When Cory Schifter bought the Staten Island, N.Y., store Casale Jewelers from his father in 2009, he was determined to create marketing strategies that excited local jewelry lovers. But the road to marketing greatness was rocky—in his first year of ownership, he hosted a free battery giveaway that resulted in “a big line of older gentlemen with Ziploc freezer bags full of dead watches” outside the store (the newspaper ad neglected to specify “one per customer”). “It was a total disaster,” laughs the 40-year-old retailer. He’s honed his promotional chops considerably since then, and now cohosts one of Staten Island’s most anticipated bridal events: Casale Jewelers’ annual Race for the Ring. The multiday event, which awards one couple an impressively big diamond engagement ring, includes a comedy night and a mini bridal show featuring hotels, florists, DJs, and other wedding vendors—partners Schifter has cultivated over the years. “We laugh and have a great time,” he says. “And it’s great exposure for all the businesses involved. Everyone in Staten Island knows about the race, even if they’re too scared to actually take part!”
You have hilarious stories of marketing mishaps! How do you think you finally found your marketing mojo?
I read The 33 Ruthless Rules of Local Advertising [by Michael Corbett]. One of the main points in the book was the value of being different. Everyone can create the run-of-the-mill, typical ad. Apple, Facebook…they reinvented business models.
How is Casale’s Race for the Ring different?
We integrate a comedy night into it, which has been really successful. We allow the couples participating to bring friends and family members to the show, and proceeds from the night go to local charities; we’ve raised $75,000 so far. Last year we had 275 people packed into the Hilton for the comedy night, and we raised close to $15,000 for Sunrise Day Camp, a camp for children with cancer. We’ve had some pretty great comedians—Vic DiBitetto and Paul Venier included. We require the couples to make a video telling us why they deserve the ring, then we have a videographer string all the clips together and there are clips of the comedian having a little fun with the couples. We really create a reality show–type experience. And the local Hilton allows us to have it at their facility for free, because they’re partners with us. The expense for the entire night is usually around $1,000 for the talent.
How has collaborating with local businesses been key to the event’s success?
Finding great partners has been really important. We really support each other. When I started out, I reached out to bridal vendors, hotels, invitation places, hotels, even a tuxedo place. They all wanted to be a part of it. We typically meet biweekly leading up to the event to come up with plans to execute everything. Verragio partners with us every year and donates the $10,000 diamond ring. And by creating our own network, we get a lot of local media interest; they’re very into it because we’re giving back to charity. And it’s fun to watch for [their viewers]. Once we had it in March—it was freezing cold. Channel 11’s morning news showed couples racing all over New York City.
What’s been the most memorable moment to date from the Race for the Ring?
The coolest thing so far happened the first time we did a comedy night. We were at the Lane Theater, which was famous for comedy, that year. A guy who was one-half of one of the couples in the race came up to me before the event and said, “Cory, I know we didn’t get enough votes to win, but do me a favor—I want to marry my girlfriend and get engaged.” So we came up with the idea that right after I announced that the couple wasn’t advancing in the contest, he would propose to her right there on stage. And he did it—he grabbed the mic from me and asked her. Everyone went crazy. If you Google it, you’ll find an image of me jumping up and down.
Photograph by Peter Chin