Stepping into Sissy’s Log Cabin in Little Rock, glittering diamonds, beautiful rings and handsome watches immediately welcome you in the store. As you scan the cases of earrings, necklaces, rings and more, one of the store’s employees will step up to greet you. It might even be CEO Bill Jones.
He looks the part of an upscale jewelry store owner — snappy dresser with a wide smile. As the second generation of one of Arkansas’ most prominent family-owned jewelry stores, Jones has helped guide Sissy’s Log Cabin from its humble origins in Pine Bluff to a jewelry empire that stretches across the state.
In 1970, the original Sissy’s Log Cabin was established in just that — a 1920s-era log cabin on U.S. 79 in Pine Bluff by Jones’ mother, Sissy Jones. Originally, the store was a spot for Sissy to sell and appraise antiques, but it gradually evolved into the company that it is today.
Bill joined the company in 1984 after attending gemology school, and he began working alongside Sissy. The mother-and-son duo eventually began selling jewelry in the original log cabin. In addition to selling, Bill did all of the benchwork for the store at night in its early years, working on jewelry and doing settings.
Over time, Sissy’s became a full-fledged family affair. Sissy’s husband, Murphy, became involved in the company, as did her daughter, Ginger Jones Cheatham, who handled advertising, as did her daughter-in-law (and Bill’s wife) Sharri. Now, Bill and Sharri’s sons — William, Wyatt and Joe Cook — have joined the family business.
“At first, I was just thinking about making my business survive and providing my customers with the best customer service so they would keep coming back. As we grew, I realized this business might need the help of the whole family,” Sissy said. “I feel so blessed and excited that my children and grandchildren discovered the same love of fine jewelry that I have. Sissy’s Log Cabin is truly a family business, and I hope that remains for years to come.”
Bill said, “It’s just kind of like an engine when you put every piece in the right area, and everybody’s moving forward together, and there’s no overlapping of talent.”
The company steadily built its reputation as a store to buy high-end but reasonably priced jewelry in Arkansas. However, by the early 2000s, it was clear to Bill that to survive, the company needed to expand beyond Pine Bluff.
Bill said the decision to open a new store was a critical moment in the company’s history. Most of the store’s customers came from outside Pine Bluff and Jefferson County, and he realized that Sissy’s would have to go to where the customers were.
“You have to realize that we were in the second poorest state in the nation, in the poorest county in that state… To be able to do the business we did, it was all through advertising. More than 85 percent of our business came from outside Pine Bluff,” he said.
According to Bill, Sissy and Murphy initially had reservations about opening the new store, wanting to preserve the status quo of the business. But Bill saw an opportunity to grow in Little Rock, opening up the company’s location in the Heights neighborhood. One store had already left the neighborhood and another was going out of business, and Bill thought it was time to strike. The store, he said, was an immediate success.
Since the opening of the second store, the Jones family has opened an additional three stores in Jonesboro, Memphis and Conway, bringing the company’s total number of stores to five. Expanding Sissy’s footprint has been a methodical process, Bill said, aimed at maximizing its advertising dollars and boosting its brand recognition across Arkansas and in new markets.
“We’re kind of leapfrogging. When we went to Jonesboro, we really had Memphis in mind. But we went to Jonesboro thinking that our advertising radius was going to reach Memphis,” Bill said. “So, it was a stepping stone, instead of just going into an area which is completely foreign to us.”
The Joneses aren’t resting on their laurels, either. The next market in their sights is Northwest Arkansas, particularly Fayetteville.
Throughout the expansion, the Jones family has sought to maintain a grounded feel to each store, treating each one virtually as a stand-alone location rather than part of a corporate machine. To accomplish this, the team relies on customer-centric service and relationship-building. “We have a couple of philosophies that we live by, and one of them is by the front door: ‘The customer is always right.’ Rule number two: ‘If the customer is ever wrong, refer to rule number one,’” Bill said.
Ensuring that customers get exceptional service is crucial for the Sissy’s team. It’s no wonder that Bill’s personal cellphone number is posted on the front door of the Little Rock store for “jewelry emergencies.”
“What’s a jewelry emergency? It could be lots of things — it could be that a diamond falls out before a wedding or an anniversary. It could be you forgot your anniversary gift or Valentine’s Day,” he said. “We’ll do whatever it takes. The answer is, ‘Yes, what’s your question?’ We’ll come meet on the evening, early weekend, Sunday, whatever it takes.”
Now, the Jones family is working on its third generation in the business. Both Bill and Sharri said that having their sons in the family business has been rewarding, but it wasn’t a given. As Bill said, he “expected all three sons to pull their weight if they intended to join the company.”
“We all know what happens with the third generation — so often, they’re not successful. We told our guys point-blank, ‘You have the option to come in here and have a job if you want, but you don’t have the option to not perform because you’re going to be treated just like anybody else. And you will be held to the same standards because the brand is bigger than any one person, and we’re not going to allow anybody to come in here and destroy the brand,’” Bill said.
Joining Sissy’s was never a question for Wyatt, who works as an associate at the Little Rock store. His early experiences of going to the stores sealed his entrance into the jewelry world. “I was a Jones, so I was going into jewelry and business. We visited the stores as kids; we talked about gems and jewelry design over dinner sometimes. From the start, I was destined for jewelry,” he said.
William Jones, vice president of operations for Sissy’s Log Cabin, was similarly set on taking part in the business. Now that he’s a part of the company, William aims to boost the company’s profile and further expand it.
“Growing up around the family business, I knew I wanted to be a part. I attended UCA [the University of Central Arkansas] for business and finance, and then I became a graduate gemologist. I wanted to understand both the business side and the jewelry side so that I could really propel the third generation of Sissy’s forward,” William said.
Another son, Joe Cook, agrees with William that expansion is essential for the continued growth of Sissy’s Log Cabin. Maintaining its core values and level of service, though, will be a major part of keeping the company’s identity in the midst of the planned expansion.
“We have five stores. I would like to see us double that number in the future — all while keeping our customers first and never letting our service lack in any way. Since the first store, Sissy’s principles have stayed the same, and I want to see that as we continue to grow our number of stores,” he said.
What does Bill see for the future of Sissy’s Log Cabin? With his sons at the helm of the company, he has no doubt it will continue to grow, carrying the legacy started by his mother in a humble cabin.
“They have a lot of fire, and I think that they’ll take it far,” he said. “If they double it from what it is now, it’s a hundred times bigger than me doubling it.
“There’s no real secret to Sissy’s Log Cabin. I mean, we have beautiful jewelry, we have great lines. If there’s a secret at all, it’s the quality of the people we have here and the relationship they build with customers.”