For someone who thought she would always be a teacher, Susan Smith Vogt has her hands full. Hands full of clothes, shoes and buying for Rodes, that is. Susan and her husband Howard Vogt have been at the helm of this family-run business for 12 years now. This is a business she has known her entire life, as she is the fifth generation in her family to lead this 100 year-old company.
Rodes has always been about clothes and has survived the last 100 years by diversifying their business, time and time again.
Rodes began as a men’s store on March 17, 1914, known as the Starks Building Habedashery, three short months before World War I broke out. The company was renamed the Rodes-Rapier Company, run by John Starks Rodes, William Rapier and W. Reed Embry. Rodes quadrupled its size in just five years and moved to the corner of the Starks Building at Fourth and Walnut Streets.
The company survived the First World War, then the Great Depression, and later the 1937 Louisville Flood. During the Great Depression in 1931, W. Reed Embry hired his son-in-law Handord Smith as president. John S. Rodes Jr. began his career here in 1932. He stayed at Rodes until 1982, serving the company for 50 years.
World War II came and Rodes began producing uniforms for the United States Army. Considering they were one of the only businesses in town that could get cloth, as it was so strictly rationed, they were able to help our country and stay in business all at the same time. After World War II, Rodes expands to 25,000 feet on two floors in the Starks Building, due to an increased demand for tailored men and boy’s clothing.
In 1962, Hanford Smith, who was part of the commission to build the Mall St. Matthews, opened a second Rodes location at this mall.
It became obvious that malls were the next direction for retail. Free-standing stores located in downtown still served a purpose, but with the population becoming more suburban, stores needed to move to their customer’s location. In 1971, Rodes opened a third location in Oxmoor Mall, followed by a fourth location in Columbus, Indiana in 1975. In 1979, Susan Vogt’s father, Lawrence Smith (son of Hanford Smith) began working at the company and became the president in 1981. By 1990, Lawrence Smith added three more locations in Lexington and Nashville (two stores there), bringing the total number of Rodes stores to seven. It was at this time that Lawrence Smith asked his daughter and son-in-law, Susan and Howard Vogt to move home to Louisville from Texas to help him run this empire. Howard went to work for the company and Susan stayed home with her son and taught kindergarten. Rodes was busy with seven stores. But once again, due to request from UPS Pilots who had recently located their hub here, Rodes got back into the uniform business. The pilots complained of their cheap polyester uniforms and asked Rodes to create a higher-quality, more professional uniform. Similar to during the Second World War, uniforms invigorated their business, allowing them to keep nine full time tailors on staff year round. They later sold this uniform business to Cintas.
By the late 1990s, mall locations were becoming difficult for stores like Rodes. Rodes decided to focus more on high-end quality brands and closed most of their locations. Susan joined Howard and took the helm of Rodes in 2002. They added Rodes for Her and they moved to their current location on Brownsboro Road. In 2008, Rodes bought She of Louisville, with women’s clothing accounting for over half of their business.
The Vogts have no intention of retiring any time soon. With all merchandise consolidated under one roof, it is onward and upward for them. Rodes for Men has recently completed its new Ermnegildo Zegna section of the store.
The women’s side has such exclusive lines as Tory Burch, St. John and Kate Spade. There are 35 sales associates, nine tailors and countless others behind the scenes. With their large, beautiful space, they are able to host countless events: everything from a trunk show to the huge Derby Divas event.
Rodes is all about supporting other local businesses as well. Susan said she would rather a customer shop at her competitor than go shop out of town. Rodes is a “destination” store, featuring high-end brands and specialty items. But,this is not just your grandparent’s store. Their lines are young and fresh and their inventory is large.
Five generations and still going strong. Being flexible to their customer’s needs and location has served them well; you could call it the bigger picture of customer service. Meet your customer where they are and always offer them the best. Here’s to 100 more years, Rodes!
Rodes is located at 4938 Brownsboro Road. Visit their website here: www.rodes.com.
For more information on Derby Divas, click here. Here’s a sneak peek of the great handbag you can buy this night, with all proceeds going to Norton Cancer Institute Breast Health Program.