Getting Down to Business: The Origins of Rodes Retailer

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Howard Vogt, current president of luxury clothing retailer Rodes, says the secret to longevity is adaptability. The store, now located at 4938 Brownsboro Road, turns 100 this year. Vogt’s wife Susan, a women’s clothing buyer for the store, is a descendant of one of the founders, John Starks Rodes.

A lot has changed since 1914. Back then, Rodes’ original location, the 14-story Starks Building, was the tallest structure in Louisville. The store opened as The Starks Company, a haberdashery. According to Susan Vogt, John Starks Rodes and partner William Rapier added men’s clothing a few years later.

Vogt says the company came back from the sales slump of the Great Depression by manufacturing military uniforms during World War II. By the 1980s, the company had the original downtown location, plus a store in Mall St. Matthews and stores in Lexington, Nashville and Columbus, Ind. It added women’s clothes in 1977.

In the 1990s, Rodes rebranded and began carrying high-end labels like Ferragamo and Versace. “We had to pick a place to play, so we decided to play in the high end, basically the branded premier luxury lines because Louisville didn’t have those,” says Howard Vogt.

In 2003, Rodes closed the downtown location and moved to the East End. Its biggest challenge today is competition from online shopping. To keep up, the store started offering services like personal shopping. “Here’s a typical discussion: ‘We’re going to go to Jack Fry’s for dinner and then out to this.’ Or, ‘We’re going to Derby and we’re sitting here. Dress me,’” says the company president. (Stylists at the store picked out a Derby outfit for billionaire Richard Branson one year.)

Rodes also offers a service called “closet cleans.” Stylists go through a clients’ current wardrobe, advising what to get rid of and what to buy. “Guys tend to keep the same things,” Howard Vogt says. “Someone tells them they look good when they’re 27 and that’s all they buy.”

His advice to other businesses that want to be around for a century: “You have to keep reinventing yourself. If you think you can be the same person, the same company, you’re not going to make it.”

Photo Credit Mickie Winters 

About Amy Talbott
Piscean. INFJ. Cat person. Runner. Mediocre housekeeper. Excellent cook. Scours the sleaze on Craigslist so you don't have to.
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