Though 15 years of hands-on experience likely was the key factor, Fred Singer's confidence and connections certainly contributed to the early success of Singer Direct, the company he founded 25 years ago.
The company opened Feb. 14, 1981, as an insert media brokerage operating out of his New Rochelle, NY, home with Singer and his wife, Sheila, as the only employees.
“I was confident … and I was also lucky,” said Singer, CEO of Singer Direct, Scarsdale, NY. “Two people, who I hired when I was at Columbia Record Club, were now placed in key marketing positions at two major mailers.”
They were Steve Fishman at Grolier and Marty Breisblatt at The Franklin Mint. Singer persuaded each to test some inserts. In fact, Singer's placement of 60,000 Grolier inserts into Fingerhut's package insert program was his company's first order.
Still, it was what Singer learned on the mailer side of the business with companies like Columbia Record Club (later to become Columbia House), Longines Symphonette and Berkey Photo that gave him the knowledge to set out on his own. He also had a mentor in his boss at Columbia, Robert Bartner.
“His favorite statement was, 'If you can't figure (i.e. do the math), then stay out of direct marketing,'” Singer said. “He taught me to fully understand the impact and subtleties of a P&L statement. … With his guidance, I quickly learned the importance of projecting results for future DM campaigns by using the most recent historical data.”
That background was invaluable as Singer strove to make his new company a success, but even so he had his share of anxiety.
“I was anxious … to say the least,” he said. “My livelihood was dependent on the success of these few tests. I would phone the clients every day just to see if any results were in.”
The results were good enough in Singer's first few years of business that he, Shelia, their three children and some part-time employees moved to Scarsdale, NY, in 1985 — a move that let them relocate their office from their children's playroom. Singer Direct moved twice more before settling in its current Scarsdale location in 1997.
After that first move, the company grew quickly. The management division was started in 1991 with the addition of current partner Sandra Roscoe to the staff. Singer's oldest son, Andy, joined the company a year later with his younger brother, Jeffrey, following in 1999. Jeffrey founded the company's Internet division that year. Singer's sons are now co-presidents of Singer Direct. Singer added a consumer packaged goods division about two years ago.
Singer's time on the client side of direct marketing has let him watch the evolution of the insert medium.
“During the '60s and '70s, insert media, as we know it today, was rarely used,” he said. “For those mailers looking beyond direct mail in their customer acquisition efforts, there was only something called 'miscellaneous' media. Few in the industry could really define it, and even less were savvy enough to understand it and make it work effectively. … The two biggest advances … are the increased development of insert media as a new customer acquisition channel and its acceptance by more and more companies to allow inserts into their own outgoing packages, catalogs and billing statements.”
In the beginning, few brokers understood insert media and promoted it to clients.
“Now, most every direct marketer has at least tested this medium, many with great success,” Singer said. “More recently, the emergence of non-traditional direct marketers has helped fill all of the slots in our managed properties.”
Singer still takes a hands-on approach, 25 years later.
“I like being able to completely immerse myself into each campaign,” he said. “I try to get involved in all aspects of the campaign: the creative, the offer, the format and the product. With this knowledge, one just needs to develop a mathematical formula to determine how to increase the advertiser's results. I love the challenge.”
Singer's comments for this article were excerpted from a Q&A with his vice president of new media development, Jeff Holland. The full Q&A can be found at www.dmnews.com.
Kristen Bremner covers list news, insert media, privacy and fundraising for DM News and DMNews.com. To keep up with the latest developments in these areas, subscribe to our daily and weekly e-mail newsletters by visiting www.dmnews.com/newsletters