Recently I attended the funeral of a family friend who started and grew a men’s wear retailer. Jerry Ryan built his single store retail business in Omaha the old fashioned way of hard work, personal cha-risma, and ultimate customer caring.
If you think furniture is tough, just think of all the transition and competition in men’s wear retail. On the promotional end they fight Men’s Wearhouse and the always promoting Joseph A. Banks. At higher price points you have the department stores like Nord-stroms. Over the years Jerry Ryan’s Gentleman’s Ap-parel evolved into Jerry Ryan’s Clothing and Sports-wear to reflect the changing casual habits of the men’s clothing industry.
Several years ago Jerry sold his store to his two sons, John and Dan, who have done a nice job con-tinuing the tradition of retail their father started. Being an independent retailer is a tough business, but with the right attitude, it can be a very gratifying endeavor as Jerry is a testament of a life well lived.
Jerry’s funeral was a full house with multiple priests on the altar, friends and family as well as busi-ness acquaintances all wearing their very best Jerry Ryan clothing they had bought at some point from the family. During the days that everyone gathered to celebrate Jerry’s life, many stories were told and I’ll share a few here. Retailers should remember that your customers are individuals first and we make choices based on if we know, like, and trust you. Jerry, the consummate salesman, was a guy who many knew, liked, and trusted.
Story 1: My uncle bought a camel overcoat from Jerry even though he winters in Arizona. The next year Jerry called him up and wanted to know if my un-cle wanted to buy a camel’s hair overcoat. My uncle responded that he hadn’t worn the one Jerry sold him the previous year so why would he need another. Jerry, without missing a beat told him it was a better deal this year than last and he shouldn’t miss out.
Story 2: Jerry sold two dentists the same identical sport coat, and then they wore their matching jackets to a cocktail party that Jerry was attending. One was tall and the other short. They proceeded to switch jackets and approached Jerry. He didn’t miss a beat in telling each how good the jackets looked even though the jackets obviously did not fit properly.
Story 3: A man came into the store after Jerry was buried and told his sons that he had the distinct pleas-ure of knowing their dad for one hour. Evidently Jerry had moved into a condo and was waiting for the mail when this man walked by. Jerry told him to sit down and they began conversing. After the mail arrived, Jerry invited the man up to have lunch. The man said he was not the type to go out of his way on a casual meeting but the friendship Jerry fostered was so pow-erful that this man had to seek out the family and let them know what an impression Jerry had made.
Story 4: Jerry had a stroke while visiting his daugh-ter in Kansas City and could not be transported home. When it was evident he was on his last hours, John called his brother Dan back at the store in Omaha and told him to get down to the hospital. When son Dan arrived, Jerry had just hours to live. He looked at his watch and said to Dan “you didn’t close early did you” Dan told him he had left a long time employee in charge to which Jerry responded “Do you think he can handle it?” Remember, Jerry was no longer the owner but still obsessed about the store’s success.
In these stories is the true essence of a successful independent retailer and sales professional. He knew his customers and their needs, he stayed in touch, he went out of his way to care for people and get to know them, and he loved what he did. Jerry Ryan is an in-spiration to the independent retailer. We’ll miss him.