Candidly Talking About How diamondcake Came to Be with Shapiro & Sher

SITTING IN THE OFFICES of the top producing Las Vegas real-estate company, I expect Florence Shapiro and Ivan Sher to brag, at least for a moment, about their accomplishments in helping transform the valley into a place where the rich, powerful and elite want to live. The boasting never occurs. Instead, they say, let the article focus on the people who, through their generosity and efforts, manage to enrich all of our lives here in Vegas.

Indeed, the two comprise Shapiro & Sher Group, and they’re eager to discuss each and every one of the philanthropists who graced the covers of the monthly magazine they co-own—the publication in your hands. But rather than recap what was already written and published about people like Lou Ruvo, Irwin Molasky and Elaine Wynn, we opted to press Shapiro & Sher a little harder. The question was a simple one: Why a luxury print magazine that focuses on successful people and their philanthropy and passions? The answers led to a broader discussion of optimism in pessimistic times. The positive impact individuals make despite a rising tide of negativity. And why Vegas and its residents thwart the city’s negative stereotypes.

Diamondcake is a year old. But you began planning a magazine when the economy tanked in ’08. An odd time to consider producing a luxury magazine!

Florence Shapiro: Yes and no. Basically, what happened is this: Five years ago people were so down and the economy so bad at every level, that Ivan and I looked at each other and said, “We really need to do something. There are people doing great things.” People were knocking Vegas, and there was no reason for it. Our city somehow became a symbol of everything that went wrong, which was ridiculous. We knew there are fantastic people in this town. So we went searching for ideas that would give our collective mood a boost. We sought out individuals creating amazing things and making a real difference in the world and in the lives of others.

Ivan Sher: It was about taking that idea and shedding light on those people so everyone wasn’t so negative. There’s always hope. We all know an individual can make a difference even in dark times and change people’s lives. For us, the magazine was a chance to tell their stories. And with that, we ourselves went down a path a self-discovery. When we took a moment to remove ourselves from our little real-estate world and look at Vegas through the eyes of entrepreneurs, we saw how things were improving, how recovery was possible and within reach. Learning these lessons has been reflected in our business. In the year we’ve been a part of the magazine, the reader-response has been incredible—from the everyday person to the well-known and ultra-wealthy. Everyone who picks up the magazine is impacted by the ideas and stories to some degree. It has been a privilege to be a part of it.

You don’t see headlines to this effect, but the Vegas housing market has recovered remarkably well despite the avalanche of bad press in past years. People continue moving here and not just the wealthy. Why is this?

FS: Vegas is still a new town with incredible opportunities. Because of its newness, yes, there are needs to be met. But Vegas is resourceful; it draws a very diverse population. People came to Vegas before the boom—for the low taxes, for the weather—and, as they started living here, the secret was out. People were flooding in and were forced to connect with one another and form communities. And they did. Vegas is such a welcoming town, because we all come from somewhere else.

IS: So many of our friends and clients who’ve chosen to leave Vegas have come back. They return because what they’d envisioned in other so-called better or community-centered cities isn’t always the case. It’s ironic that Vegas has a more open and accessible community. It’s due, I think, to the fact that residents here work harder in order to separate ourselves from the Strip. The Strip is our city’s economic engine. But there’s so much more to this place when you look outside of that.

Let’s talk about how you saw Vegas expand. Ivan, how and when did you and Florence team up to form Shapiro & Sher?

IS: I came here from San Diego, where I’d been in real estate for four years. Like so many others, I moved to Vegas for opportunity. I met Florence through a family friend, and we had such a connection. But when we met she didn’t have a position for me at the time. So I was on my way back to San Diego, where I was still living at the time, and I told my wife on the phone, “Great connection, but didn’t work out.” After I hung up, Florence called me seconds later to say, “We’ll make it work. I’ll find a place for you.” So I started working for her as an agent 13 years ago, and I worked for her for four years before she approached me with a partnership.

The last decade saw a housing explosion and tremendous growth. What was it like, Ivan?

IS: Just incredible. I saw development projects come out of the ground—from One Queensridge Place to The Ridges Las Vegas to, more recently, Skye in MacDonald Highlands. The prominent master-planned developments weren’t here 10 years ago.

Florence, you came here from France in 1973. What was the Vegas landscape like back then?

FS: When I arrived, there was no such house as a million-dollar house. It didn’t exist; we didn’t have it. The big push came after Spanish Trail. It was such a success, that everything followed after that. Summerlin was amazing, and was made possible with the convenience of Summerlin Parkway.

IS: At one point, Summerlin was the fastest growing development in the U.S.

How do you try to meet the needs of a prospective buyer? Of someone who’s moving to Vegas and requires certain amenities?

IS: Well, we like to say we’re a client-based business, not a geography-based business. So when we make a connection with a client, they tell us where their families are based, what their needs are in terms of schools, etc. Then we go back and do our research and try to put them close to where they need to be.

FS: Every client has different needs, whether it’s a gated community, a golf course or security. Some prefer hi-rises and don’t want the hassle of a house. Maybe they need to be near the airport because of out-of-town business trips.

Doesn’t Vegas, with its grid-like layout, makes such needs easy to meet? Compared to, say, California?

IS: We take the convenience of Vegas for granted sometimes. A simple example is when we travel outside the U.S. and stay in a five-star hotel in, say, Europe—it’s always a closet. Now compare that hotel with what you experience at a luxury five-star hotel like Aria or Wynn or Bellagio.

FS: We have big-city amenities in what’s still, comparatively, a small town. You have all the great shops here—Armani, Saks, Chanel. On top of that, we have all the great restaurants. All the great shows and concerts. Try finding a place to eat after 10 p.m. on a Wednesday in any other city. Vegas is unique in this regard. There’s just no other place like it.

IS: Let me add that Florence and I are very fortunate to have a great team helping us grow through tough times. We have nine agents working with us under the S&S name, and eight support staff. They keep us in line and make sure what we’re doing is what we should be doing.

How did you meet diamondcake publisher Jimmy Foster?

IS: Jimmy approached us to handle PR and events, and he had such, unique out-of the box concepts that, when we decided to move forward with the diamondcake concept, we tapped him to run it. We’re thrilled with the people he profiles and the stories he tells. It allows us to focus on real estate while he develops the magazine.

By the way, where did the magazine’s name come from?

IS: Actually, my wife Jennifer, who’s an interior designer, came up with the name. We wanted a title that people could touch and taste and get texture from, and diamondcake seemed to work.

Before we highlight great quotes from the game-changers, philanthropists and passionate people who’ve appeared in diamondcake, how do you see Vegas’ future shaping up? Does the Internet help or hinder things?

IS: It used to be the case that realtors controlled the information. Now, with the Internet, clients already have all the information. We simply guide them through the process and negotiate the deal.

FS: More importantly, people come here and bring their companies with them, and when this happens more jobs are created. People come to town and already know the different areas of the valley and what each offers. Another reason why images and pictures are so important in today’s market. Worth a thousand words, they say. So we’re optimistic about Vegas, even though our market isn’t yet where it was six years ago. But it will get there. Our website [] continues to draw an incredible number of people worldwide who are looking to move to Vegas.

Previously published in diamondcake. Updated by smallTALK. Archived for Shapiro & Sher Group.