Ann Marie Dunn, co-owner of J.R. Dunn Jewelers in Lighthouse Point, Fla., says the best part of working with her husband, brother, son, and nephew is “the arguments we have.” How, exactly, can that be possible? “We decided a long time ago that whoever has the greatest passion about a subject wins the argument,” says the 70-year-old retailer, laughing. “Whoever quits first doesn’t have the passion, so we just keep going at it.” Clearly, an abiding passion for the fine jewelry business runs deep in the Dunn clan. Ann Marie and her husband, Jim Dunn, opened their first jewelry store in 1969—while both worked for IBM—out of a genuine love for jewelry and gems. Ann Marie’s brother, Robert Pelliccia, who was still a teenager when the couple first opened shop, has evolved into an award-winning jewelry designer under the couple’s shingle. In 1997, their son, Sean Dunn, joined the business and currently heads up the company’s marketing and digital departments. And Robert’s son, Matthew Pelliccia, recently went through a handful of apprenticeships and is now a top salesperson. Ann Marie credits her business’ success and longevity to a special kind of drive possessed by each of her family members. “I feel like we’re a very tenacious, passionate family,” she explains, “and we will not give up.”
TIES THAT BIND
Sean: I studied business at the University of Florida, and I was thinking of becoming a marine biologist or an oceanographer. But I saw a lot of friends after getting business degrees getting jobs that they weren’t exactly thrilled with. Dad basically said, “How would you like to take your surfboard and go to California to attend GIA?” That was a no-brainer for me. It was in Santa Monica at the time. Once I was out there, I started to really love gemology. I actually fell in love with it. I went to work for Ben Bridge right after, and that was a great experience and foundation for me. After a year, I got to the point where I knew I could come back to my family’s business and enact some of the things I’d learned.
Robert: I never thought Matthew would be in the jewelry business. When he came on, he sat at the bench and practiced, practiced, practiced. But ultimately he’s a social person and loves being on the sales floor. He enjoys engaging people.
Ann Marie: When he was going to school, Sean was lost in the ocean most of the time. He would come in in his flip-flops and ask for a little bit of money to go to McDonald’s.
Jim: When Sean was younger, I just knew that he loved surfing. He brought back good habits from working at Ben Bridge at South Coast Plaza, and his integrity level is the highest I’ve seen of anyone in the trade.
Robert with his brother-in-law Jim, sister Ann Marie, and nephew Sean
Jim: When we opened the store in Florida, that’s when we brought in Robert—he was 18 at the time and didn’t know a thing about jewelry. He’s humble, but he really is a genius. He’s been here 28 years and he’s been [tremendously] successful. Ann Marie and Sean share a passion for the business. I’d say they’re intense about it, and sometimes I have to walk away. I’m the old-school guy. I cave in and listen.
Sean: I definitely admire, with both my mom and dad, that they have a great deal of integrity. And their ability to persevere and drive hard toward their goal is incredible. That drive and determination is what’s made them succeed over competition, and in general. That’s what it takes.
Ann Marie: There isn’t a client that doesn’t love Jim. He’s the hardest-working man I know on this earth. He’s the first one here in the morning, and the last one out. One of us is always here for our clients. It’s so important for clients to see that the owners are involved.
Ann Marie: I do a lot of the buying. I like to buy pieces that are the more important pieces. We have a fashion buyer, but when it comes to going outside of that, that’s where Sean and I will buy. And I have a great passion for the sales floor. I have certain [high-end] clients I’ve worked with for years, and we shop for them at the trades.
Sean: When I came on, we made JRDunn.com into a fully functioning e-commerce site. That was eight years ago, before anyone had really jumped on the bandwagon. It’s harder than ever online now, but I think it’s how people judge you and your store before they come in. If you’re not investing heavily there, there’s an issue. The mobile challenge is the next thing.
Robert: My favorite part of working with family is that when I think I’ve come up with something interesting and different, I get excited to bring it to them to see if I get the reaction I’m hoping for. It’s fun brainstorming and trying to come up with different things. We know right away if we’re excited about something.
Robert: The next generation needs to start from the ground up and get their hands dirty. And that’s sometimes tough because you want to make it easier on your children—that’s the instinct. But if they do their time the right way, they develop better habits.
Jim: I’ve seen a lot of guys whose kids really just blew out their own business. Today everyone thinks the world owes [him or her] a living. You have to pay your dues.
Sean: You come in with all these ideas from school or whatever, and sometimes your theoretical things don’t really work in the real world. Observing and taking the slow approach works best. Slow down, look, and listen. You’ll get your chance.