Despite being the sales manager of the largest independently owned jewelry store in the country, Jim Engelhorn has his cell phone number posted on the exterior door of Sissy’s Log Cabin in Little Rock.
“In case of jewelry emergencies,” the sign reads. It lists the telephone numbers of Engelhorn and store owner Bill Jones and urges customers, or “guests” as Engelhorn prefers, to call them after hours if they need anything.
It’s that kind of service that has made Engelhorn, 54, a leader in his field and one who other jewelers across the country contact when seeking information and advice.
And to think, it wouldn’t have happened had it not been for a snowy sidewalk at the home of a Bloomington, Ill., jeweler.
Engelhorn, who grew up in the central Illinois town, used to mow yards and shovel snow off walks for spending money when he was a teenager. The jeweler hired Engelhorn when he was 15 to work in his store.
His aunt had given him a mineral collection that set his career, well, in stone.
“It conjured up a great interest,” Engelhorn said. “I always associated the start of my career with that collection.”
When Engelhorn graduated high school, the store owner told him to earn a college degree and he’d hold his job for him in Bloomington. Engelhorn went to the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign from 1985 to 1989 and earned a degree in industrial organizational psychology.
He focused his degree on marketing and buying behavior.
“I tailored my degree to managing a team of people in business,” he said. “I guess now you’d call it a degree in human resources.”
He returned to the Bloomington jewelry store and then moved to Valparaiso, Ind., where he managed a jewelry store.
Meanwhile, Sissy and Bill Jones were developing their own store, Sissy’s Log Cabin. Sissy Jones saw a log cabin for sale while driving along U.S. 79 in Pine Bluff in 1970. An avid antiques collector, she rented the cabin for $50 a month, and she sold her wares there. She discovered she sold a lot of jewelry on consignment and from estate sales.
She and Bill eventually opened Sissy’s Log Cabin jewelry store in Pine Bluff and opened other stores in Little Rock, Conway, Jonesboro and Memphis.
“It was a legend of best laid plans,” Engelhorn said of the Joneses’ business.
The store also embraces the strong concept of customer service. A sign on the door of each store reads, “Rule Number One: The customer is always right. Rule Number Two: Refer back to Rule Number One.”
Engelhorn left the cold climes of Indiana, tiring of the “lake-effect snows” there in the winter, and moved to Little Rock in 2017 and began working for Sissy’s Log Cabin. He now manages 33 people in the 12,000-square foot showroom and considers Arkansas a “paradise” and a “best-kept secret.”
Later, he earned diplomas from the Gemological Institute of America and did residence training, specializing in diamonds, at Santa Monica, Calif.
It’s the reactions of customers that make his job special, Engelhorn said.
“That’s the entire gig of this job for me,” he said. “People walk into our store at the happiest times of their lives. This takes our job to a new level. We listen to what they want.
“If they leave in a bad mood, we didn’t fulfill what they wanted. We have the opportunity to fix it. We generally don’t have bad days here. Everyone is in a good mood.”
Engelhorn’s favorite book, and one he constantly refers to, is Hiring Squirrels: 12 Essential Interview Questions to Uncover Great Retail Sales Talent, by sociologist Peter Smith. It’s a book about making businesses thrive by hiring a quality sales team.
“It’s a go-to book,” he said. “People are wired to be salespeople.”
Engelhorn regrets that as a sales manager, he doesn’t get to work with his “guests” as he used to. Still, he said, there is the satisfaction of selling the perfect ring or watch to someone.
“It’s not just sticking a rock on a finger,” he said. “It is satisfying a customer.”
He does still spend some of his time on the same side of the display case as his customers. Recently, he sold a large ring to a woman. “It’s perfect,” she said. And she gave him a hug.
“It comes down to that,” Engelhorn said.
He’s also quick to give jewelry advice to celebrities. When singer Gwen Stefani wore the engagement ring singer Blake Shelton gave her while on the television show, The Voice, where both are talent judges, people noticed.
Engelhorn tweeted while the show aired on Nov. 30, 2020, “As a jeweler, I strongly recommend you not clap with a ring on your right hand with that platinum sparkler on your left.”
Ashley Linden, the owner of Linden’s Custom Jewelry and Diamond in Bentonville and the president of the Arkansas Jewelers Association, said she appreciates his help and guidance with others. Engelhorn is an association board member.
“[Engelhorn] is always professional and forthright in his opinions regarding the affairs of the Arkansas Jewelers Association,” she said. “Additionally, he is free with advice to fellow jewelers in regards to recommendations of who can assist them for various needs within our industry.”
Engelhorn said his store has set sales records for eight of the nine months so far this year. Part, he said, may be commerce returning from the quarantining periods created by COVID-19 last year. But, more so, he added, people just want to feel good and have an experience when buying jewelry.
“Bill Jones is the most innovative person I’ve ever met,” Engelhorn said. “We’re helping people find solutions.
“If we didn’t believe in what we do, we wouldn’t put our phone numbers on the door.”