Barbara Sypher, wife of industry veteran Rhett Sypher, Sr., of Summerville, S.C., passed away at home August 12 at age 69. She was involved in the lighting and home décor industry for 35 years as the co-founder of the portable lamp companies World Collections, Shoal Creek, and Cypress Point Home alongside her husband, and handled the administrative and customer service aspects of each business.
Though soft-spoken, Barbara exuded magnetism that drew people toward her. It was a chance meeting in Charleston just days before Rhett was to fly to Australia to embark on a three-year music tour that changed the direction of both of their lives. Living in Atlanta at the time, Barbara had come back to the Charleston area for the weekend to see her enlisted brother off to Vietnam. Over the course of conversation and dancing, the two quickly discovered that they had both graduated from the same high school and had friends in common. Immediately smitten, Rhett abruptly cancelled his scheduled tour in order to pursue this alluring young woman with soft Southern charm and a touch of sass. “I knew right away that this was the woman I wanted to marry, and I knew being the wife of a musician would not be easy. She didn’t deserve a life like that,” he says.
It turns out, Rhett’s romantic instincts were shared by Barbara. They got engaged in June, just weeks after they met, and were married that October. For the next 48 years, the two were inseparable. Rhett found work with a gift importer in Alabama, who specialized in brass accessories, and learned as much as he could about the industry. “In 1980, I flew to New York City with the owner and signed JC Penney to a multi-million-dollar deal,” he recalls. After enjoying a celebratory weekend in Manhattan, Rhett realized he had found his calling and had a good eye for what styles would sell on a broad scale. “Not that long after, I told Barbara, ‘I don’t know how we’re going to do it, but one year from now we’re going to have our own company,’” he recalls.
Sure enough, over the next year, Rhett met with a packaging vendor who introduced him to financiers in Birmingham. The original idea was to enter the collectible market, which was a popular category at the time. During a sourcing trip to Taiwan, Rhett was unable to find what he was looking for – but what he discovered was plenty of table lamps.
“I called Barbara and said, ‘Well let’s just do lamps then,” he says. That first company – initially called World Collections – consisted of 34 porcelain table lamps. Barbara and Rhett worked non-stop on the line and making the company a success. “Barbara was very hands-on,” Rhett says. “I think that’s what made us work so well together. We were partners 100 percent; there was no ‘my money’ or ‘your money.’ In her mind, there was only ‘our money.’ Plus, we actually enjoyed working together. In order to make a personal or business relationship work, you have to like one another.”
After evaluating evolving consumer tastes, Rhett decided to enter the high-end lamp industry, manufacturing portables under the brand Shoal Creek ― the name inspired by the famous Birmingham country club where PGA championship golf tournaments are held. “We wanted a name that would have a high-end ring to it,” Rhett comments. The line took off relatively quickly and grew to 100+ lamps. Business was so good that leasing space at the Atlanta, Dallas, and High Point Markets became a necessity to maintain that momentum and continue growing. “We were one of the first showrooms in Market Square in High Point, and that was only the second market that Market Square was open,” he remarks.
“Barbara handled all of the administration duties for the company and developed what I think was the best customer service department in the industry,” Rhett says. “When a customer called with a complaint, she never said, ‘I understand.’ She knew instinctively that those words meant nothing to the customer. Instead, she would ask, ‘How would you like to see us solve this?’ She was always able to turn an angry call into a loyal customer.”
In 1993, Rhett and Barbara started their own consulting business (Vision 21) and began helping other manufacturers launch their portable lighting lines. Among the companies they spearheaded was Cypress Point Home, which had a nationwide presence in the Federated Department Stores [which included Abraham & Strauss, Bloomingdales, Bullock’s, Burdines, Filene’s, and I. Magnin] and had permanent showrooms in High Point, Dallas, and Atlanta.
“Through it all, Barbara never had a bad word to say about anybody ― and she was my filter,” Rhett states. “How do you say goodbye to a dream? She was perfect. She was the love of my life, and always will be.”
A funeral service will be held on October 5 at 11 a.m. at St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church, 712 Wappoo Road, Charleston, SC 29407. Call (843) 766-4262 for more information.