Smith Jewelers named Business of the Year

Published 10:31 am Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Genemarie “G” Cargile, left, with Billy Smith and Mary Burgess. He credits the two women for much of the store’s success. -- Cain Madden | Tidewater News

Genemarie “G” Cargile, left, with Billy Smith and Mary Burgess. He credits the two women for much of the store’s success. — Cain Madden | Tidewater News

FRANKLIN—Smith Jewelers in downtown Franklin has been named the 2013 Business of the Year by the Franklin-Southampton Chamber of Commerce.

Smith marks a piece of jewelry with a black marker for welding. -- Cain Madden | Tidewater News

Smith marks a piece of jewelry with a black marker for welding. — Cain Madden | Tidewater News

Billy Smith, owner, said he was stunned after Bobby Cutchins, chamber president, told him the news the other day.

“I was flabbergasted – that’s a good word,” said Smith on reflection of the announcement.

Adding to the recognition is finding out that Blake Blythe of Blake Ford nominated Smith’s business.

“I think it’s past due, I really do,” said Blythe. “He’s a smart business owner. He’s there every day. He’s endured the flood back in ‘99, and came back. He’s endured his father’s murder. He’s had a lot of tragedies to come his way and he’s persevered and has thrived, even with the paper mill closing. He’s just a good businessperson. He has his chin to the grinding stone to make his business successful.

“He’s a real asset to the downtown.”

“We’ve been friends for years,” said Smith. “I’ve admired [Blythe] for a long time.”

In addition, he also thinks a lot of [2011 winner] Mitch Sandlin of Mid-Atlantic Dairy Queen and Larry Pope of Smithfield Foods.

“They’re local guys and I’ve learned a lot from each,” he continued.

Another person from whom Smith has learned is his mother, Betty Smith, who he said was director of nursing at Southampton Memorial Hospital for 30 years.

“She did what was right, not what was popular,” he said, recalling that she hired black women in the late 1960s.

Another significant person in Smith’s life after his father’s murder in July 1978 was Bobby Atkinson. He came to the young man and offered to keep the jewelry shop open for four years while Smith went to Randolph-Macon College.

“I had to make a life decision at 18,” he said about choosing to keep the family business going later.

Smith added that Atkinson “taught me how to be a businessman.”

After downtown Franklin flooded in the fall of 1999, Smith and his wife at the time rebuilt the business.

“I believe that God doesn’t give you any more than you can handle,” he said about the personal misfortunes of the past.

Recognition of the award is appreciated, but Smith said the honor “isn’t about me, but the people with me.”

He specifically named Genemarie “G” Cargile and Mary Burgess of the store.

“Things took off when “G” came into the picture,” Smith said. “She’s the best pure salesperson. She’s very, very, very good. I was fortunate she came to work for me full time in 2009. She’s a good judge of character and helps me hire.”

Burgess has also impressed him.

“She’s mature beyond her years,” he said. “She does a lot of displays and is very creative. She’s also really good at sales.”

Burgess, who has been with the store for four years, said this has been her first job and she’s grown with the business.

“‘G’ and Billy have taught me a lot,” added Burgess, who is certified as an Accredited Jewelry Professional. Her coursework was done online in about a year through the Gemological Institute of America.

In addition to being the bookkeeper for a construction company, “G” is also a regular customer at Smith’s Jewelers. She came in one day and found Billy overwhelmed. Her offer to help with bookkeeping once a week became much more when the recession hit.

“Here we are almost five years later,” said Cargile, who not only continues to do bookkeeping, but has also learned to do custom work on jewelry.

“She has a knack,” said Smith.

“She has an eye,” said Burgess. “I’ve learned a lot from her.”

Both women will be furthering their education by taking a course on diamonds, which will qualify them to take buying trips to Belgium.

“G” encourages people to research online and then let her, Burgess or Smith know what they’re seeking. Regular visits to jewelry store meetings give them access to pieces one could find at a larger store, but at better deals and prices, she said.

“We encourage people to look and let us know,” added “G.” “We can absolutely get the same things.”

Smith Jewelers offers full service in custom designing, repairs and sales. That’s a feature that Teresa Beale believes makes the store so well known.

“I think his customer service is something people always refer to as excellent. He knows his customers, he’s their friend and he’s a trusted jeweler,” said Beale, executive director of the Franklin-Southampton Chamber of Commerce.

In addition to his attention to details, she noted his great staff and how supportive he is of the community.

“He gives back,” said Beale. “We look forward to honoring him and celebrating his success.”

The award will be presented at the 60th annual chamber meeting. That takes place from 6 to 9 p.m. Thursday, March 27, in the Regional Workforce Development Center at Paul D. Camp Community College.

For tickets and information, call 562-4900.