Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Old News Is Still Good News

Yo, to all 3 of you who read this, and to any potential future readers, I just want to say sorry for not updating in a minute. I've been longing to log some real winners, but all the stores I've gone into recently have been complete duds. Which leaves me longing for one of two things I miss about Los Angeles 99¢ Only Stores (L.A. friends, if you read this, you don't count. I will always miss you, much like Whitney sings that she will always love you.) But yeah, the 99¢ Only Stores, guaranteed, always had something good. always.

So I found this article from the San Diego Union-Tribune about 99¢ Only Stores, and I am going to post it in it's entirety, because things from newspapers tend to disappear on the internet, and I want this to live forever. Fame! (rememba, rememba, rememba....)

99 sense of humor: priceless

Store CEO doesn't discount wackiness in advertising


July 24, 2005

CITY OF COMMERCE – "Attention! Potential Runaway Brides" an ad by the 99 Cents Only Stores razzed, in a nod to famous groom-dumper Jennifer Wilbanks. It urged not to leave home without two 99-cent bargains: nationwide calling cards and "socks for cold feet."

They don't just sell under-a-buck wares like hemorrhoid cream, cat food, motor oil and Looney Tunes baby wipes. They take kitschy pop culture potshots. In weekly off-the-wall newspaper ads, the 99 Cents Only Stores milked the Michael Jackson acquittal, once bid 99 cents for O.J.'s Heisman Trophy and wished birthday celebrant Joan Rivers "Happy 99th Facelift."

"I think this is the one time we went over the line," Eric Schiffer, the 99 Cents CEO devilishly grins as he points to one of his 1998 newspaper ads. It touts a "Father's Day Special" – parent-killer Lyle Menendez's memoirs for just 99 cents.

That prompted nasty phone calls from "all women," Schiffer says, although none groused that in the same full-page display Niagara drinking water was deliberately misspelled Viagara water.

Each week, the good-humored Schiffer ("I'm just a crazy guy") and a handful of employees try to come up with a zinger to help hawk name-brand, close-out and regular merchandise at the chain's 225 retail stores in California, Texas, Arizona and Nevada. Since opening its first store near Los Angeles International Airport in 1982, the company, which bills itself as the oldest one-price retailer, has often planted insy asides near the top right-hand corner of its full-page newspaper ads. ("Don't worry Oprah ... we will stay open for you" a recent blurb vowed, after the talk-show host was turned away from a Herm├Ęs boutique in Paris 15 minutes past closing time.)

It figures that a chain that gets value merchandise for odd reasons – it acquired pallets of upscale barbecue tools because the manufacturer stamped them "Stainless China" instead of "Stainless Steel, Made in China" – would also relish oddball gimmicks. At each location's grand opening, the first nine customers get a 19-inch color TV for 99 cents and the next 99 a scooter for 99 cents. (A man spent five nights in line outside the Beverly Hills-adjacent store, where Richard Gere supposedly was once seen buying a case of San Pellegrino water and where Vanna White dropped in for toothpaste.)

The 99 Cents Only Stores even boast a bridal registry with "over 9,999 exciting choices." So naturally, before the recent British royal wedding, 99 Cents noted in its ad it was the "Official Bridal Registry for Camilla."

A few Brits responded. "One woman called and said 'I would like to register her for something,' " says customer service rep Pamela Graham. "I said, OK, what is it? She said, 'How about rat poison?' "

Ask nine-centric Schiffer how many people brainstorm on an ad, and he answers, of course, "Nine."

"Whatever crazy idea pops into our heads, we float them around a couple people, and if nobody says it's going to get us in too much trouble, then we run with it," says Schiffer, the son-in-law of 99 Cents founder Dave Gold. "There's no method to our madness."

With no outside PR firm or ad agency, the creative noggins are usually Schiffer and buyers at the corporate offices, located in a graffiti-tagged industrial area in the City of Commerce, southeast of downtown L.A. Outside, company vans are emblazoned with a warning to would-be robbers: "Drivers Carry 99 Cents Only." Inside, the headquarters are whimsical and colorful, with front pages of old newspapers lining walls and rooms stacked with displays of 99 Cents deals, like Elvira's Night Brew lager beer and Mary-Kate and Ashley shampoo.

"I'm involved, as I say, at attempted humor," says 99 Cents beverage buyer Daryl Merson. He's conjured up numerous gag ads, including one that ran several times lauding "The Perfect Combo" – a four-pack of toilet paper for 99 cents and a bottle of similarly priced prune juice.

The supermarket-sized 99 Cents Only Stores, after all, are part of pop culture. Jay Leno, Ellen DeGeneres and other comedians have done bits on them. Mick Jagger shot a music video in a store. Adam Sandler strolled down the brightly lit aisles in "Punch Drunk Love." The bargain bevy was even the star of a surreal L.A. small-theater musical, "Splendor: A 99 Cents Only Stores Wonderama" (As co-sponsor, 99 Cents generously provided props and costumes off its store shelves).

Famed German photographer Andreas Gursky was so taken with the vivid interior of the Sunset Boulevard store, he shot a picture of it that later hung in New York's Museum of Modern Art.

When Gursky's manager first called, asking to do a photo shoot, Schiffer said the company didn't understand who he was. "We said it's probably some spy from the 98 Cents Store, and we hung up on him," recalls Schiffer, a former electrical engineer.

So what's not fair game for a 99 Cents barb? "Tragedy," Schiffer firmly states.

"Like if there was a plane crash and 99 people died," Merson says.

On the pleasant end, celebrities can get accolades ("Happy 99th Birthday! Thanks for the Memories!" to Bob Hope in 2002) or special deals ("Attention: Oscar Winners, Trade in your Oscar ... for any item in the store!").

But celebrity justice is another matter. "NOT GUILTY!" a 99 Cents ad shouted the day after Michael Jackson was acquitted of molesting a 13-year-old boy. An asterisk noted, "of charging more than 99 cents."

Schiffer says his mother-in-law, Sherry Gold, had stopped by the office for lunch and thought that one up.

When O.J. Simpson's Heisman Trophy was put on the auction block in 1999 to help pay his civil judgment for the double-murder, the 99 Cents Only ad bid 99 cents with the slam, "This will be our worst buy ever." When the chain sold Simpson's self-serving book, "I Want To Tell You" for 99 cents, it was advertised as the worst buy in the store.

Simpson's fuming sister, Carmelita, stormed into the Beverly Hills-area store and bought all the books, Schiffer says with amusement. "She asked the manager, 'Are there any more in the back?' and he said 'Oh no!' As soon as she left, he put more on the shelves."

Others haven't gotten the joke. An ad during a stock-market plunge offered nine Internet stocks for 99 cents. "Someone sued us, but the judge threw the case out," Schiffer says.

Dodgers manager Tommy Lasorda in 1992 "went absolutely crazy" on a TV show, Schiffer says, over "Congratulations Dodgers on Losing 99 Games."

The discounter went the whole 99 yards this spring when the Los Angeles Lakers basketball team was knocked out of the playoffs. As a farce, 99 Cents Only still advertised "2005 Lakers Playoff Tickets!" for 99 cents. In smaller print, it noted, "Unfortunately, the Lakers did not make the playoffs. Actual Lakers 2005 playoff tickets are not available."

That didn't stop fans from trying to order them.

"They thought we had tickets. I was like, 'Do you guys follow the sports?' " says Graham, the customer service rep. "They kept saying, how many can I get for 99 cents? How many can I get?' I finally said, 'You want 99? Maybe 99.' "

Source: San Diego Union-Tribune

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