Magazine November/December 2015

Running a Jewelry Empire

November/December 2015 Issue

Sissy Jones of Sissy’s Log Cabin Fine Jewelry
started small but has expanded into one of
the state’s largest jewelry retailers.

Photography by Cindy Momchilov

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As a woman starting a small business in 1970, Sissy Jones encountered many hurdles. But 45 years later, she is at the helm of one of the state’s largest family-owned jewelry retailers, Sissy’s Log Cabin, which now has four locations.

Jones started out with a plan to open an antique shop to sell off the mass of items she had accumulated in her attic. With no collateral, she said she was denied a small business loan. So, she borrowed $1,500 from her aunt and uncle, rented a crumbling log cabin in Pine Bluff for $50 per month, and opened the business.
“It was hard in the ’70s because people didn’t look at women as entrepreneurs,” Jones said. “It’s not like that now.”

The resolve and perseverance to start a small business are qualities that Jones said she learned from her mother, who graduated from the University of Arkansas with a home economics degree in 1929.

“There was nothing that she thought I couldn’t do,” Jones explained.

Soon after getting into the antique business, Jones became a licensed appraiser. And because she liked antique jewelry so much, she attended the Gemological Institute of America and other schools to become a jeweler. The business grew from one jewelry case to several, and then into an additional building.

Jones laughed when she described the first log cabin that housed her business, a structure she bought outright when the landlord raised the rent to $75 per month. It didn’t have windows at first, or heat or hot water. Termites had destroyed the floor, so much so that during one Christmas season, only a certain number of shoppers could be allowed inside because the floor couldn’t support the weight of a large group of people.

Today, the Pine Bluff location is 12,000 square feet and includes a gift shop. Sissy’s also has locations in Jonesboro, Little Rock and Memphis, and the name later changed to Sissy’s Log Cabin Fine Jewelry. Jones’ son, Bill Jones, now serves as president of the business and oversees the day-to-day operations of the company. Each of the four locations has its own store manager who oversees its daily operations. Plus, Jones said she visits each of the stores as often as she can.

Over the years, much has changed in the industry. New stones and metals have been introduced, and new technology has been developed, including tabletop lasers, and diamond and gold testing kits. Jones and her gemologists stay on top of it all.

“I always want to be alert and on top of things,” she said. People don’t realize what all goes into the jewelry retail business, Jones explained.

What’s kept the business going for 45 years is expressed in the store’s tagline: “Because Life’s Too Short for Ordinary Jewelry.” Jones said offering products that no one else has — such as an 81-faceted diamond — along with high-quality customer service and treating employees like family have made Sissy’s Log Cabin a success.

Jones is a recognizable face for many in the state, likely due to the retailer’s television commercials. She’s known as much for her philanthropic endeavors as the gold “Sissy” barrette that she always wears. In each community where Sissy’s sets up shop, she gets involved with local charities and organizations, and this year, she was named Arkansan of the Year by Easter Seals Arkansas.

Born Marguerite Louise Robinson in San Antonio, Texas, Jones moved to Gillett in Arkansas County when she was 10, an experience she called a bit of a culture shock. She again credits her mother for teaching her and her sister, who is a year older, the value of hard work.

“She taught me to work, and I appreciate that,” Jones said. “I’m not too good to do anything. My life has been an adventure. It’s not worth it if you don’t love what you do. If you help enough people get where they’re going, you’ll get there too.”

And when it comes to jewelry, Jones still loves antique pieces. She also loves creating new, custom designs out of antiques.

“I appreciate the old pieces like no one else does,” she said. “You can always make something out of the old pieces into something that you’ll wear. There isn’t anything you can bring me that I can’t make into a new piece.”

The signature pieces of jewelry that Jones always wears incorporate family heirlooms. Her cross pendant holds her mother’s diamonds, and her angel ring features an aunt’s diamonds. She also wears a guardian angel broach showcasing her children’s birthstones daily — a Mother’s Day gift from her kids.

Jones’ love for the business is evident, and she has no plans to slow down. Instead, she’s looking to grow and said new stores are likely.

“When you stop growing, you stop living,” she said. “If you sit down, you’ll get old, and you’ll get wrinkled.”

Read more about Arkansas female-owned small businesses.

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