Retailer Dorothy Vodicka Charms Tallahassee’s Finest Customers

The Gem Collection owner is bejeweling and beautifying the women of Florida’s capital city

1. What is your single best money-­saving initiative?
Over 20 years ago, we took our sales staff from a small salary and small commission to a full commission with a weekly draw. The decision wasn’t popular at first: We lost all of our sales associates. New ones were hired knowing this was a commission-only store. Before the decision, each person was selling about $100,000 on average each year. In recent history, associates are selling 10 times that—with two $1 million sellers. The payment structure changed the way staff were paid, but also changed the way we advertised and purchased jewelry. With a commission-only structure, our sales associates are like five small business owners. To help stimulate everyone’s business interests, we increased our ads, expanded from print to TV, and differentiated our product offerings.

2. What practice have you ­borrowed from another store?
Years ago, I read a story about Twist, in Portland, Ore., that discussed the store owner’s practice of stocking lesser-known and rising star ­jewelry designers that don’t have the expenses of large branding campaigns. Alex Sepkus was one such designer we signed more than 10 years ago. In recent years, we brought on: Alishan, fashion-­forward jewelry; Ricky Frank—his enamel ­jewelry has been selling very well; and Donna Chambers, wonderful and completely original pearl jewelry.

3. What ambitious goal do you have for your store?
We’re currently doing less than $50,000 in online sales. We’d like to increase that to $500,000. Locally, our website gets lots of traffic. But from Tallahassee, we’d like to reach out-of-market sales. We plan on doing more with social media marketing, placing more Facebook ads, and advertising our site in other media.

4. How do you distinguish yourself from other stores in your market?
Years ago we decided to set our sights on the female self-purchase demographic and special-occasion buyers. To appeal to these groups, we carry quality jewelry in designs that have an emphasis on beauty. Jewelry stores, for the most part, don’t concentrate on selling the beauty. This is so much a part of our philosophy that we even have an alternate Web address: ­ Women don’t want ­jewelry anyone can own. They want quality and distinction.

5. When you walk through your door, what do you like most about your store?
My husband, Don, did the architectural and floor plan design. The first floor is literally one large walk-in vault with vault doors on the front and back and reinforced rebar throughout poured concrete walls. The vault is so secure we don’t have to take jewelry in and out of a traditional wall vault. But the build-out and interior design elements make it look like a jewelry store showroom. The second floor has a photo studio, a training area, and a large open area that we’d like to make into a gallery to show off our custom designs. I particularly like the outer glass doors with grillwork and a diamond motif on either side. When we open the vault door in the morning, the sun shines in and makes a pattern of the diamonds on the entry wall. Beautiful!

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