Singing his success

Jeweler Steven Singer gives his take on the current and future landscape of retail

By Tom Waring

The Times

Successful jeweler Steven Singer understands what it takes for retail companies to thrive or just stay alive in the ever-changing marketplace.

“You adapt or die,” he said.

Singer, who grew up in Castor Gardens and Rhawnhurst, gave his take on the current and future landscape of retail as a panelist at the recent Women in Business Conference sponsored by the Greater Northeast Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce.

Steven Singer

The issue is always on his mind as both a retailer and a member of the Greater Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce’s small business board. He’s a former Chamber board member and chairman of the small business board.

A year ago, he shared his thoughts on the subject as the commencement speaker at Philadelphia University.

And recently, he was named president of the international Leading Jewelers Guild.

The Guild’s membership is mostly American, and will give Singer a chance to talk about what he calls the “over-retailing of the United States.”

As some venerable department stores struggle to survive, Singer sees other struggles ahead. He predicts, in the next three to five year, 30 percent to 40 percent of malls will “disappear.”

Juggernaut malls likes King of Prussia and California’s Fashion Island will continue to thrive, he said, but many others will see anchor stores leave, followed by smaller retailers.

“I think you’ll see a contraction. The world is so different now. There’s not enough foot traffic. Young people are enamored with their phones,” he said.

Singer believes in the omnichannel approach to retail success and subscribes to the acronym SWM — Start With Mobile.

“We embraced that seven or eight years ago. The customer should be able to do anything seamlessly on any device,” he said. “If you have not embraced that technology, you’re behind the curve.”

As examples, he cited Wawa’s use of touchscreen ordering and Dominos Pizza’s online ordering options.

Steven Singer Jewelers, located “At the Other Corner of 8th and Walnut,” is doing well, and the owner said it’s because the shop has always adapted.

While in-store sales have always been good, the shop added a toll-free number years ago. Then came the internet.

Singer stresses having apps and a “robust” website, which has helped him build strong markets in places like California, Florida and Texas. He ships hundreds, and sometimes thousands, of packages daily.

“Retail is very, very strong. We’re doing very well in the tri-state area,” he said. “And we’re doing great all over the country.”

Singer never thought he’d be the owner of such a successful jewelry business while growing up in the Northeast. He lived near Castor and Hellerman as a youngster before moving to the 2000 block of Napfle St. He attended Rhawnhurst Elementary School, Wilson Middle School and Northeast High School, where classmates included Chickie’s & Pete’s owner Pete Ciarrocchi and Philadelphia University provost and executive dean Matt Baker.

As a youth, he was in a rock band, playing dances, proms and graduations.

He played street hockey and ice hockey at Tarken. He used the money he made delivering the Carrier Pigeon to buy Flyers season tickets and was at the Spectrum in 1974 when the team beat the Boston Bruins to win its first Stanley Cup. He even made it into the book, Philadelphia’s Greatest Sports Moments.

“There’s a picture of me holding a ‘Schultz for Mayor’ sign,” he said, referring to Dave Schultz, the chief pugilist of the Broad Street Bullies.

The book also features a picture of an adult Singer, at this time sponsor of Wing Bowl, crowning the eating competition’s champion.

Singer got his start in the jewelry business in high school, when he worked for a wholesaler on Jewelers Row.

Who knew he’d become a giant in the industry?
“There was no master plan. It was a complete accident,” he said.

An aptitude test showed Singer was destined to be an accountant because he was good with numbers, but that kind of job would have bored him.

Instead, he began to enjoy learning the inside of the jewelry business, taking a couple of courses offered by the Gemological Institute of America.

“I absorbed it like a sponge. It fascinated me,” he said.

Singer planned to take a semester off before enrolling at Temple. But the owner convinced him to work through the Christmas season, and the rest is history.

“That was 42 years ago. I never got my deposit back from Temple,” he joked.

Today, he is married and lives in Lower Southampton. He has a 25-year-old son and a 23-year-old daughter. His wife, the former Adrienne Wolf, was born in South Philadelphia and raised on Kendrick Street in Bell’s Corner. They will celebrate their 31st wedding anniversary in November.

Singer opened his first shop in 1980, when he was 22.

Over the years, the business has grown and so has the size of his store.

Advertising is important to Singer, but he thought his former address — 138½ S. 8th St. — was awkward.

So, he began advertising the location as “one store in from 8th and Walnut.”

When he moved to his current location on Father’s Day weekend in 2000, he was across from a competitor, Robbins 8th and Walnut. That’s when he came up with the informal address of “At the Other Corner of 8th and Walnut,” and Howard Stern and other radio personalities use the script to this day, long after Robbins moved to Delaware.

Another way he markets his business is by using the phrase, “I hate Steven Singer.” Some men might hate Singer because their wives like to shop there so often. And some competitors might hate him because of the service, price, value, guarantees and warranties he offers.

Coming soon, the shop will offer a three-dimensional machine for online customers to try on jewelry virtually. And same-day Federal Express deliveries will be available by the end of the year.

The way Singer sees it, the secret to long-term success in business is a mix of adapting to technological changes and offering old-fashioned customer service.

“We treat people the way they want to be treated,” he said. ••

Tom Waring can be reached at 215–354–3034 or twaring@bsmphilly.com