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Eileen McClelland

Sissy Jones’ Legacy Began When She Rented a Log Cabin

Antiques shop in Arkansas spawned great success, along with termites.



Sissy Jones’ Legacy Began When She Rented a Log Cabin
Sissy Jones
Sissy’s Log Cabin, Pine Bluff, AR

SISSY JONES’ ACCIDENTAL entrance into the jewelry business is the stuff of industry legend.

She was driving down a road she usually didn’t take when she spied a run-down log cabin with a “for rent” sign. “It was a mess, but I had the vision that it could be a little store for antiques,” she recalls.

She told her husband about it at lunch — after she’d signed a lease for $50 a month — but when he saw the place, he was incredulous. “He shook his head and said, ‘Surely, you didn’t do this!’” But she used all of her powers of persuasion to convince him it was in fact a great idea, including reminding him that their house was full of antiques, and $50 was cheaper even than a storeroom would be.

It was more work than she had bargained for. “You could take your finger and punch it through the logs. It was beginning to lean a lot. We knew we had a few termites; we didn’t know they would spawn,” she says. The bathroom was a stall on the screened back porch, which was freezing cold in the winter.

The termites became the talk of the town.

One day, she and her son, Bill, were selling a diamond and bugs began dropping onto the counter.

“The customer said, ‘What is that?’ I said, ‘It’s a termite.’ Diplomatically, the customer said, ‘Can we step outside in the sunshine to look at this diamond?’ We had to put plastic on that wall to catch the termites when they came out.”

The 900-square-foot place was soon crowded with antique furniture. One day, a customer walked in with a lockbox and dumped the contents on the counter.

“And heavens, there were these long, 66-inch necklaces with slides on them, along with a chain for a watch,” Jones says. She learned how to make slide bracelets from the contents of that box, which marked the beginning of a shift toward jewelry.

“I really had to study,” says Jones, 83, who took GIA correspondence courses. Antiques stayed in inventory for a while, but jewelry began to seem easier than carrying a roll-top desk or two up a buyer’s staircase.

“The company really did take off when my daughter (Ginger), son (Bill), and my husband, Murphy, formed a team. When we had the whole family coming together, it was just wonderful.” Bill is CEO now. Two grandchildren, William and Wyatt, have joined the business. William, who has a degree in finance, is COO and Wyatt is in charge of training.

Jones enjoys appearing in TV commercials, visiting all six store locations and buying estate jewelry. “The main thing that I want to do is keep the culture and training the same as it’s always been,” she says. “We are a Christian-based company. I believe the Lord owns our company. I only found that place by accident.”

Her philosophy at this stage of life is that “regrets over yesterday and fear of tomorrow are the twin things that rob you of your happiness.

“I’ve enjoyed all 83 years. My life has been an adventure, and I can’t tell you how much fun that has been.”


Online Extra: Q&A with Sissy Jones

Q. What do you do when you’re not working?

A. “I travel when I’m able to do it. When you’re this age, you never know what you’re going to be able to do tomorrow.”

Q. What were you doing before you founded the business?

A. The main thing I did was sell Kirby vaccums. The man who owned the company said he’d give me $10 anytime I just showed a vacuum to a Junior League member. But I sold a great deal of them. I made them a lot of money and the fact is I made money, too. I do like selling. It didn’t matter what I was selling. If I believed in it, I could sell it.

Q. What pieces of jewelry do you most enjoy wearing?

A. My good-luck cameo. This angel picture hung in the children’s room when they were growing up. We said our prayers to the guardian angel. My children made this frame for it, with a ruby and an opal, their birthstones. You wear things that are important to you. When my mother passed away, I took her rings and diamonds and had the jeweler make a cross with her diamonds. It’s so important to wear things that remind us of the people who touch our hearts.

Q. Where did you find your motivation?

A. When a woman started a business in 1970, it was different. People thought I’d go out of business soon. My mother was the biggest encourager. Every day she said remember “The Little Choo Choo Who Could.” She always said you can do it. She kept me doing too much, because she didn’t want me to take a day off. That’s a sin. She believed that idleness was the devil’s workshop. She was a very strong disciplinarian and a very smart woman, she graduated from university in 1929. Looking back, I realized how hard we were working, but we were trying to make a living. And when you have fun like we did it didn’t feel like work.

Q. What is your favorite part of the jewelry business?

A. The contact that you have with your customers. We make friends with everybody. I have a poster card with angel pins and I was giving them out all the time, with the saying, “enter a stranger and leave a friend.” I’ve had lots of people come back 20 or 30 years and say `This is the angel you gave me.’ It touches your heart to be a part of someone’s special occasion. They used to call my office the counseling office. We’d see a lot of people bringing in their rings, getting divorced, and they’re sad.

Q. How do you build trust in the community and ensure customer loyalty?

A. We like to participate in things, in each store’s community’s activities. Our people get on the boards and become a part of those different groups. We get in there and work we don’t just give money. We want to give part of ourselves to these organizations. The food drives are really important In Pine Bluff.

Q. What has changed about the industry or technology or about how you do business that you like?

A. I think the technology is wonderful. But when you get right down to it it’s the personal touch and custom jewelry and handmade jewelry. If you take that away what do you have? Cold, cold, and we’re not going to be that way. Technology is great but it’s going to take you only so far.

Q. What makes you most proud about your legacy, about what you started?

A. It’s been a wonderful ride, really. What makes me most proud is my family is in it. We’ve developed something for them to have and to continue. And I want them to give back to the community as much as they take. I think they’re happy in their professions. Some things change but honesty and integrity and taking care of people doesn’t change. To be a part of celebrations is heartwarming to everybody.

Q. What do you think of plans for the newest big store in Memphis? And evolving the store design away from the log cabin theme?

A. When Bill came in and told me that, I know he was worried about telling me, he said we can’t make this one logs. I said it’s about time, isn’t it? He started laughing so hard. I said I realize time changes and we have to change with it. The day you get too old to change you don’t need to be around.



This Third-Generation Jeweler Was Ready for Retirement. He Called Wilkerson

Retirement is never easy, especially when it means the end to a business that was founded in 1884. But for Laura and Sam Sipe, it was time to put their own needs first. They decided to close J.C. Sipe Jewelers, one of Indianapolis’ most trusted names in fine jewelry, and call Wilkerson. “Laura and I decided the conditions were right,” says Sam. Wilkerson handled every detail in their going-out-of-business sale, from marketing to manning the sales floor. “The main goal was to sell our existing inventory that’s all paid for and turn that into cash for our retirement,” says Sam. “It’s been very, very productive.” Would they recommend Wilkerson to other jewelers who want to enjoy their golden years? Absolutely! “Call Wilkerson,” says Laura. “They can help you achieve your goals so you’ll be able to move into retirement comfortably.”

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