RED WING — If you walk into Josephson's Men's Clothing Store downtown, you may only get four steps in before a staff member approaches you.
They'll ask what they can help you with, guiding you all to whatever need you have.
The customer comes first at Josephson's, exactly what owner Tom Withers wanted to continue when he and wife Denise purchased the business in 1992.
Withers and his staff were named the Retailer of the Year by the Red Wing Area Chamber of Commerce on Jan. 27 during their annual meeting and awards banquet.
This wasn't the business's first award from the chamber, but the reception was different from any other recipient. When Withers and his staff began walking to the stage to receive their award, the crowd of business owners and community members gave them a standing ovation.
Withers was taken aback by the moment at the time and weeks later.
“I was totally in shock. I don’t know why I did," Withers said about the standing ovation his staff received. "I mean, yes, Josephson’s has been here a long time, and my wife and I have owned it for the last 28 years, but that is why I had a hard time talking (that night). I was just in awe.”
The ethics of Josephson's
Working in men's clothing and style has been Withers' livelihood. Pprior to buying Josephson's, Withers learned from seamstresses and other professionals. He also learned from Tom Josephson, the previous owner.
Withers said he always wanted to own a local store and approached Josephson about purchasing the business. It took almost three years, but Withers had his store.
A major reason why Josephson's was awarded Retailer of the Year is customer service, something Withers wanted to carry over from the previous ownership when he bought the store almost 30 years ago.
Withers said there are three things they focus on: First, take care of your customers. Second, don't buy junk clothing. Lastly, price your items correctly the first time.
There's no attempt to upsell. They don't sell suits that don't drape well. And if something's not your color, Withers with tell you.
“I’ll be perfectly frank and say don’t wear that color," Withers said.
Withers said he's told by customers that coming to Josephson's is much better than trying to shop online. Sometimes it's hard to know what you're buying on Amazon. It's better to come to a store like Josephson's and have an expert help guide you.
Withers said he's had people buy a suit as quickly as 15 minutes or spend two hours in the store. And each one says how much they appreciate the patience and knowledge from the Josephson's staff.
Retirement someday, but not now
Owning a men's clothing store isn't easy. It's a lot to handle, especially if you're as popular as Josephson's.
Withers said the store has done well. When he purchased the business, Withers estimates that 80% of business was local and 20% was tourist. Now, he calls that 80% his regular customers. Those customers include people from Red Wing, Eau Claire, Minneapolis, St. Paul, Owatonna and Albert Lea.
Withers called Josephson's a "mainstay" in downtown Red Wing for many years. The shop has a steady customer base with people from outside of Red Wing coming specifically for men's clothing.
But with all of the attention and acclaim comes many hours of accommodating all of the orders Josephson's receives.
Six days a week, Withers arrives to the store hours earlier than when it opens to work on alterations. He takes Sundays off, but has made some exceptions to the rule to get work done.
“It’s long hours. If you own a shop like this, I average 72-hour weeks," Withers said. "And I’m proud of it but I’m 68 years old and those hours get a little longer every once in a while.”
He and his wife haven't had a week's long vacation for five-and-a-half years because it means having a week's worth of work waiting for you when you get back.
The job is difficult, yes, but when Withers wakes up, he's still excited to go to work.
“In the 28 years that we’ve owned this store, I have never woken up and said, ‘Oh, I’ve got to go to work today.’ I say, ‘Honey, I gotta go to work, see you later.’ I don’t think there’s a lot of people who can say that," Withers said. "A lot of people have jobs because they have to have a job. I have this because I wanted this and I was willing to put in the hours."
So when will Withers retire? Right now, it's not likely. Withers said it would be hard find a new owner. Long hours, not having an investment to buy a store in the first place, and most children of business owners don't want the business in the first place.
“It’s really sad," Withers said. "I don’t want Red Wing to be without a men’s store.”
Withers would love someone to walk in and make an offer some day. But the person has to have the energy and knowledge to keep Josephson's going. Just like Josephson teaching him, Withers wants to help the next owner.
But don't worry, Withers isn't going anywhere. Neither is his three-time Retailer of the Year winning staff.