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Deborah Scarpa, DJS

Coconut Grove ad executive Deborah Scarpa wanted her new ad agency to sparkle — and for her client’s products to shine above all the rest.

So she plastered photographs of Cellini Jewelers’ high-ticket watches, necklaces and other baubles on the side of New York City phone booths.

Four years later, the pictures of those glistening gems continue to call out to hurried New Yorkers, still prompting new orders for Cellini.

Donald Trump was one caller, Scarpa recalled with a chuckle. Trump called the store for a pricey Franck Muller watch advertised on a booth on 54th Street. Ten minutes later, the Donald’s limo arrived to pick up the ticking treasure.

It’s creativity like this that has taken Scarpa, 39, from making cold calls in her living room to a tastefully decorated office in Miami’s Coconut Grove as president of DJS Marketing Group.

The 11-year-old, 15-employee firm billed out $7.5 million in business last year. This year, the company is expected to bill more than $8 million.

Scarpa said she has been able to grow her business by finding a niche in the advertising market and staying there.

Where other agencies pitch products to the masses, Scarpa narrows in on the elite, selling them a $250,000 necklace or $75,000 watch with a glossy ad in a magazine — or on a phone booth.

High-end clientele

Ninety percent of DJS clients are jewelers. The company also handles accounts for luxury real estate firms, spas and resorts.

“I like to take my clients’ problems and answer them,” Scarpa said, whirling her black Mercedes, two-seater into a parking space behind DJS, 2398 S. Dixie Highway. “The detail, the detail, the detail,” she said. “I tell everybody in here that every job is your job until that job is done.”

Scarpa said she has never regretted her decision to delve into the world of the rich and famous. At the time she made it, though, she had no idea how difficult it would be.

Scarpa quit her job as director of marketing for Mayor’s Jewelers and incorporated DJS on Jan. 16, 1987. Her three-year stint with the jewelry chain had given Scarpa experience in the prestige market and a portfolio of work she could use to get her foot into the door.

Luxury bootstrapping

Her first clients were in New York. She convinced them to give her a retainer, which she used to stay afloat in those early months.

But after landing the clients, Scarpa had to get their luxury products in print. A full-page ad in a magazine catering to deep-pocketed readers can cost as much as $57,000.

Scarpa needed a line of credit.

So she picked up the telephone and called New York’s publishing titans. They extended her the credit she needed.

“It really still amazes me,” she said.

Scarpa billed $1 million in her first year.

Aside from specializing, Scarpa also created a money-saving packaging system for advertisers to separate herself from the pack. The deal allowed several advertisers to bundle their messages in a single ad, splitting the cost.

“In marketing I think the biggest problem agencies have is the control on spending. Clients don’t understand the spending.”

To make sure they do, Scarpa has them sign off on all expenditures of more than $100.

“I think that to have a good reputation, that’s money,” Scarpa said. “People trusted me. They new my work was good.”

But sometimes being good isn’t enough. While Scarpa has made a dent in markets like New York, Italy and Latin America, she is still struggling to get her name out in South Florida.

Part of the reason, she said, is that the region doesn’t have as many high-end jewelry makers and retailers. Scarpa is going after the yacht dealers and upscale hotels.

Said Scarpa: “There is only one secret to success for a small business: You keep going no matter how hard is gets.”

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