When Carroll Little took over the family business in 1985, he emulated two of his father’s well-known qualities and added in a trait of his own. Now, thanks to a legacy of honesty and perfectionism and an extra flair for entrepreneurism, Little’s Jewelers has three locations in Mississippi and Tennessee and a third generation helping celebrate 75 years in business.
Little’s father, C.K. Little, founded the store in 1947 in Corinth, Mississippi, after serving as an Army Air Force mechanic in World War II. A natural mechanic and watchmaker – Carroll describes him as “the world’s greatest watchmaker” – the elder Little came back from the war and worked in New Orleans at Adler’s Jewelry until he could pay off his car and return home. He opened for business above a dentist’s office in historic downtown Corinth.
Carroll’s first job in his dad’s jewelry store was shop janitor at the age of 14. He later worked as an engraver for his father. After graduating from Mississippi State University in 1979, with a marketing degree, he worked with Phelps Dodge Cable and Wire Company for four years. Little was promoted to service center manager and transferred to San Jose, California, in 1981. His work facility was a short distance away from Mission College, where he took a jewelry fabricating and casting class and realized the jewelry business was for him. He resigned and moved with wife Jan and newborn baby Kimberly to Paris, Texas, where he earned two degrees – Jewelry Technology and Gemology. In 1985 they came home to Corinth and bought the store from his father.
While his dad was happy with a single store, the younger Little had more of an entrepreneurial mentality.
“I grew up around the jewelry business and got my bearings in the first couple of years,” Little recalls. “I wanted to grow our volume and business.”
Little eventually opened two more locations – one in Tupelo, Mississippi, in 1996, and one in Jackson, Tennessee, in 1999 – and relocated the Corinth store to a spot he says is considered downtown Corinth now. When the Tupelo store picked up Rolex, it was the first Mississippi store to do so in 50 years. In 2022, the retailer’s 75th anniversary year, the Tupelo store left the mall and moved to an anchor position in an open-air strip.
“Our business has changed over the years,” Little says. “We’ve become more of a destination store, with repairs, custom work, featuring bridal jewelry, and diamond basics. … We have three similar locations now.”
The Corinth store is 3,600 square feet, the Jackson store is 2,600 square feet, and the Tupelo store is 2,900 square feet, about twice the size of its former mall location. About seven people staff each of the three stores, and Little and wife Jan, “my everything girl,” work in an administrative office in Corinth. Little doesn’t plan on any more branches.
“Three’s the number for me,” he says.
His son and daughter-in-law, Kenny and Stacey, work in the business and both have degrees from GIA Carlsbad.
“I have the blue-collar community college gemology degree and Kenny and Stacey have the ‘Harvard’ jewelry degree,” Little says with a smile.
The proliferation of cell-phone usage changed the nature of mall foot traffic, Little says, so destination stores seemed more fitting for Little’s Jewelers. So, after 25 years in the mall in Tupelo, Little’s Jewelers moved out of its last mall.
“Years ago, there were fliers, circulars, catalogs that would do your selling, and your job was to finance a purchase. Now there are so many things you’ve got to know. You have to understand gemstones, be able to talk about lab-grown diamonds and fine gems. Our mission is to be that jewelry store.”
After the big relocation, the retailer celebrated its 75th anniversary with a benefit Hole in One golf tournament at Little’s golf course and club, Shiloh Ridge Golf and Fitness. It was Little’s first benefit tourney combining the jewelry business with his golf business, and exceeded his fundraising goal of $75,000, all of which went to three area women’s clinics. The event boasted 220 golfers competing in one of two tournaments, 28 teams in the morning and 28 in the afternoon. George Prout sponsored a 5-carat lab-grown diamond to go to whoever got a hole-in-one. Alas, no one did. But one lucky duffer went home from a fully attended luncheon with a 1.07-carat lab diamond nestled in one of 220 gift bags given out.
Little says his operation is “big enough to be in that sweet spot for purchasing and small enough to hand select. … We’ve learned to compete with the chains like Kay and Zales.”
During the pandemic shutdown in 2020, he didn’t lay off anyone. He concentrated on maintaining and developing clientele relationships, and staff members took GIA courses.
“When we reopened, we were way ahead of the curve. Many jewelers were ahead by 30 percent, we were ahead by 50 percent after the pandemic shutdown.”
As a jeweler who “lone-wolfed” for many years, he saw the erosion of his buying ability, and treasures his membership in Leading Jewelers Guild.
“There are no competing jewelers, it’s a collective effort,” he says. “We share marketing ideas, purchasing power, knowing what things cost, we do our catalogs through them, and we have financing options we wouldn’t have had without them. LJG is the best group in the country to partner with.”
Little says what sets his business apart is outstanding customer service.
“Our customer service is second to none,” he says, adding that his father had the utmost integrity. “We carry that tradition of honesty and perfectionism today.”