In a big box world, it’s difficult for small businesses to keep a footing, much less find middle ground among tough competitors. For the family behind Vashti’s Jewelers in Gloucester, Virginia, the formula for more than half a century of success is fairly simple.
“Service sets you apart,” said Joan Roane, the second generation owner of the store. Her mother, Vashti Wilcher, launched the business, then titled Vashti’s Jewelry and Gift Shoppe, in 1961. Quality service or not, few women in small town America were brave enough to take the leap into entrepreneurship in those days.
“She prayed about it constantly,” Roane remembers. She goes on to explain that her mother had helped another jeweler open a satellite store in Gloucester. In addition to jewelry, they sold sets of china and silver. Local brides flocked to register there. Within a year though, the owner realized that multiple stores made life too difficult. He decided to sell this particular branch of his business.
This left Wilcher with a moral dilemma. She had told all her brides that she would keep their china settings in stock so they could either add to them or replace them when necessary. If the store closed, she would be forced to break her promise to her loyal customers.
“Mother is not one to go back on her word,” explained Roane. “She had never thought about owning her own business. She didn’t know where she would get the money, but everything fell into place. My father bought the cases for the jewelry for her. The owner allowed her to buy the merchandise in the store by paying on a monthly basis.”
Wilcher, now 93, kept her business thriving through customer service and a determination to give back to the community that supported her. Active in the local Moose Lodge, her church, and the Gloucester Association, Wilcher’s service caused county officials to name her First Lady of the county’s Bicentennial Celebration. She imparted this strong need to serve both in her hometown and her customers to her daughter, who grew up in the business.
“You treat each customer the same way,” said Roane. “I don’t care what race, age, religion, or belief system, you treat each person as you would want to be treated yourself.”
The Golden Rule business model has created a customer base that is now in its third and fourth generation.
“We go that extra mile,” Roane said. “The customer is always right—if it weren’t for the customer, we wouldn’t have a business.”
Roane has since turned the business over to her daughter, Nicole Michael, who in turn brings her own seven-year-old daughter to work. Together they continue Wilcher’s vision of community service. They are excited to work with the Alzheimer’s Association, the American Cancer Society, and local teachers through annual supply drives.
Roane and now Michael both believe that both customer and community service are keys to retaining relevancy in today’s market.
“Keeping up with the trends and making sure the product mix is what people want are also key,” said Michael who has added a website, a Facebook page, an Instagram account, and email blasts since taking over the business recently. She has also replaced the gift shop portion of the store with more modern jewelry lines to complement the fine pieces that have always been a hallmark of the store.
“We now carry Alex and Ani—a base metal, rather than a precious metal line, made from all recycled materials,” Michael explained. “We also carry Kameleon, Endless, convertible bracelets, and Southern Gates.”
“When you’re in this business, you learn to love it,” added Roane, who also noted that her granddaughter, Avery, had a lovely time showing off the jewelry lines to customers at a recent community festival. Roane shared that her mother, at 93, asked if she could come in and work the weekends.
“When you retire, you miss it,” said Roane. “You miss your people and your customers—they become like family.”