Go See Freddie
We at Hampton Roads Weekly are pleased that so many of our readers have been following our “Live Like Freddie” column these last months. Many of you have inquired about Rogers Clothes and Freddie. We realized you may have missed our first introductory column that explained this remarkable businessman, father, and friend. If we at this special time of year, can integrate just one aspect found in the “Rogers Clothes experience”, our holiday season will be all the happier.
They said it all over town for almost 50 years – in Portsmouth, Norfolk, Virginia Beach, Chesapeake, Newport News and Hampton. Shipyard workers, bank presidents, high school students, store clerks, folks in military and first responders’ uniforms, doctors, lawyers, teachers – men and women, young and old, all over Hampton Roads for almost 50 years said, “I’m going to go see Freddie” – and every single one of them knew EXACTLY what they meant.
They were going to see Freddie Aron at Roger’s Men’s Clothing Store in Portsmouth, Virginia, and it was likely to be the highlight of their day. Named Rogers by Freddie’s father Max in 1949, “Roger” meant “OK, all is good” from those who served in the military during World War II.
This amazing men’s clothing store, from a MBA business school perspective, made absolutely no sense. How could a relatively small, family-owned store, with just one location sell more suits per-square-foot than almost any other on the Eastern Seaboard for decades? Through economic highs and lows, peace and war, three-piece suits and leisure suits, Freddie ran a thriving business. How did he do it? What was the “secret sauce” that kept four generations of customers coming back year after year after year?
Freddie Aron absolutely put his customers’ comfort first and built relationships that lasted a lifetime. He couldn’t always remember what he had for breakfast, but he knew what all four Parker boys had gotten for their last four Christmases, and whose right leg was just a quarter inch shorter than his left. Rogers Clothes sold beautiful quality men’s clothing at a fair price and Freddie completely stood behind what he sold. Rogers Clothes did all of the alterations on anything bought from the store for free, FOREVER. That’s right, three tailors worked full time in the back of the store and when a gentleman gained weight, then lost weight, Freddie let it out and later took it in again. If that same man handed down the suit to his son, Freddie would alter it for free for them again. Change in a pants pocket wore out the lining? He’d replace it. A guy with broad shoulders and an athletic build has a roll behind his collar, Freddie would “shorten a collar” (that was harder to do than making a suit jacket from scratch, since the entire garment had to be taken apart). Even though Rogers carried 11 different shades of light blue dress shirts, if a customer wanted a short sleeve one in a particular shade of blue that Rogers only had in stock in a long sleeve, Freddie would have his tailor cut off the sleeves and charge the customer the price of the less expensive short sleeve shirt. Nothing epitomizes standing behind your product better than this!
It was a mecca, the welcoming place you came to share all of your life events- your greatest joys and your deepest sadnesses. Parents proudly bought their son his first navy blue blazer with beautiful brass buttons for him to wear for graduation and Freddie helped that very same son, decades later, pick out a black worsted wool suit to sadly bury his dad.
Folks came into Rogers to hear one of Freddie’s brilliantly funny stories, to get sage advice to solve a troubling problem, to help choose college classes for their next semester, and rehearse their proposals of marriage to their very best girl.
Freddie Aron was something really special – a magical mixture of Cary Grant, Fred Astaire, Frank Sinatra and Merlin. He had it all – a gentleman’s charm, he could sing and dance beautifully, and make magic happen! But the important lessons he taught by the way he lived his life is the key.
Limitless love and respect for people mixed with patient listening and genuine caring about his customers was in Freddie’s DNA. That attention to detail, that ability to listen, that established trust rooted in Freddie’s absolute desire to do what’s good for his customer – that’s the “secret sauce” we can all work to emulate. These lessons are the threads of the fabric with which we can weave a rich life like Freddie’s.
How do I know this can work for anyone in any profession? I started helping out at Rogers Clothes at age 11, wrapping hundreds of Christmas presents, standing on a stool to see over the counter in the back of the store. You see I was lucky enough to have Freddie not only as a mentor, but as a Father. The lessons I learned in the 30 years I helped on and off in the store selling $25 dollar dress shirts served me well when I moved 3,000 miles away to California and sold $5 million dollar houses.
Freddie passed away in 1997, but he lives on forever in the valuable lessons he taught to thousands of the fine folks who were lucky enough to “go see Freddie” and shop at Rogers Clothes.