By Kirsten Reed | Photography courtesy of McCaskill & Company
Growing up in a family of entrepreneurs, Bill Campbell knew he was destined to take over the reins of a successful family-owned business one day. And dutifully, at the age of 22, he did just that. Bill ran a successful hardware store, opened a second, and supplied much of the DeFuniak Springs area with building materials.
But something was missing.
Around his 40th birthday, after 18 years of operating a thriving hardware and building supply business, Bill realized he was no longer able to ignore the nagging desire to pursue his passion. Bill had grown to love a very different kind of hardware–jewelry. It was his grandmother, Gussie McCaskill Campbell, who had sparked this fondness for jewelry in him at a young age. Bill has tender memories of spending time with her. He remembers playing with his grandmother’s jewelry and cleaning her “special” diamonds.
“I was 40 years old and taking a diamond grading course as a hobby. I went to a gem fest in Santa Monica that featured all aspects of the trade,” Bill recalled. “When I was there, I walked around like a kid in a candy store. I immediately fell in love with that world, and I couldn’t imagine not being involved with it.”
Bill returned to his hardware stores determined to sell them and follow his dream, but the national economic picture was dim and inflation was high. He continued to grade diamonds while he waited five long years to sell his business. Bill stated, “After we sold the business, we had to start all over again!” He took $2,000–all he had to invest in his new pursuit–and bought a very small suitcase filled with jewelry.
“I love the beauty and quality of a good piece of jewelry. I love the art behind it and look closely for the reputation of the artist.”
With a small tray of items and bigger ideas for future prospects, Bill went door to door with his suitcase full of gems, grabbing any chance to sell his beautiful pieces. He traveled day after day to cities like Selma, Marianna and New Orleans to meet with potential customers.
“I was trying to do retail as an ‘upstairs jeweler,’ but out of the homes of others,” Bill remembered. “I was going to people’s homes based on referrals from friends who helped me make connections.”
Finally, in 1994, Bill saw the opportunity for which he had been waiting, the chance to acquire his first store. Well, it was a store–of sorts. Bill approached Robert and Daryl Davis, the developers of Seaside, who, at the time, were still building its world-renowned reputation. They were looking for a jeweler and felt that Bill would be a perfect match for their mix of merchants.
“Robert and Daryl liked my product and they wanted a jewelry store,” Bill said. “I took the first little kiosk they built. It was fun. I loved working out there, and it was the perfect size for the amount of inventory I had in those days.”
“It was only a nine-by-ten-foot kiosk around the Seaside Amphitheater,” said Elizabeth, his wife and business partner. “He was commuting every day from our home in DeFuniak Springs and he absolutely loved it!”
“That little kiosk laid the groundwork for me,” Bill added. “It was worth every bit of time I spent there. I had so much fun watching the town grow and meeting people from all over the country. It was a labor of love, and I guess it still is.”
Bill worked as the only employee of his “store,” never complaining about his job because he was finally pursuing his lifelong passion. Eventually, his business outgrew the small Seaside kiosk and moved to the Market Shops at Sandestin, where for four years, he continued to build his customer base in the community. In 1999, the couple poured their dreams into concrete when they built their own freestanding store. They named it after Bill’s greatest inspiration–his grandmother. Today, their store, McCaskill & Company, still stands in Miramar Beach on Highway 98.
“Even when Bill opened the store, he had only one other part-time salesperson,” Elizabeth recalled. “He just loves what he does and is completely devoted to it.”
Their store has grown over the years and has earned distinction among the jewelry trade, being recognized as a Couture jeweler, an honor given only to the top half of one percent of jewelers in the United States. In addition, Harper’s Bazaar has named McCaskill & Company one of the “Best Jewelry and Watch Retailers in America.”
Despite his company’s success and growth, Bill remains a hands-on operator focused on providing the best for his customers. Together, Bill and Elizabeth have focused on bringing in the most elite designers and have made that their niche in the local market.
“One of the nice things for us is our location. We are able to obtain the lines we want and cherry-pick the pieces we carry,” Elizabeth said. Their designer gallery features lines including, but not limited to, Rolex, TAG Heuer, Henry Dunay, Daniel K, Oscar Heyman, Kwiat, Louis Glick, Jean-Francois Albert, Steven Kretchmer, Paul Morelli, Erica Courtney, Schoeffel and Alex Sepkus.
“I love the beauty and quality of a good piece of jewelry. I love the art behind it and look closely for the reputation of the artist,” Bill stated regarding how he selects his lines. But no matter what the line is, Bill gravitates toward diamonds, a practice stemming from his early childhood memories. “Diamonds are far and beyond my favorite,” Bill declared. “I have always been fascinated with diamonds. There are no two alike. They all have different personalities.”
After several years of established success, the Campbells have had many opportunities to open additional locations, but have declined. “We are really a hands-on partnership. We believe on-site ownership is important, and we just really love where we are,” Elizabeth elaborated.
The couple works together every day, with Bill scoping out jewelry trends and building one-on-one customer relationships and Elizabeth handling the operations and marketing aspects of their business. “I could not have done any of this without the support and love of my wife,” Bill stated. “She runs the business end and takes a lot of the stress out–doing all of the behind-the-scenes stuff. We are successful together–it takes two.”
Their affection and respect for each other is apparent when talking with them both. “We are together 24/7 and we are still best friends. Bill is the one with the eye for jewelry and loves to be out front; I am behind the scenes taking care of business, organizing events and making sure everything is in place. We balance each other out well,” Elizabeth explained.
One thing is evident–Bill’s optimistic attitude and enthusiasm are contagious. He embraces his customers as family and builds lasting relationships with them. But he admits that he is sometimes trusting to a fault. “I assume that because I am so honest, everyone is honest. I just don’t want to see things any differently,” Bill said.
His loyal customers repeatedly praise his exemplary service and knowledge, citing his attention to detail and his evident passion.
Stacey Wright has been in the store so many times that she has lost count. “I love to go there because it has such a warm, inviting atmosphere, and Bill and his wife are so real. They don’t make you feel intimidated at all,” said Stacey, a Niceville resident who has patronized the store since its opening. “My husband and I have selected some very unique pieces to mark the special occasions in our life, such as birthdays, anniversaries and holidays. Bill listens to what I like, even when I am just browsing. Next thing I know, I have this amazing and beautifully wrapped surprise from my husband, and I think, “How did he know that I loved that?” It all comes back to Bill’s keen awareness, listening to me and going the extra mile. He gets to know our tastes and provides excellent service and quality. He is so down-to-earth and it is obvious that he loves what he does.”
Some of the best advice Bill received when toying with the idea of starting his own business came from his mother-in-law, who told him, “Follow your heart.” To this day, Bill credits her with giving him the courage that he needed to pursue his dream. It is a piece of advice he has passed on to his three children, who are now grown and happily pursuing their own desires.
“I constantly tell my kids to follow their dreams,” Bill said. “I was expected to carry on with my family’s business and I didn’t want to put that kind of pressure on them. I tell them making money will not make you happy. You have to follow your heart and passions.”
Never thinking that any of their three children would be interested in the family business, Bill and Elizabeth resigned themselves to the fact that they would eventually sell it. But their youngest daughter, Sarah Carolyn, started showing more and more of an interest as Bill and Elizabeth wrestled with the question of what to do with the empty lease space next to their store. The family talked more, and Bill, Elizabeth and Carolyn decided that Carolyn should open her own store, named Sarah Carolyn, as an extension of her family’s business. It is expected to open in early October 2008 and will feature fashion designer jewelry and accessories.
“It is her own. It is her own money. She is learning and growing it from the ground up,” Bill said. “She didn’t want to come into our business. She wanted to do her own thing and find her own success. Although I would be thrilled if she wanted to take it over one day–it has to be what she chooses to do.”
Will she follow in her father’s footsteps and succeed?
“It takes a lot of pressure to make a diamond. It goes through some rough times before it is transformed into a beautiful gem,” Bill added.
It is doubtful this family’s future will be anything but brilliant…
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