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Best of The Best

Best of the Best: Romancing the Picture

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[dropcap cap=G]reg Stopka says he is in the business of selling pretty pictures. “Selling visual jewelry is selling a concept,” says Stopka, the owner of JewelSmiths, two design studios in California’s Bay Area. Inspired by Gem Vision’s Digital Goldsmith CAD program, he shifted his entire business from repair to custom design. “I’ve run a no-inventory studio for more than 20 years.”  — EILEEN McCLELLAND[/dropcap]

[componentheading]THE IDEA [/componentheading]

[contentheading]No Merchandise [/contentheading]

Stopka, who has a degree in sports management, ran his family’s jewelry store for a time when his father was ill. Even then, he questioned how merchandise was handled. “I noticed that the service side of the business was constantly growing, while the merchandise side was kind of haphazard, up and down. When I went out on my own, I started out doing just repairs instead of merchandise, and it blew the doors off.” After opening five repair shops, he was exhausted and wanted to try something new. When he saw Digital Goldsmith at JCK Las Vegas, it seemed like just what he had been looking for. “I was scared out of my wits because it was expensive,” he says.

[componentheading]THE EXECUTION [/componentheading]

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[contentheading]Flip and Sell [/contentheading]

[inset side=right]Stopka believes visual jewelry is on the verge of going mainstream. “What the economy has done is force jewelers to make the choice much sooner,” he says. [/inset]

Stopka made the most of the investment, spending hours every day learning to use the “highly technical equipment.” As regular repair customers came in, Stopka demonstrated what CAD could do and gradually “flipped” them into custom-design customers. His product was limited only by his and his clients’ imagination. When Gem Vision introduced a 3D program, Stopka learned to use that, too. But he sees CAD as more of a creative than a modeling tool. “What I use the programs for now is the visualization, communication and presentation aspect of my business because the program has the ability to render creative designs in photo-realistic properties.” He uses the photos as digital portfolios on touch screens in his store, and in print ads, too. “Overhead, LCD screens run constantly and show the designs,” he says. “People come in and they look at these things and think they are real. We sit down with a client in front of the monitor and we creatively sell them.

[componentheading]THE REWARD [/componentheading]

[contentheading]Healthy Margins  [/contentheading]

? Stopka can virtually display a completely different line of jewelry within 24 hours.
? With his business model, many costs are eliminated, including purchasing inventory, insurance, display, storage and maintenance. Risk of shoplifting, robbery and unsold goods is low. As a result, his profit margin is consistently in the 33 to 40 percent range.
? It’s easy to attract new clients: “They are coming in as a result of the images I’m putting out there in ads,” he says. “I’ll create a piece that is really off-the-wall and I’ll send it to the newspapers or a magazine, and people will come in with that ad.”
? One of the biggest rewards has been finding something he loves to do. “I couldn’t set a stone if my life depended on it. That’s why I build and create things a little differently, because I don’t have a set of parameters. Being on the computer and creating something in 3D is my drug of choice when I want to kick back and enjoy something.”

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[componentheading]STORE IMAGES [/componentheading]

{rokbox album=|Stopka Pictures|}images/stories/INSTORE/best_stores/best_of_best/stopka_pics_4-10/*{/rokbox}

[componentheading]DO IT YOURSELF [/componentheading]

? Stopka suggests starting slowly, if you haven’t used CAD before, since most programs have a steep learning curve. Introduce it as a sales tool in a corner of the store as you learn, rather than throwing out your inventory and starting from scratch. “It could be 50 square feet,” he says. “I sell out of an area that’s 150 square feet. The rest of it is shop.”

? Shop around for something you find easy to use: “There are programs out there that are a lot easier to use than getting into full-blown 3D.” Stopka says it can even be done on the Internet with MinuteCad.com. Some people are using Photoshop or hand drawings to sell designs.

? “Remember, a pretty picture can sell; it does every day for us,” Stopka says.

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[span class=note]This story is from the April 2010 edition of INSTORE[/span]

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