Re: 9:21am 06/30/05 99 Cents Only net meets view, sees restatement gains
- From: "lkgeo1" <lkgeo1@xxxxxxx>
- Date: 12 Aug 2005 04:55:30 -0700
99 sense of humor: priceless
Store CEO doesn't discount wackiness in advertising
By Norma Meyer
COPLEY NEWS SERVICE
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
"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
Hermès 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
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
"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
"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
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.' "
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