Dan Schuyler wasn't sure about a dog being the mascot for his first jewelry store. Karen Bell had no doubt.
"I had never been married, no children. I'd just gotten Lily," Bell said of her friendly labradoodle. "I was a totally over the top mother, I thought we should name it after her!"
Schuyler and Bell co-own Lily & Co. Jewelry Gallery at the corner of Tarpon Bay and Periwinkle, known for its ads featuring the now-iconic dog.
Dan and Karen with their friendly greeters, Angel and Gracie, and the iconic Lily the Labradoodle.
Before it was famous, however, Schuyler was skeptical. It all began in the Lily & Co. parking lot 8 years ago, when Schuyler was in a tank top and shorts power-washing. The store was only half-finished before its opening in 2005.
"I'm out there power washing. The showcases were in but we didn't have our displays, the jewelry was all on cookie sheets in the vault," Schuyler laughed. "That day a gal rode up on her bicycle with a flannel shirt and ball cap. She said, 'I want to see the necklace the dog's wearing.'"
He told the lady they weren't open yet, but he had the necklace in and would gladly show her. Then she asked what else he had on those cookie sheets. What happened next changed Schuyler's demeanor toward Lily the labradoodle.
"She bought $32,000 worth of jewelry! Wrote me a check on the spot, I didn't even have receipts yet. I did a hand-written receipt, and she told me to keep it in the vault and she'd be back in a few weeks to pick it up."
"Everything just happened!" exclaimed Schuyler. "I called Karen, I was so nervous. I said the dog's gonna work!"
He recalled being at a company called Goldstein Diamonds. "We had a book of ads. Goldstein said to throw out all the other ads. As long as you do the one with Lily, we'd be successful. And that's how it started. She's known throughout the industry."
Eight years and dozens of awards later, Lily & Co. is now an island destination, and Lily the labradoodle is a household name.
The proverbial "match made in heaven" isn't always clear right away.
"I never, ever thought about having a jewelry store. Never dreamt about it, was never on my wish list. It was never in my consciousness," said Bell. "I had just opened Karen Bell Realty. But my mind is always working, always looking for the next thing."
Bell has been a high-end realtor on Sanibel and Captiva for nearly 30 years. Schuyler was a prominent fixture in the American jewelry industry before picking up and moving to the island with his wife, Sharon.
"It was our passion to move to Florida and live this lifestyle," Schuyler said, who worked for the Albert Smyth Company in Maryland, one of six "mega" jewelry stores in the nation with more than $50 million in annual sales.
"Dan worked for a local jeweler down here when he moved, and he knew that I had just made a big sale," said Bell. "He invited me to the store because he wanted to sell me a watch."
She didn't get the watch, but bought a pair of diamond studs the next day. They went to dinner that night with a friend, and while having dessert at Barnes & Noble, Bell asked Schuyler if he thought about owning his own jewelry store.
"It's every jeweler's dream," she recalled his answer.
With her and Schuyler's shared vision, they opened the first and only "jewelry gallery" on Sanibel. They classify it as a place that offers couture jewelry lines and fine art all in one location. Their building was added to the US National Register of Historic Places and is one of three historic schools for black children remaining in Lee County. A sign memorializing its legacy stands in front of the building. The building also once served as an art gallery, podiatrist's office, and a bank.
"I remember peeking in the building and seeing the vault. First thing I looked at was the vault and the security system. It had everything we needed," said Schuyler.
Lily & Co. has garnered several national awards, including "Coolest Jewelry Store" by INSTORE Magazine, multiple Jeweler's Circular Keystone awards, and the "Top Dog Award" from the Smart Show in Chicago in 2011.
Not everyone jumped on the Lily bandwagon immediately.
"We had a high-end vendor who did NOT want his jewelry on a dog," Bell recalled. "The he came here for a show and saw how everybody that walked in was looking for Lily. After that he was ok with putting jewelry on her!"
"We started doing a lot of neat events that no one would do in the community," Schuyler said.
Karen recalled having a birthday party for Lily.
"We had over a hundred dogs show up to the party. I was very happy we did a party for Lily," she said with a giddy smile.
"Originally we clashed with our ideas, both Type A personalities. A dog party?" Dan exclaimed. "We had humans eating the dog cake, a dog costume contest. I couldn't believe my eyes."
"As soon as we laid our swords down though, everything took off."
Their commitment to the islands has been paramount to their success, according to Karen and Dan.
"We have a lot of locals come in. I'm the one that's out in the community a lot. Dan and I support each other in everything we do. We really know we need each other to keep this going," Bell said.
"Our word was gold, and it always has been. That's very important to establish that trust in the jewelry industry," Schuyler said. "I'm from the old school, everything was done on a nod and a handshake. I brought that, and Karen brought the advertising and the other things."
Karen also brought a philanthropic touch to the gallery.
"In the beginning, I was always very involved in the nonprofits, so all of our events had to go toward something. It wasn't something he was used to doing, but after awhile Dan was the one telling me I had to go," she laughed.
"From the beginning our goal was to be extraordinarily different," Dan said. "We're extremely grateful to be in this community. I get to lots of this country through my travels. It's not easy out there. These particular islands are truly blessed."
"We get so grateful. What we knew and didn't knowwe knew enough to be a little fearful, and not enough that it was ok to take the risk. And what we really risked, was everything," Karen said. "We have a very unique partnership, Dan and I know that we're probably connected for the rest of our lives."
"We've had some bumps in the road, but we were following our dream," Dan said. "We never looked back."