Passing it on: Cherry's Hallmark under direction of new owners

Staff Writer

After 30 years owned by the same family, Cherry's Hallmark locations in Benton, Bryant and Hot Springs are getting new owners and a new name.
Ron and Debbie Sigman closed on purchasing the three locations, 1300 Military Rd. in Benton, 5928 Arkansas 5 N. in Bryant, and 1534 Malvern Ave. in Hot Springs, on June 26. The three stores have been renamed Debbie's Hallmark.
The Sigmans purchased the stores from Virginia Thompson.
Thompson had purchased the first Cherry's from the daughter of the original owner, Cherry Gingles Demuth, in 1988. Dumuth had opened the Benton store in 1977.
"She was such a special lady," Thompson said about Demuth.
She chose to keep the name because it had a nice, friendly ring to it, plus she hadn't expected to keep the business for 30 years.
When she first purchased the store, she was looking for something to do when her son went to college. Thompson said she had so much fun with the initial location that her husband bought her a second. At one time, she had six Cherry's Hallmarks.
She feels that the Hallmark stores have provided her customers with unique places to shop for gift items.
When she first took ownership of the store, she said customers loved collectables, but she has seen what customers want change over her time. Now the store features more jewelry, gifts and clothing items.
She said the store has always offered the full line of Hallmark products.
She prides herself on the store having excellent employees and strong customer service that has kept customers coming back again and again.
During Thompson's ownership, the store was remodeled to one of Arkansas' first Hallmark Gold Crown stores. Cherry's was also Arkansas' first Retail Leadership Store, according to Thompson.
In 1997, Thompson and her husband, Dale, won a trip from Hallmark for "excellence in specialty retail." The award was only given to 200 out of Hallmark's 2,500 stores that year. The honor was based on outstanding performance in customer satisfaction, marketing merchandising, technology, human resource management and retail operations.
During their ownership, Dale had the chance to play golf with the grandson of Hallmark's founder.
Last year, representatives from Hallmark took the Thompsons out for lunch to thank them for their years of service.
Thompson said she and her husband are passing along the store so they can finally settle down and retire.
"It has been fun for us," Thompson said.
The couple's son, who also ran the locations with them, was also ready for a career change.
Thompson said she hopes the Sigmans continue to provide quality customer service and that the three locations continue to be unique places to shop for gifts.
The Sigmans have owned a Hallmark store in Monroe, Louisiana, for 18 years. The pair had long wanted to expand but never found the right opportunity.
Ron recently heard that Cherry's was available. He called his wife, who worked for a different company, and she said, "go for it." She has since left that position to work on the stores full-time.
Ron believes the Monroe store has such good employees, they can leave it to the managers to run and plan to move to Saline County to be closer to the new stores.
Other than being closer to the three locations, it is also closer to Memphis, where the Sigman's new grandbaby lives.
The first thing Ron and Debbie plan to do is to remodel all three stores. The store on Military will be closed today, Wednesday and Thursday to receive new fixtures. The Bryant store will have its own remodel in the next few weeks. The Sigmans plan to do an overhaul of the Hot Springs store as well.
Ron plans to bring in more clothes and new product lines for customers.
"We will continue to try to have different and unique products not everyone has," Ron said.
He plans to continue the Thompsons' legacy of great customer service, and also plans to keep the current employees, who he and Thompson agree are "great."
Ron wants all the customers who have been with Cherry's for years to know it is not closing, just changing.
Thompson thinks, under the Sigmans, the three locations will be "top-of-the-line stores."