Million-Dollar Lady

While her peers throughout the retail industry are embracing the latest technology to bring in sales, Vickie Gudgel, 57, has been one of the leading sales associates at Jewelry Design Center (JDC) in Spokane for the last three years by going low-tech. Last year she was the first million-dollar sales associate in JDC’s 34-year history.

What’s fascinating about Gudgel and her recent sales success is she has only been selling jewelry for seven years, with three of those years in the most challenging economy for luxury goods in recent history.

Just over seven years ago Gudgel decided to reinvent herself and started selling jewelry. She’d never worked in sales. Never worked on straight commission. And she knew nothing about jewelry other than how it was worn.

Her first days and weeks on the job were very stressful. She had to hurry up and perform as a sales associate to earn her pay. And, as with any new job, there was much to learn about the company’s policies and procedures, the products sold in the store, and the many topics, trends, and breaking news shaping the industry she was now working in. “I would come home and cry, with so much information to take in,” recalls Gudgel.

After three months into her then-new career choice, Gudgel was still apprehensive about her abilities. One day, CEO Brian Toone spotted her once again cleaning displays. “He walked over to me and said, ‘Your days of cleaning glass displays are over.… It’s time for you to start selling,’” says Gudgel.

And with that declaration, Gudgel’s jewelry sales story begins. In a Q&A with Retail Details, Gudgel talks about her qualities as a sales associate, what helps her get motivated each day, and her first big sale. 

Vickie Gudgel, sales associate, Jewelry Design Center

Vickie Gudgel, sales associate, Jewelry Design Center, Spokane, Wash. 

You’ve been selling jewelry for only seven years, the last three of which by most definitions the toughest economic times in modern history. How did you do it?
Simply by being myself and being kind to every person. I don’t treat a $20 repair customer any differently than an important diamond necklace customer. There’s no secret strategy other than being nice and believing in what I’m doing.  

How did you build your client base?
It was a slow, gradual build that started with my first diamond sale. I treated them well, sent them a thank-you note, and when they came back they asked for me by name. That’s how it all started and that’s how it still works today. For me, the biggest part of sales is that initial contact with a customer when I immediately start building a rapport with them. I do this by taking a true interest in the jewelry they’re buying, as well as the customer’s family and interests. And I couldn’t sell the way I do without truly believing in the product, the company, and my goal in serving each customer. I project that and people pick up on it.

How do gear up for a day of selling jewelry?
Each day I do daily readings from spiritual books my mother and sister give me each year for Christmas and verses from the Bible. I try to live by those words each day. I guess the most common example would be to not judge people. The stories and the verses help remind me of who I need to be as a person that day. There’s a certain calmness and confidence that comes from these readings and people recognize that.

Are sales objectives a big motivating factor for you?
To be quite honest, sales objectives aren’t a big motivator. I reach my sales goals each month, but with each customer I don’t feel that anxiousness or urgency because I’m so focused on the way I’m treating the customer. By maintaining that focus and staying true to my core beliefs, I’m confident that the customer will chose to buy from me and JDC. I encourage people to look around [at other stores], everybody does, especially young bridal buyers. And I always tell them, “But I know you’re going to come back to spend your money with me.” And they do come back.

What’s your product specialty?
Bridal. I do well with young bridal customers because I have two daughters in their early 20s, so I know what kind of jewelry young people like. And my maternal qualities garner a lot of trust with young people.

When selling bridal, what do you stress most?
The cut of a diamond. People don’t see color or clarity from across the room as much as they do the cut.

What tech tools help you maintain contact with customers of younger age groups?
None really, other than the occasional e-mail. I’m one of the only sales associates in the store who doesn’t rely too much on the computer to stay in touch with customers. I pick up the phone and make calls, write letters, and sends cards. 

What was your biggest sale?
I don’t want to give an actual sales number or product type, but I will say that I’ve had several sales over $100,000.

What was it like when you made your first $100,000-plus sale?
I was in awe. I was blown away that a customer would invest so much trust in me, our products and the store. But what really amazed me was knowing I’d successfully conveyed the value of the jewelry piece to the customer. That was a real turning point for me.

What qualities make for a million-dollar sales associate?
Caring and honesty. If people sense that you genuinely care about them, their jewelry needs, and what they want to do with that jewelry purchase, they will come back. And, honesty will always do well for your sales business, even when it means encouraging people to spend less on a piece that is better suited to their needs.

What helps you stay sharp?
Our morning meetings. We come to work an hour before we open to do set up and training. These daily training sessions with reps, our lines, and individual products really get the day off to a strong, motivated start.

What one compliment do you get from customers that lets you know you’re doing sales right?
That I’ve been helpful. Some people are very frightened and intimated when it comes to buying jewelry. Part of my job is to make them comfortable and be as helpful as I can be. That and caring and being honest is all I can truly be for my customers. It’s not much more complicated than that.

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