Rex Waggoner and some of the many men's suits at James Clothing
From Suits to Pottery to Grills: Finding Success in Anticipating Customer Demands
115 S. Mill in Beloit
When Rex Waggoner began working at James Clothing in downtown Beloit as a freshman in High School in 1964, he had no idea he would stay for good.
James Clothing was new to town in 1964, although owner Calvin James had been operating his original store in nearby Jewell, Kansas, since 1950. The store carried only men’s clothing when Rex began as a freshman.
“I was the low man on the totem pole and I’d come in after school and wash windows, sweep floors and clean mirrors. If you didn’t have anything to do, you dusted,” Rex recalls with a laugh. “I started out at 50 cents an hour.”
What developed was a lifelong friendship between Rex and Calvin until Calvin’s death in February 2002. Rex purchased the business in 1993.
“Calvin and I started talking about me buying the business about 10 years before the purchase actually happened,” Rex recalls. “He was quite a mentor and a second dad to me.”
Rex not only learned the ins and outs of operating a retail business, but also about politics just by being around since Calvin chaired the Republican Party for the Big First District of Kansas and even served on the Republican National Committee.
“We knew Pat Roberts when was working for Congressman Keith Sebelius,” Rex said. “At times our phone line would be tied up all day with Calvin working on political stuff.”
Rex recalls one memorable time was during the Ronald Reagan and Gerald Ford Presidential race when Calvin was an uncommitted Elector for the State of Kansas.
“He got a lot of coverage — even an interview from the Today Show — and had a lengthy phone call from Ronald Reagan one day while he was at the store,” Rex said. “It was always interesting.”
Although Calvin was highly involved in politics, he never actually ran for office. The store’s political ties are not as strong since Calvin’s death, but Congressman Jerry Moran did stop in when he was in Beloit for the 2006 Veteran’s Day parade.
The retail world has changed right along with the political world since Rex’s early days at the store in 1964, and he has had to make adjustments. What started as a strictly men’s clothing store has now evolved into James Clothing — and more. Products now include men’s clothing, shoes, collegiate items, Red Wing pottery, specialty lotions and soaps, barbecue accessories and sauces, food items, specialty coffee pots and everything in between.
“When I started here more people lived in the county, people weren’t quite as mobile, and they were generally a little more community-minded with strong loyalties to their hometowns,” Rex said. “If you offered a good quality product and sold it at a fair price you had a good business.”
At one time a customer could buy a men’s suit at four different stores in Beloit. James Clothing is now the only store that carries suits and Rex said that while they used to sell 5 to 6 suits a week, he now considers himself lucky to sell two a month.
“It wasn’t long and you could see the downward trend and people becoming mobile,” Rex said.
It was then that James Clothing introduced additional product lines, officially starting with Nike products in 1974. They soon started carrying printed KU and K-State t-shirts.
“At that time if a person wore a KU or K-State shirt you knew they had probably been to Lawrence or Manhattan to the university bookstore. They just weren’t that common in other places, but the collegiate items became popular and continue to serve us well,” Rex said.
Rex added barbecue grills soon after he purchased the store and now James Clothing is the largest one-store account in a four-state area for Holland grills.
“We got into grills simply because my friend bought a grill about the time I bought the place and I thought it was just great and found no one really carried that brand around here,” Rex explained. “The nice thing about grills is that I can keep several in the basement on inventory because black grills really don’t go out of style.”
One of the newer product lines to be added is Red Wing pottery. His own love for the product enticed him to sell it and now the next closest authorized Red Wing dealers are in Kansas City or Denver. The store attracts people from a little further away all the time because they find out it is available in Beloit.
“We spend quite a bit of time looking for items that are unique,” Rex said of his expanded product offerings. “It’s impossible to keep people from leaving to shop elsewhere. But it’s interesting because I get people who shop here who are from Kansas City and they comment how great it is to have everything in one place and not have to make a bunch of stops. I guess it’s all relative to what people are used to.”
Rex hopes to start an Internet site in the near future to help expand his market. He employs one full-time employee and is also assisted by his wife.
“I was in Boulder, Colorado, recently and went to a trendy coffee shop that carried some of the same items we carry,” Rex recalls. “Things like that make our store unique and people don’t typically expect that kind of variety and quality in rural Kansas.”