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Sissy’s  Log Cabin

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Sissy’s Log Cabin, Pine Bluff, AR

OWNERS: Sissy Jones; OPENED: 1970; LAST REMODELLING: November 2003 (expanded to current size); STORE AREA: 11,000 sq. ft; ADDRESS: 2319 Camden Road, Pine Bluff, AR, 71603; TARGET CUSTOMER: Women 35+ with annual income of $50,000 per year; ADVERTISING SLOGAN: “Because life is too short for ordinary jewelry.”; PHONE: (870) 879-3040; FAX: ((870) 879-1809; URL: sissyslogcabin.com; 2004 REVENUES: $12 million


REMEMBER AUNT BEE from The Andy Griffith Show? Imagine she had opened a jewelry store, and youʼve got a pretty good idea of what youʼll find at Sissyʼs Log Cabin: high-quality merchandise, homespun fashion, and a real friendly smile. From extremely humble beginnings, Sissyʼs has grown into one of the most legendary stores in the industry, proving that rustic charm and down-home friendliness can sell just about anything … including fine jewelry. Customers come from all 50 states to visit this one-of-a-kind Southern retail experience and spend a few bucks (the $12-million operation saw a 25% increase in sales this past December … you do the math). Weʼre not even sure they use the word “cool” at Sissyʼs, but we think yʼall will agree … this store is definitely “mighty fine.”

Talking Cool with Sissy’s Log Cabin

HISTORY

In 1970, Sissy Jones, a divorced mother of two, noticed an old log cabin on the side of the highway, about to be torn down. Persuading the owner to rent it to her for $50 per month, she borrowed $1,500 from her uncle, emptied her attic, and set up shop as an antique store. Built around 1910, the log cabin was a true original — unfortunately, it was showing the decay of its years. “We had to hang a black-and-white checked cloth on the ceiling,” says Sissy, “because whenever an 18-wheeler came by, it would shake the dust off.”

Her son, Bill Jones, now the company president, remembers the days when the cabinʼs most prolific residents — the termites — would swarm out of the ancient timbers. “We held Termite Sales,” says Jones. “It happened very rarely each year, and you never knew exactly when it would be, but for about 30 minutes the air would be filled with termites. What could we do? We decided to have fun with it and have a sale, on the spot.” Unable to hold itself together any longer, the cabin was eventually torn down to make room for store expansion.

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In the early days, Sissy would drive to Dallas, write a check to purchase antiques, then come back and sell out of the trailer over the weekend to cover the check. Eventually, she got into jewelry sales and developed what would become her hallmark contribution to the industry — the slide bracelet. “It started when I put a chain around my wrist and an antique slide on it. I started asking around the country for old slides. Suddenly, we were making hundreds of slide bracelets,” she says.

Sales of the slide bracelet and a growing reputation for incredible jewelry provided the capital for the storeʼs first expansion in 1991. Sissy had remarried Murphy Jones by that time, and it was his vision that finally convinced the rest of the family to expand the store (“we were scared to death” admits Bill). Another expansion in November 2003 brought the store to 11,000 square feet in total showroom space. Today, Sissy remains as CEO, Murphy is the secretary-treasurer, and Billʼs sister, Ginger Jones Cheatham, is the executive VP, overseeing the storeʼs marketing.

THE CONCEPT

You wonʼt find a security guard — or anyone else for that matter — buzzing customers in at Sissyʼs. And thatʼs just the way they like it, says Bill Jones. “We offer a down-home atmosphere where people can shop for jewelry in a comfortable, relaxing environment,” he says. Describing the long brick porch running the front length of the building, Jones says theyʼve added wooden benches “so men can kick back and even have a smoke while their wives are shopping inside.”

Family is a key theme at Sissyʼs, and much of the store was designed with that in mind. The expansive showroom allows groups of customers to take in the storeʼs wares at an unhurried pace, and the kidsʼ playroom (complete with a Playstation 2 game console) has parents begging their children to leave, instead of the other way around. In fact, the Jones family included many recommendations from staff and customers in the final store design, which might have been what led to the espresso bar, full kitchens upstairs and down, and even a laundry area. “Sometimes our jewelers, who are paid by the job, would rather sleep upstairs during our busy season than drive home… and theyʼve got to have clean clothes,” says Jones.

THE STORE

As they enter the store, customers are greeted by an almost overwhelming 52 showcases of jewelry. Antique stained-glass windows on the front wall portray angels watching over the store, a favorite Jones motif. These, combined with the soothing, cream-colored walls and natural walnut wood on the bottom of the jewelry showcases, make customers “feel right at home,” according to Cheatham. A hot cup of espresso or cold soda doesnʼt hurt either, and Sissyʼs provides both free of charge.

Upon closer inspection, the showcases are glass on three sides with white leather bottoms and reflective backs, with brass metal on the edges. Track halogen lighting from above maximizes gemstone sparkle, and spotlights and lamps are used to highlight the giftware and antiques at the other end of the store. An antique sideboard bar spans the entire end behind the watch boutique, where fine lines like Rolex, Cartier, and Baume & Mercier donʼt seem at all out of place. Carpeting is a durable dark blue and platinum, matching the Sissyʼs Log Cabin packaging.

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But as impressive as the interior space may be, the Jones family maintains that the storeʼs most unique feature is its eight full-time goldsmiths. “Most jewelry stores are merchants, but we really are jewelers,” says Bill Jones. “Our goldsmiths are specialized, from jewelers who work strictly with platinum, micro-pavé, or other materials, to one we call our ʻrun backʼ jeweler because he handles about 620 little jobs a week that we ʻrun backʼ to him. We can do anything from ring sizing to building a Faberge egg.” Back rooms and outbuildings include individual offices for each goldsmith, a feature unheard-of in most retail stores. Itʼs all worth it, says Jones. “Our jewelers are the crux of our business,” he says, “and they give our salespeople the confidence to know that anything is possible.”

THE TECHNOLOGY

Log cabins and technology typically coexist about as well as an angry ʻcoon and an old dog, but Sissyʼs boasts some of the most cutting-edge innovations to be found anywhere. Every diamond is laser-engraved, right in the store, with the Sissyʼs Log Cabin logo, carat weight, and serial number on the girdle. “The machine is expensive and the process complicated, but itʼs worth it when our customers tell us how secure it makes them feel,” says Jones. Sissyʼs also features a Sarin machine for grading diamond cuts, two color-grading machines, and 17 computer workstations.

But perhaps their most impressive (and income-generating) technology is the storeʼs comprehensive website — which not only lists thousands of the storeʼs jewelry pieces, but offers a photo and detailed description for each one. About six months ago, Jones hired a full-time web photographer whose sole job is to photograph every piece of inventory (using Sissyʼs in-house studio) and catalog it on the web. “We do so much business by phone,” says Jones, “So having our merchandise on the Internet helps our customers to tell us more exactly what theyʼre looking for. It also allows customers to go home and show their spouse the piece theyʼve been looking at in the store, so we close more deals more quickly.” You canʼt beat that with a stick.

THE PEOPLE

Buying a diamond at Sissyʼs is no ordinary transaction. First, one of Sissyʼs jewelers is going to set it for you while you wait … they want to get it back to you while youʼre excited about the purchase. Next, theyʼre going to bring it out on a silver platter with champagne for the lucky couple. Salespeople will gather around to congratulate you and take pictures, and then — for the crowning touch — one staff member will approach, singing “Tanti Auguri” in perfect operatic Italian.

Again, things like this donʼt typically happen inside a log cabin … but as always, Sissyʼs is the exception, not the rule. “Customers have been waiting years for this diamond, and they often break down in tears when we make it a big production,” says Jones. “It costs us nothing, and the loyalty it creates is tremendous. And after all, moments like those are what this business is all about.”

This philosophy of going the extra mile for people holds true in staff interaction as well. To wit: Sissyʼs has 36 employees, not one of whom chooses to leave the store during their lunch break. Perks include weekly and monthly contests, and employees who have been with the store for ten years or more have their names engraved in the sidewalk bricks outside. If a child is sick, their parent is allowed to bring them to work if they so choose. Often the Jones family will spring for drinks and snacks, on the spur of the moment, for employees and customers alike. “It might cost you $25 or $30,” says Sissy, “but those special little things you do make your life go around.” And every Thursday morning at 9 oʼclock, everyone gathers round for a short weekly prayer meeting, led by one of the principals or staff members. As Ginger Jones Cheatham says, “Whether youʼre related or not, if you work at Sissyʼs, youʼre family.”

PHOTO GALLERY (4 IMAGES)

Over the years, INSTORE has won 80 international journalism awards for its publication and website. Contact INSTORE's editors at [email protected].

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