Thongs for larger men? Life lessons from a big-and-tall retailer

October 25, 2016

After 35 years of serving the big and tall community, Ed Huffman will be closing his doors and retiring.Biz Beat

Latest news from the Modesto-area business scene

 After 35 years of serving the big and tall community, Ed Huffman will be closing his doors and retiring. Marty Bicek

Huffman has been toying with the idea of retiring for some time – a local attorney’s offer to buy the building made him decide the time was right. He plans to keep busy, working as a personal clothier to some of his longtime customers, using a mobile app rather than a showroom.

We talked this week about his history in retail (“Talk about on-the-job training,” he said), hiring a company to help him close down the store (“I only know how to keep it running”), and the keys to success in small business (“treating people right, getting to know your customers … and being honest”)

I also asked Huffman about his most interesting customer interaction. He said that definitely had to be from a woman who was in search of thongs for men in larger sizes. That’s not something he had stocked, so he inquired if this customer had found them elsewhere. Oh, yes, she said, she’d bought them several times over the years.

“Finally, I figured out she was talking about flip-flops,” he said, laughing.

The closing sale begins on Thursday, Oct. 27. Huffman’s, 1203 14th St., will be open 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. weekdays, 9:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Saturday and 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday.


After 115 Years in Business, Lee & Hanson to Sell Entire Inventory, Close Its Doors

October 18, 2016

roger-and-lavonne-furman-lee-hanson-closing-10-18-16-upside-downBRITTON, S.D. — After 115 years in business, including 40 years under the ownership of Roger and Lavonne Furman, Lee & Hanson men’s clothing store will sell its entire inventory and close its doors.

“We discussed it with a consultant four years ago and he said, ‘I don’t think you’re ready yet.’ He was right. We were concerned then and we’re still concerned about the effect on the community,” Furman said. “The store was a staple in a lot of lives for a lot of generations. Lavonne and I know it’s the right time, but we do it with heavy hearts.”

The store’s inventory sale opens to the public on Thursday. Lee & Hanson, located 720 Main St., will be open 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. Thursday and Friday, 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Saturday and noon to 4:00 p.m. Sunday.

The store’s tenure speaks to its remarkable success to weather economic ups and downs, changing consumer demands, population shifts and other forces. Only about half of all new businesses survive five years or more and about one-third survive beyond the 10-year mark. According to a recent U.S. Census Bureau statistic, only 0.008 percent of U.S. businesses reach 100 years old. Twice as many Americans — 0.017 percent — live to 100 and beyond.

Lee & Hanson got its start in 1901 when a Wisconsin businessman moved to Britton and opened the store. Its name was established about a year after its founding when a partner bought into the store. Over the years, various family members were involved with the store, including a third-generation member who was a retired New York schoolteacher.

“I came into the picture in 1970 as an employee, bought the store in 1976 and the rest, as they say, is history,” explained Furman, who took an unusual route into men’s retail.

Furman studied at a trade school in Wahpeton, N.D., as a machinist and had been an seasonal employee at the grain elevator in his hometown of Kidder, S.D., when he went looking for fulltime work and landed a job at Lee & Hanson.

“My wife and I were actually going to join the Peace Corps. She had an accounting degree and growing up in rural America we thought we’d probably do something like that,” he said. “We told the fellow I was working for about it and a short time later, he made me an offer to buy the store. we thought long and hard, and decided that would be a better move for us at the time.”

A key to Lee & Hanson’s longevity has been its regional popularity, beginning with its county seat status.

“We’ve had a pretty good draw being 60 miles from Aberdeen, 195 miles from Sioux Falls and 120 miles from Fargo,” Furman said. “I remember growing up what a treat it was to get to come to town and there were a lot of little towns around the area where the feeling was the same.”

Lee & Hanson was able to ride out the storms of severe economic downturns over the years, even when interest rates for operating capital hit 20 percent. “It wasn’t only tough on Main Street; it was tough for rural, too. We rode along with it — and together we survived.”

New challenges have arisen for independent men’s clothing stories these days, including big-box stores, the rise of casual Friday and fierce competition from internet retailers. Yet, Furman has enjoyed a special bond with Lee & Hanson’s customers.

“They’re priceless. They’ve been a part of my life and my livelihood. They’ve been my friends and confidantes. I’ve spent 46 of my 69 years here so this has been my second home,” he said. “This will come as a big surprise to a lot of people because a lot of people really, really rely on us. Some will say, “You have to think about this again before you do it,’ I’m sure, but others will say, ‘Good for you!”

He added, “I don’t know that there’s ever a good time, but it’s the right time.  Most days, it wasn’t a job at all. It was a way of life that I’ve loved. I enjoyed the ups and downs and the challenges, but most of all, I loved the people. Lavonne, our children Ryan and Lori, and I thank everyone for being a part of that. I have four grandkids who are very special to me and they’re are just starting activities. And, I’m still going to be involved in the community.”

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Jerry’s Mens Wear & Lin’s Fashions to Sell Entire Inventory, Close Their Doors

October 10, 2016

MARSHALL, Mo. – Jerry’s Mens Wear and Lin’s Fashions, local retail mainstays for nearly two decades, will sell their entire inventories and close as owner Jerry Hedrick brings his 50-year retail clothing career to an end.

Hedrick and his wife, Linda, have owned the two businesses located at 24 N. Jefferson Ave., since 1999. The stores’ inventory sale, which is open to the public, will be held from 9:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. Friday, 9:00 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and noon to 4:00 p.m. Sunday this week. The store will resume its regular hours — 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Monday through Saturday — next week.

“We decided that it’s time. We have grandkids that are all active in sports and lots of other things, and we’re looking forward to seeing more of them and sharing in those activities,” Jerry Hedrick said today.

Hedrick was in high school when he landed his first job in men’s retail. A neighbor told him that he should apply for an opening at Rose & Buckner, a local men’s clothing store. “I started out stocking shelves, sweeping the front of the store. I was basically a go-fer,” Hedrick recalled.

At one time, there were several Buckner-related stores but Rose & Buckner was in business for about 120 years.

“Two generations of Buckners and three generations of Roses ran it,” Hedrick said. “One of the managing partners was a third-generation member of the Rose family who had been in the Army, graduated from West Point, served in Germany, Korea and Vietnam then taught at West Point before coming back to Marshall after he retired as a colonel.”

In the late 1960s, Hedrick opted for a different job but returned to the Rose & Buckner fold in 1973. In 1993, owners chose to close the store and the Hedricks made the decision to venture out on their own. They took over the previous store site and offered a wide variety of men’s and women’s fashions.

From the start, Hedrick put a premium on delivering superior customer service.

“That’s what we’re about — and what we’ve always been about. We are a full-service business. We have a tailor in house,” he said. “We know our customers by name, we care about them and you do have quite a bond with them. That’s the thing I’ll miss.”

Hedrick has seen a number of industry changes over the years, from economic ups and downs and numerous fashion trends to the arrival of the dressed-down casual Friday workplace.

“I’ve always said, ‘Women shop, men buy.’ Men wait until they need something before they buy it,” said Hedrick. He added, with a laugh, “I’ve always said, ‘If it wasn’t for wives and girlfriends, there would be a lot of naked guys.'”

Perhaps the most significant industry change has been the huge impact that online shopping has had a small retailers. “The internet has really changed the retail business the past four or five years,” he said.

Hedrick acknowledges the process of closing the stores and winding down his career is “a bit scary,” but he is looking forward to retirement. “It’s been an interesting 50 years. If I had to do it all again, would I? Probably,” he said. “I wouldn’t want to change my life.”

Linda Hedrick added, “Jerry’s a story teller and customers love him. They’ll miss the stories he shares, along with the way he’s helped to outfit them over the years.

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Williamson’s Clothiers, Chicopee Retail Mainstay, to Sell Entire Inventory, Close Its Doors

October 2, 2016

CHICOPEE, Mass. – After 60 years in the trade, including 20 years as the owner of retail mainstay Williamson’s Clothier’s, store owner Ken Williamson announced today that he will sell his entire inventory and close his business.

The store’s inventory sale opens to the public on Thursday, Oct. 5. Williamson’s, located at 223 Exchange St., will be open 9:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. Thursday and Friday, 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Saturday and 1:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m. Sunday during the sale.

In an era of big-box stores and dressed-down, casual workplaces, Williamson’s catered to a customer base with an appreciation for quality clothing and superior customer service, Williamson said.

“When I started this store 20 years ago in October, I had my eyes set on what I wanted the store to look like, what I wanted it to be, who we wanted to  serve,” he said. “I knew I couldn’t be everything to everybody. I knew I wasn’t going to compete on price and that I wanted to put an emphasis on quality, service and real value. Fortunately, it worked out pretty well.”

Williamson noted that while the Chicopee community has been tremendously supportive, the retailer has drawn from a strong regional base throughout Massachusetts, Connecticut, northern Rhode Island and southern Vermont. “I knew we were going to have to reach beyond the immediate area from the beginning and continue to do that. To have a Fortune 100 company, Mass Mutual, just five miles down the road in Springfield, has been very important to us,” Williamson said. “The outlying communities have been important but we really have been fortunate to be known throughout the region.”

Williamson got his start in the clothing business in high school, landing his first job in 1956. The store’s original owners had just opened in the Exchange street location and needed a stock boy. After serving a 16-month stint with the National Guard in Berlin, Germany, he returned and “learned the business from the ground up.”

When he purchased the store, renamed and rebranded it, he was pleased that business “just took off.”

“I just assumed business was supposed to do that. Like everything else, it’s had its peaks and valleys but I couldn’t be happier. We have customers who really care about how they look. As corny as it may sound, when you walk out of the store you’re representing yourself and us. If it’s not good, both of us are going to suffer.

“The people we serve are more than customers. They become friends; they trust us,” Williamson said. “I’ve also been blessed with a great staff. I’ve told them, ‘Don’t ever sell anything you’re not proud of’ and they’ve always taken as much pride in our customer service as I have.”

As much as he has enjoyed his retail career and customers, Williamson is looking forward to retirement.

“Any business owner will tell you it’s not an eight-hour job. You don’t leave it when you shut off the lights each night,” he said as he had just returned from dropping off a blazer and several pairs of pants for a customer who couldn’t make it into the store. “I have a great wife, great kids and I’m looking forward to spending more time with them and a lot more time with my grandkids.”

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