By Robbie Robertson
To succeed in the business world, it's either change with the times or be left behind.
For clothing stores like Claude Julian's, it's either change with the times or go out of business.
And 23 years after opening on the square in Kosciusko, Claude Julian Gunter and his wife, Jayne, aren't planning on going anywhere.
In today's world of shopping malls and the Internet, Gunter is one of the few small-town, fine clothing stores to not only survive but flourish. There are a few others around the state and Gunter's store is as good as any of those.
“I started here with $13,000 in merchandise and worked my way up from there,” Gunter said. “In those first years, every time we would sell something, we'd take the money from that and buy two new items. And it just grew from that.
“We are constantly rewriting ourselves, reinventing what we do. I wish more businesses here would adopt that philosophy.”
That was 23 years ago when Gunter started and now he carries a full line of men's and women's clothing after his wife Jayne got involved in the business.
“At first, we were just a men's store, then when my wife started she brought in the women's clothing and has done a great job with that,” Gunter said. “You will not find a store of this quality in any other town in Mississippi.”
Gunter said the biggest change isn't necessarily the fashion but price.
“When I started, Levis were $6.98 and I remember when they jumped to $7.98 and people complained,” Gunter said. “But the biggest change we've had has been the price of clothing. The other thing is we sell more casual clothing, fewer dress clothing. You don't sell nearly as many suits as you did when we first started.”
When it comes to Kosciusko, the downtown and his customers, Gunter is ardent in his stand.
“I could have moved out to the highway several times but I choose to stay here in downtown,” Gunter said. “I believe it's important to stay here. It's part of the character of Kosciusko. I believe in servicing the customers. Without them, I wouldn't be here.”
Gunter also believes in growing talent in the store instead of just hiring clerks. He recently hired Kosciusko native Raynard French to work his men's clothing lines and is waiting on long-time employee Tasha Grantham to graduate from college so he can get her more involved in the store.