eight feet by eight feet — store.

The shop didn’t stay small for long. It kept expanding, in both size and volume, producing some of the highest sales per square foot in the country. In September of 1999, Singer moved to his current 6,500-square-foot store located on the corner of Walnut and 8th, complete with a glass-enclosed, full-service shop where his customers can watch repair work and custom-made pieces being produced.

All Diamonds, All the Time
Tallying the percentage of his sales from diamonds and diamond jewelry as “100 percent,” Singer attributes most of his business as coming “from loose, certified stones. We offer thousands of settings and more than 50 different designs for solitaires.” His customers, who come from a 60-mile, tristate radius of Pennsylvania/New Jersey/New York, are solidly middle-class, he says, and want quality diamond jewelry that is moderately priced. An average retail for a 1-carat diamond engagement ring is $5,000 to $6,000; the majority of other diamond jewelry falls in the $500-to-$1,000 range.

Singer may be lighthearted in his promotions but he is serious about the quality and value of his diamonds. “Every single one of our diamonds of 45 points and higher comes with a certificate, usually from Gemological Institute of America (GIA), and a laser inscription,” he says. Bread-and-butter qualities range from G to J color, VS2 and SI1 clarity. He doesn’t believe in branded diamonds. “We’re the brand,” he says.

Singer is adamant about injecting the element of fun in his work. “Why does selling diamonds have to be so sterile? We have fun and make it easy for our customers. We also offer the best warranties and guarantees on the diamonds,” he says.

More Than Fun and Games

In addition to all the fun, there’s a serious, community-supportive side to this retailer, one that has yielded positive attention and customer loyalty. To benefit the families of Philadelphia policemen killed in the line of duty, Singer creates base-metal replicas of the officers’ badges and sells them for $10 apiece. The price is kept deliberately low so that people don’t have to think about the money, Singer says.

The proceeds from the sale of these items are divided equally between a memorial trust fund for the family of the slain police officer and the city’s Police Officer Survivor Fund. The first such effort yielded $50,000.

In another project, all proceeds from the sale of a 9/11 Never Forget Pin and a Flight 93 Memorial Pin are donated to the Flight 93 National Memorial Fund. Those campaigns are promoted by Philadelphia talk-show host Michael Smerconish and cosponsored by a local radio station.

Article from the Rapaport Magazine - October 2009. To subscribe click here.

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