50+ Yrs An Entrepreneur: Business Lessons From My Dad

In 1964 a young entrepreneur started a high-end men’s clothing store in Garland, Texas (a Dallas suburb). 52 years later, the business is having another strong year. While it is common to read about entrepreneurs who go from $0 to $100 M, you rarely read about a small business that goes from one generation to another.

But my Dad’s vision was different from the beginning. Many guys do not like to shop, so he created a men’s store that is fun and entertaining.

Today, the store — Ken’s Man’s Shop — is still a mix of Cheers (everyone knows your name, your favorite drink and your likes) meets cool hangout place for guys — which just so happens to sell some really nice clothing lines. There are walls lined with photos of past Dallas Cowboys, Dallas Mavericks, Dallas Mayors and even Stanley Marcus with my Dad. In some ways, it has become a city institution.

My Dad says success is due to three things:
Always Take Care of Your People. It’s one of the few businesses where employees generally stay 5 to 10 years, if not longer. And my Dad still talks fondly of all his former employees. His constant love and caring for Joe, John, Dean, Bill, Steve, Mary Beth, Randy, Terry, Ralph, Joni, Kory, Sonni, Shelley, Carolina, Jon, Siji, and so many others is touching and frankly remarkable. Heck, in 52 years, he has only had two tailors! He also started The Bill Hunt Scholarship Fund for Garland High School which is named after an employee who passed away tragically in the early 1970s. That fund is not only still going, providing annual prizes to students, it has enough money for another decade or more.

Treat the Guest Like Family. It doesn’t matter if you’re the CEO of a well-known company, a famous retired rock star who likes to avoid attention or a local successful accountant, my Dad, my brother Kory, and their team treat everyone the same — with dignity, respect and an unbelievable amount of attention to detail. Sure they keep a CRM system with all your measurements and likes — although my Dad and Kory generally have those numbers memorized anyway — but they also deliver tailored clothes to customer’s houses or offices. Thankfully, when I was a kid, Coach Landry would pick up his clothes at our house, while Roger Staubach would come into the store when my brother and I helped on Saturdays.

The Lines. My Dad (and now brother Kory) always take annual trips to New York City for the big buy week. Very similar to how my Dad maintained relationships with his employees, it was the same with designers and sellers of the best lines. Jhane Barnes, Audrey Buckner, Colonel Littleton, and so many others were more than colleagues, they became friends. Perhaps it’s because he always paid them on time or maybe it’s due to the fact he carefully explained what his customers wanted, but all I know is that these famous designers traveled to visit the store and meet my Dad’s customers at various trunk shows. They laughed, ate, and honestly had fun.

Looking back, what my Dad built is real, authentic and tangible. Many write today about sustainability in business as well as the importance of being authentic, but what comes through with my Dad’s 50 Plus Years as an Entrepreneur is what I call sustainable relationships. It’s a beautiful thing to see. As it’s real and hopefully, not a thing of the past. In fact my primary purpose for writing this story is so that other small businesses replicate the model as it has created a rare form of customer loyalty in which a Dad brings in his son and then those boys grow up to bring in their sons.

Happy Birthday, Dad, and I hope you consider taking the day off today!

Guest post by Daniel Helfman