Trish Roberson adores the art of business. She channels feminine Southern charm to finesse jewelry-theme girls trips to various parts of the country, arranging for her guests to get acquainted with designers who create pieces for her store and to bond over the sights of the cities they visit.
In Little Rock, she has created a retail space that beckons to her clients to pop in for a glass of wine and conversation, with fashion news playing across a nice-size screen and pop music tunes wafting through the air.
“I love fashion and clothes, I love decorating homes, I love art,” Roberson says. “What I learned after getting into the jewelry business and I started meeting designers was that this is art. I realized that these people that I’ve met and that I love in the industry are the artists.”
Roberson took the reins at Roberson’s Fine Jewelry in Little Rock, which she co-owns with her husband, Steve, about 13 years ago, around the time their youngest child left for college.
“All four of the kids had gone. Steve is really outdoorsy. He was like, ‘I’m so ready to be out,’” she says. “And I was like, ‘Oh, I’m so ready to be in.’”
She had long served as a buyer for the store, while also shuttling kids around and running her own interior design company, with eight people working for her.
She likes to sketch, especially faces, and she has a knack for music.
“I know the words to all the songs. They kid me about it in the store,” she says. “I can feel the rhythm, when the beat starts, even before the words, I can tell you what the song is.”
When she heard about the Thea Foundation, she felt a kinship.
“I thought, ‘I’m Thea,’” she says. “I always felt defeated as a child academically because I just couldn’t do the work. Oh, my gosh, I tried and tried. I really got to the point that I would just write stuff because I knew I wasn’t going to get it right.”
It wasn’t until her own child struggled with a learning disability that she realized she had dyslexia.
“I liked to go to school to play and to entertain or to get to art class or home ec, but not to be put in a reading group,” she says. “That was hard, and that is why I became so passionate about Thea. [Thea] didn’t do well in school and then once the arts were introduced she just excelled.”
Roberson is the vice president of the Thea Foundation board of directors and the chairman of Into the Blue, a two-night celebration of the nonprofit organization, formed by Paul and Linda Leopoulos in honor of their daughter, Thea Leopoulos, who died in a car wreck on Memorial Day in 2001 when she was 17. The Thea Foundation advocates for arts and provides arts-related opportunities and scholarships for Arkansas students.
On April 6, the theme of Into the Blue, at the Junior League of Little Rock, will be “Resonate.”
“Patrons are going to be in for a treat because we’re actually going to have some of the North Little Rock strings program kids there playing violin and cello,” says Jennifer Owens, development director for the Thea Foundation.
Into the Blue: An Evening of Entertainment, is set for May 18, at the University of Arkansas at Pulaski Tech’s Center for Humanities and Arts.
“It will be an evening of entertainment, light hors d’oeuvres, champagne toasts and performances by six of our past scholarship winners, from California to New York to Arkansas right now,” Owens says.
There will also be a video tribute that night to the 2019 Pillar of the Arts Award recipient, the Charles Fruehoff Foundation, which has given more than $165 million through 9,200 grants since its establishment in 1950. For the last decade, it has offered a nonprofit shared space for nonprofit organizations.
Tickets to both Into the Blue events are $150.
One likely guest at Into the Blue is Roberson’s longtime friend, Ginger White, who believes Roberson has found a secret formula of sorts, bringing women together to form bonds and give them an opportunity to buy jewelry to which they feel a connection.
“She’s so in tune with the market and with the industry. She sees what’s happening with Internet sales and that people have so many opportunities to shop but the thing that’s missing is the relationships and that’s her thing, building relationships with people,” White says.
White was acquainted with Roberson through the store when it was in the Heights, before it moved to Pleasant Ridge Town Center in west Little Rock. When Roberson called out of the blue to invite her to lunch at Scallions, White thought there were strings attached. She was surprised to learn that Roberson simply wanted to be friends.
“I said, ‘OK, let’s make it deliberate,’” White says.
They decided to have lunch every month and work at being friends.
“Except it wasn’t work — it was so natural,” she says. “We have so much in common and we just love each other.”
Roberson asked White to go on the first trip she coordinated, back in August 2016.
“It was fabulous. It was an experience that would be on your bucket list,” says White, who now helps with Roberson’s outside sales.
They went to New York and stayed at the Roxy Hotel in Tribeca. They met the designer Gurhan Orhan, visiting his atelier and then having dinner with him and his wife, Fiona, at their penthouse overlooking the Hudson River.
“Fiona is a master gardener and she has a rooftop garden,” White says. “She had strawberries and she pointed out Hugh Jackman’s apartment from up there and where the guy designed the Peloton [stationary bicycle]. … It was a magical evening.”
The group also went to a perfumery, opened exclusively for their group to sample and shop for fragrances.
On other trips, Roberson has taken ladies to see the Gipsy Kings at the Hollywood Bowl in Los Angeles and to Billy Bob’s Honky Tonk in Austin, Texas.
“It’s really cool what all we’ve done,” she says. “I want people to understand what the business has given to me. They’ve sent Steve and me on some of the most exciting, crazy trips and in the stories, once you get into these designers, you’re like, ‘What?’ I would be trying to tell people these stories, and I thought, you know what? I’m going to take these women and show them.”
When she handles items in her store, she talks about the people who created them. She shares about Temple St. Clair, who has designs in the Louvre, and about Emily Armenta, who sketched her pieces in the building where her husband worked as a physician and became friends with the cleaning woman who worked there in the evenings and didn’t speak English. Armenta hired that woman, Roberson says.
“That was 20 something years ago. That woman runs her production, does the CAD, critiques the designs — and they hire women to do all of their production,” Roberson says. “When my ladies here hear the stories and they meet the designers, they’re just blown away. All of a sudden, these people become like friends to my clients, which I love.”
Diane Frassanito of Frassanito’s Jewelry in Long Island and Huntington, N.Y., met Roberson at an event sponsored by Hearts On Fire, a brand they both carry in their stores.
“We literally hit it off from the minute we sat down next to each other at a dinner and have been friends ever since,” says Frassanito says.
Frassanito visited Little Rock shortly after Roberson’s was robbed at gunpoint in 2015. Robbers had smashed most of the store’s glass jewelry cases, and Frassanito helped get the store ready for an event scheduled for a few days later and offered moral support to a shaken Roberson.
Roberson was out of the store when the robbery occurred, but she was on the phone with one of her employees when the gunmen burst in.
“I was picking up lunch for everyone,” she says. “I was asking what everyone wanted on their sandwiches and I could hear what was going on in the background.”
Roberson could have canceled the in-store event but opted to go forward as planned.
“We decorated the store in special little vignettes to tell the story of each different design trend that was coming up in the following year. It was just a fun weekend we ended up spending there,” Frassanito says. “That’s one of the things I love about her, she always thinks outside the box. She doesn’t do the typical thing that everybody else does.”
Frassanito has hosted shopping trips for her clients based on Roberson’s advice and Roberson has been asked to speak about her trips to retailers who are constantly looking to find ways to refresh their businesses. Frassanito isn’t convinced these trips will become the norm, though.
“I don’t think everybody kind of knows how to do it. It’s kind of a specialized niche kind of thing,” she says.
Roberson’s sales team was reticent when they heard about her travel concept, questioning whether clients would shop on the trips rather than in the store.
“People still come in and buy here because they’re even bigger supporters,” she says.
Steve Roberson serves mostly as a consultant now, and he has been impressed by his wife’s leadership.
“Once I finally got out of the way she not only took over, she was able to do things that my brain would never have gone there. These trips she’s doing have crashed the industry,” he says. “We have very different styles. I am such a conservative. I’m more of a value person. If you can put a value — the worth of a dollar — on something when you buy it, it may not be exactly what you want, but you won’t have any problem getting your money back out of it later. But she knew what women wanted and it doesn’t matter how much it costs if that’s want they want.”
Trish Roberson says some of her biggest clients now are self-purchasing women.
“Forever the jewelry industry has been a male-dominated industry,” Roberson says. “It’s been a hard club to get into and the industry is really pretty small.”
JUST CALL ME FRANKLIN
She and Steve, who met at Ouachita Baptist University in Arkadelphia, married 42 years ago.
They lived briefly in Fort Sill, Okla., before moving to Trish Roberson’s hometown, Augusta, where Steve managed land owned by her father, Franklin Collier. Steve soon realized that job wasn’t for him and moved the family to Little Rock, where he was preparing to sit for a real estate exam.
“It was in the late ’70s, early ’80s, and he had an idea that we could buy gold and silver and sell it … well, it exploded. I had just had Chad,” Roberson says of their second child, who now lives in Dallas. Their firstborn, Mary Linda Biddy, lives in Fayetteville; third child, Myles, lives in Portland, Maine; and youngest son, Wesley, lives in Jackson Hole, Wyo. “We traveled Louisiana, Kansas, Arkansas, Texas and Mississippi and we would set up and run big full-page ads and buy gold and silver and we would drive into Collier-ville [Tenn.] to where there was a refinery and sell it.”
Their business, American Gold and Silver Exchange, led them to the jewelry industry. They opened Roberson’s Fine Jewelry in 1990.
Steve sees some of Franklin Collier’s traits in his wife.
“A lot of times he calls me ‘Franklin.’ My dad was a very successful businessman,” she says. “He owned land everywhere — in South America and other places. He was always doing something, traded lots of farmland and he had a car dealership at one time. He just worked hard all of his life and then bought land everywhere and always kept all the mineral rights.”
According to Roberson, her mother, Mary Linda, was the best cook in the world.
PARENTS WERE DEMOCRATS
Her parents were Democrats and she remembers Dale Bumpers, Bill Clinton and David Pryor flying in and landing on a dirt air strip to visit her father at their house.
“My mom made them cornbread, soup and chocolate pie,” says Roberson, an Independent.
Roberson’s older brother, Dr. Steve Collier, describes the idyllic childhood they had with their younger sister and brother.
“We went around our neighborhood and picked blackberries and went to the train station to watch the trains go by,” he says. “Her and our sister had beads and they had their friends over and they would dance all night in their rooms. They did mostly the Supremes, Cher — she saw herself as Cher. They would get in the room and turn the music up and dance on top of their desks for hours and hours.”
Collier, who owns AR-Care, got a terrifying call 12 years ago on Roberson’s 50th birthday from her daughter Mary Linda, who had decided at the last minute to ride with Roberson to Oklahoma to meet Roberson’s younger brother to settle the affairs of their parents, who had died not long before that.
“We were almost to the tunnel and I was driving and it felt like when the pressure in a plane goes down and I turned to Mary Linda and I said, ‘Did you feel that?’ There was a storm coming and you could see the clouds and you could see it getting dark around the mountains, and she said, ‘Mom’ … and about that time I felt this tingling, like someone was pouring water on my right side and around my mouth,” Roberson says. “I pulled to the side of the road.”
She was having a stroke.
Collier told Mary Linda to put aspirin tablets under Roberson’s tongue and to stop at a clinic he owned in Fayetteville, where a doctor would get in the car and go with them to the hospital.
“I was in the hospital for about a week,” says Roberson, who made a full recovery. “I know it’s because of acting so fast. It was scary.”
She refuses to be scared anymore, though. She has things to do.
“I feel like Smokey and the Bandit because when I really took over the store I was in my late 40s and I had a stroke when I was 50. I felt like I had ‘a long way to go and a short time to get there,’” she says. “I ran into the jewelry industry and I was like, ‘I love it, I love it, I want to learn.’ I don’t have a lot of time, like I would have if I’d started in my 20s or 30s, but it is better because now I do have the time and I can throw myself into it to where then, I couldn’t. I just love the pace of it — and it is art.”
DATE, PLACE OF BIRTH: June 6, 1957, Searcy
MY MOST PRECIOUS CHILDHOOD MEMORY: Being barefoot and the way the grass felt cool, and catching lightning bugs with my brothers and sister.
SOMETHING I RARELY LEAVE HOME WITHOUT: My glasses.
THE BEST ADVICE I’VE EVER GOTTEN WAS: Change is good, you go first. Before I step onto a stage or through a door, I’m scared but that fear motivates me.
A BOOK I’VE LISTENED TO RECENTLY AND LIKED IS: Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari.
ONE OF MY ALL-TIME FAVORITE MOVIES: Peggy Sue Got Married.
IF I COULD CHANGE ONE THING: I would have gotten in stronger and harder in the market much sooner. And I would have probably lived in New York for a while because I love the energy of New York.
MY FAVORITE PLACE ON EARTH: My big sofa-size swing out back, with a glass of wine. I tell my kids it’s my therapy couch.
A PIECE OF JEWELRY EVERY WOMAN SHOULD OWN: Diamond studs.
TO RELAX I: Take a long bath or get a facial.
I WISH I COULD: Go to Australia someday. I love to travel.
IF I COULD NOT BE IN THE JEWELRY BUSINESS: I think I would be some kind of coach or mentor. I love people and it’s so fulfilling to me to encourage people.
ONE WORD TO SUM ME UP: Energizer.
“I love fashion and clothes,I love decorating homes, I love art. What I learned after getting into the jewelry business and I started meeting designers was that this is art. I realized that these people that I’ve met and that I love in the industry are the artists.” - Patricia Ann Collier Roberson