James Rush Wilson III recently welcomed a third generation (his son Jay) to their iconic Greenville, S.C. store (founded by Rush Wilson Jr. in 1950, famous for introducing natural shoulder clothing to the South). “We are so pleased to have Jay join us; he will be an outstanding addition to our team,” Wilson says with obvious pride. “I only wish my father were around to see this…”
On the occasion of his first seven weeks in the business, James Rush Wilson IV chatted with MRketplace about the rewards and challenges of joining a family business.
With independent store business as tough as it is, why on earth would you want to get into retailing?
I grew up in this store so it’s part of me. As a little kid, I remember hanging out with my grandma in the women’s department. When I was 12 years old, I’d be here in my best blazer cleaning windows… I worked here through high school and college but, with my dad, decided I should gain experience somewhere else before joining the family business. So after graduating Presbyterian College in ’07, I joined TD Bank. While there for seven years, I learned a lot about management and business development, gained my own work ethic and developed my own customer service style.
What do you remember most about your grandfather?
His passion for the business. And for his customers. He would look people in the eye, firmly shake their hand, truly listen to them. My dad’s the same way: I’ve learned a lot from both of them. Neither has ever met a stranger so they taught me to not be shy, to put myself out there, get involved in the community, know what’s going on around you…
My grandfather’s friend Nate Einstein used to say there are four prerequisites for success: integrity, honesty, being the best at what you do, and working your butt off!
What do you see as the best and worst aspects of independent store retailing?
The best is the flexibility: you set your own bar, you make your own connections. This business is less about getting the next sale and more about forming lasting relationships with your customers and vendors.
The worst part: being responsible for everything! Purchasing, staffing, selling, maintenance, the buck stops with you… Fortunately, we have a great team at our store!
Do you see Rush Wilson Ltd as a menswear store, or a Southern menswear store? How do you define Southern Style?
I’d define Southern Style as updated traditional with flair. We believe in color, in accessories, in wearing pocket squares and adding a bit of pink to show some personality. And we are definitely a southern store: we sell a lot of seersucker and linen; our key resources are Peter Millar, Southern Tide and Robert Talbott.
True story: when I first got my job at TD bank, which is based up north and has lots of execs from Philadelphia and New Jersey, I wore my white bucks to work and noticed several of the guys staring at my feet. “Where are we?” they must have been thinking…
How will you get younger customers into the store?
Mostly by bringing in fresh new looks every season. We’re already getting younger guys because the mix has shifted to slimmer fits, to shirts that are trim rather than tent-y. Fortunately, a lot of brands are now making clothes for younger customers and we have a really good reputation in Greenville. We’re also using social media and my dad writes a regular fashion advice column in The Greenville Journal.
What do you do when you’re not working?
I love golf and playing the guitar but I’m also involved with community groups like the Greenville Rotary and Meals on Wheels.
Any other thoughts on your new career?
It is an honor to be welcomed into a business with a reputation for quality and customer service. It is a privilege to serve new generations of Rush Wilson Ltd. customers in the tradition of my father and grandfather. Those are large shoes to fill.