By Robbie Robertson
Nobody can accuse Claude Gunter of not being willing to change.
Because in the clothing business, it pays as trends and fashions are quick to change and those who don’t change with the times will quickly become obsolete, or worse extinct.
That ability and willingness to change, along with a penchant toward customer service, has allowed Claude Julian’s to survive 25 years in business in downtown Kosciusko.
As part of the store’s 25th anniversary, Claude Julian’s will host a celebration party on Friday from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. with birthday cakes and refreshments. Gunter said he also has a large variety of give away items provided by suppliers.
“We just want to say thank you to the area for all of their support,” Gunter said. “We are going to have a big birthday cake and refreshments. We will have a lot of give-away items from our suppliers. They were very generous and gave some nice items, I guess because I promised them I wouldn’t call them again in 25 years.”
Gunter started his store in 1984 after working for several years as parks and recreation director.
“My father was killed in a car accident and I came back to take care of my mother,” Gunter said. “I really didn’t think I would stay. But after I became parks and recreation director, Mr. Thornton was retiring and talked me into renting his store. So we opened Claude Julian’s and we opened it with our own money and never borrowed a dime and slowly built our inventory.”
In the beginning, Claude Julian’s was just a men’s store but it became apparent that they would have to change to keep things going.
“It didn’t take long until we incorporated some speciality lady lines, mainly to increase traffic,” Gunter said. “For years, we were 70 percent men’s clothing and slowly started to increase the women’s lines. Now, I would say that we are near 60 percent women and 40 percent men so that is how it has changed.”
In recent years, Gunter says he has seen a more casual approach to clothing.
“In the early years, we sold a lot of suits and dressy dresses,” Gunter said. “The casual attitude has affected the clothing industry. Men have just gone away from wearing suits, now it’s just more casual, more Northface and you just have to go with those trends. I still think it’s important to carry suits but we don’t have half the suits we used to have but do more speciality orders.”
And recently, Claude Julian’s has even started to incorporate shoes into his product line, seeing what he believes is a gap in the local market. While many companies spend thousands of dollars on market research, Gunter does his the old-fashioned way.
“The trends today start at college because those are the people who have the disposable income,” Gunter said. “I talk to my kids about what the college kids are wearing. When the kids come in from State and Ole Miss, I talk to them about what kids are wearing and what the stores there have.”
But there is one trend that hasn’t changed at Claude Julian’s.
“It’s important to keep up with the times but we will always provide professional, courteous service,” Gunter said. “I think that’s one of the reasons we have been able to survive 25 years of change. To me, it’s not all about clothes as much as it is about service.”
Gunter was quick to praise his wife, Jayne, for all of her work in the store through the years. He also recognized employees Tasha Grantham and Glenn Deason for their hard work as well.
“I would say our store is as strong now as it has ever been, even in these tough economic times,” Gunter said. “I believe 25 years in this business is a big deal. But you don’t do it without good people and Glenn and Tasha are good people.”