A father-son duo muses on their entrepreneurial spirit and “puppy-love” passion for jewelry
When Trey Bailey told his parents, Clyde and Jane, that he wanted to join the family business, Raleigh, N.C.–based Bailey’s Fine Jewelry, they were more than a bit surprised. “You could have knocked me over with a feather,” recalls Clyde. “Trey was always a hard worker and earned his own way, but I had no idea he was interested in being part of the business.” Husband-and-wife proprietors “Mama Ann” and “Big Clyde” Bailey opened the first Bailey’s store in 1948 in Rocky Mount, N.C., then a popular stop for travelers headed to spots along the New York–to–Miami route. Clyde, who grew up in his parents’ small shop, took over the business in the 1970s, gradually growing it with Jane into a franchise of 13 signature and licensed stores. Trey, now the director of operations and head of marketing and advertising, was a college senior when he declared his intention to come on board. “In high school, I was a drummer in a band and was busy with sports,” he says. “Besides being an errand boy, I was not interested in selling jewelry.” A business major as an undergrad, he eventually went on to study gemology at GIA and ended up “really loving” the art, science, and business of fine jewelry. He also met his wife, Marci, while studying at the Carlsbad, Calif., academy; she’s now a buyer and head of the estate department for the company. “People ask me how we’ve grown so much, and I say, ‘We’ve got four or five people that all act like owners and all care a whole lot.’ That’s how we’ve catapulted.”
Trey: I was a wild teenager with long scruffy hair so I wasn’t allowed on the floor. My sister would actually help out on the floor, and once she asked a customer, “Lady, are you going to buy this or not?” And the lady did buy it! Before coming on full time in 2005, I worked at three jewelry stores; I wanted to get an outside perspective and see how other people ran things.
Clyde: Jane and I never built this business with any notion that our son would carry this on. All I wanted was for him to find the thing he loves.
Trey: You have to know that things can’t change overnight. You’re young and you want to throw everything out the window and start again. And don’t expect it to be rosy all the time. When we first started, my wife and I ran the Greenville location only. I look back on that and realize it was a simpler time. Now we’re so, so busy.
Clyde: The jewelry business is a special business because it’s the most trusted business of all. A jeweler is exactly the same as a doctor to people, but while doctors only see their clients when they’re in a [bad] place, we get to see people at the happiest points of their lives. Our kids recognize the value of that.
Trey: My dad is very open-minded and willing to change, which is very rare for an entrepreneur. He’s open to ideas—if you present it to him with some thought behind it, he may just accept it on the spot. And sometimes they’re really big changes.
Clyde: I’m a left-handed guy, so they tell me I have a wild imagination. I always feel like fireworks are going off in my head. They say I’ve got attention deficit disorder real bad; I say I’ve got attention deficit so good. Trey brings in analysis, research, and is always looking at return on investment. That was a time when we had very little to lose and everything to gain. We have 239 employees now. I still have that same entrepreneurial spirit, but I respect Trey’s [views]. My kids and I, we don’t go at it like my mama and I did. Maybe they bite their tongues more than I did.
Trey: The best thing about working with family is that we get to see each other a lot. The worst thing is that we get to see each other a lot. [Laughs] For the most part, it’s a blessing. But I’m not going to lie—there are a lot of cooks in the kitchen. We are all opinionated and strong-willed.
Clyde: The best part of working with family is seeing them growing in this business and taking such an interest in my and Jane’s lifelong work. One thing we all agree on at the end of the day is that we love each other. We’re a family business, but we were a family long before business was a part of it.
Trey: We’ve grown quite a bit since 2005. When I came on, my parents admitted that they were getting to the point where they had grown so much, [the workload] was wearing on them. It was perfect timing to get the next generation in—the ones ready to climb their mountain.
Clyde: If you love what you do, you can’t hide it. I know we’re in the jewelry business, but it really is more of a jewelry love affair for us. It used to be that I’d walk down the aisles between the showcases and would stop and talk to a piece of jewelry that caught my eye. I’d say, “How can you be so beautiful?” I still do it sometimes. We’re 65 years young, because we still have a young, youthful spirit and an almost puppy-love passion. We get to be a part of young couples coming in and celebrating their love. What a privilege that is.