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First Love

Emphasizing the personal touch is a top priority at McCaskill & Company in Destin, Florida.

By Joyce Kauf
 
Erica Courtney
We want people to feel as if they are walking into our home,” says William (Bill) Campbell, explaining how the “personal touch” is very much a part of McCaskill & Company, which he owns along with his wife Elizabeth. The Destin, Florida, store offers up designer diamond and gemstone jewelry and watches — as well as freshly baked chocolate chip cookies.
   Bill’s interest in jewelry began with a very personal story. As a child, he would play with the gems owned by his grandmother, Gussie McCaskill Campbell. “My great-grandfather traveled the world and he would always bring back an amazing variety of stones for his wife and children,” he explains. Although intrigued by their colors and shapes, Bill did not pursue jewelry as a career, but entered the family building-supply business instead. Yet the fascination with gemstones always stayed with him. He recalls that when he and Elizabeth would go on vacation, jewelry stores were always on their must-see agenda. However, it wasn’t until he sold the family business that Bill began thinking seriously about his “early love” and started taking classes in gemology.
   Starting out near Destin, Bill’s first venture began in 1993, selling jewelry door-to-door out of the trunk of his car from what Elizabeth recalls as a “tiny, tiny suitcase.” A year later, in neighboring Seaside, he sold out of a kiosk — the “size of a doll’s house.” One year after that, he relocated to the Sandestin Market Place, a shopping center. It was a one-person operation, but as the business grew, Elizabeth, a mental health professional, gradually became more involved, until it too became her second career.
   “We have a really good partnership. Bill loves to sell, while I am more detail oriented,” she says, describing their complementary skill sets. In 1999, the couple opened McCaskill & Company, a freestanding store, named in honor of his grandmother. Strengthening the family bond, Bill and Elizabeth’s daughter, Carolyn Brigman, joined the business seven years ago and now serves as vice president.
   Destin is located on the Florida Panhandle in the northwestern part of the state, an area often referred to as the Emerald Coast for its natural beauty. Many of its residents are people from other parts of the country who own second homes there. “We are a high-end resort. Our customers are well traveled. They can buy anywhere but they come here, looking for something unique,” Elizabeth points out.

Designers as Mentors
   “We specialize in many one-of-a-kind pieces,” notes Bill, who has three top criteria for selecting designers. “I really have to be inspired by the design, excited about the way the piece is made and it has to be exclusive to us.” In addition to having long-standing personal relationships with the designers, Bill credits them as his mentors when he was starting out, especially Henry Dunay. “They guided me and helped me along the way from the beginning. You get spoiled when you have the best of the best.” Top-selling designers include Erica Courtney, Kwiat, Alex Sepkus, Pamela Froman and Paul Morelli.
   “We love color,” says Bill, citing garnet, rubellite and tourmaline as customer favorites, adding that opals in designer pieces do very well in the store. “We’re definitely a ring store,” says Elizabeth, followed by earrings and bracelets. However, the ring category is distinct from their bridal business, which she describes as “building.” Bridal best sellers are Simon G. and Henri Daussi, with the average stone size ranging between 1 carat and 2 carats.

Easy Browsing
   With its cream-colored walls, picture windows and designated sitting areas with couches and armchairs, the store reflects Bill and Elizabeth’s desire to create a warm and welcoming environment. “People spend hours in the store — even if they do not buy anything,” says Bill, who notes they are welcome to read a paper, enjoy cookies and coffee or later in the day sip wine and Champagne.
   Custom-designed birch pedestals topped with glass display cases are set in the middle of the 2,000-square-foot main showroom. These units, higher than standard cases, make it easy for customers to view the jewelry, which is merchandised by designer to create a “significant presence,” according to Bill.
   Another 1,100 square feet is dedicated to a separate bridal area. The decor is in the same color scheme, but the cases are draped in velveteen cloth to resemble the gentle flow of a bridal gown. “We wanted to give a couple more privacy as they make this very personal selection,” explains Elizabeth.
   Even their promotional activity is geared to personal involvement, with interactive demonstrations. Bill and Elizabeth introduced a diamond-cutting event, complete with a cutting wheel. “People actually got to put their hands on the wheel,” says Elizabeth about this “hugely successful” event. A gem roundtable hosted by Erica Courtney was another extremely popular promotion. Standing next to a table of loose stones, the designer shared the gems’ stories with a captivated audience who were introduced to stones they had never seen or heard of before. Elizabeth draws a distinction between this event and a designer trunk show, noting, “It is another way to emphasize our personal approach.”
   “Our customers come back year after year,” Bill points out, crediting his staff for building long-term relationships. “It is all about attention to detail,” says Elizabeth.

Article from the Rapaport Magazine - March 2016. To subscribe click here.

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