RALEIGH, N.C. — A gecko-shaped pin has been a part of Darlene Johns’ daily life for almost as long as her company, Alphanumeric Systems, has been. After 30 years, Johns is making some changes in her routine, having sold the $50 million information technology services company.
Not the gecko, though. Now her focus can be Gecko’s Corner, two North Raleigh gift and boutique shops that she owns – and the gecko for which the shops are named remains pinned to her clothing.
“My husband gave me a gecko-shaped piece of jewelry in 1982, and I have been wearing it ever since,” Johns recalled. Robert Johns died seven years ago. “Geckos bring you good luck.
“This was long before Geico Insurance” adopted the gecko as its advertising sales-reptile, she added with a laugh. “I introduced it into marketing, put it on business cards and lots of ads.
“They stick with you. They have suction cups on their feet. They are capable of changing colors – a lot of the story of the gecko has been the story of Alphanumeric. We changed. We adapted. We stuck with our customers. We still have a lot of our original customers.”
Johns even named her poodle "Gecko."
When Johns decided to open her shop, “Gecko’s Corner” was an easy choice as the name.
The Skinny talked with Johns about her company, the shops and the gecko pin long before she decided to sell the company. Just before opening the second Gecko’s Corner just before Christmas 2007, Johns explained that hobbies turned into a second business over several years,
“The concept for the shops has been evolving as I have evolved through life,” Johns recalled in the interview. “For years, I was the ‘furniture market’ for Alphanumeric. This was not something I did overnight.
“I’ve been beating the bushes for many years,” she added. “My home became a warehouse.
“Sometimes I wonder, ‘What am I doing, girl?’ It is something I have always enjoyed doing – decorating and shopping, buying things while I was traveling. It’s something that’s not quite as challenging as the technology industry.”
A self-proclaimed “Raleigh girl” who grew up in the capital city, Johns was a secretary working for the state when she foresaw the changes technology would make in the business world. She became one of the pioneers for women in technology when she launched Alphanumeric in 1979. Over the next 30 years, through boom and bust business cycles for technology, Johns grew Alphanumeric into a company with 300 employees and $50 million in revenues.
On Monday, however, she announced she had sold the company to her friends Harvey and Karen Braswell.
While Johns plans to remain active in economic development and technology for the state as she has over the last three decades, she also will invest time and energy in the Gecko’s Corner shops.
“The store is a lot of me,” she explained. “I bought most everything in there. I’m enjoying just seeing people I know come in the store and say, ‘Oh, Darleen, I didn’t know you were doing this!’”