Reynold’s Clothing, a Crawford County Mainstay

by Gordon Wolf

On October 2, 1972, clothing salesman Reynold Gehlsen came out on his own and opened a men’s clothing store in Uptown Denison. It became downtown’s fourth-largest men’s store at the time, and its competition also included three department stores.

The date was also the birthday of Reynold’s wife, Roseann. It was the first and only time he forgot his birthday.

Fifty years later, his sons, Troy and Brett, continue to operate Reynold’s Clothing, building on the knowledge they learned from their father and mother.

This Friday and Saturday, the Gehlsen boys, their families and employees are celebrating the store’s 50th anniversary with special sales and prizes.

Reynold started selling clothes in California, where he ended up in the Navy. He then returned to Crawford County and worked for JC Penney in Denison for a few months in the fall of 1955. He moved to Hoffines & Tim’s clothing store, which two years later was sold and became Anderson’s Clothing . Reynold was there until he opened his own business.

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At first, Reynold’s Clothing was located on the southwest corner of Broadway and 14th Street, where Denison Realty is now located. After 20 years at this location, the store operated for the next nine years at the corner of Broadway and Main where the Crawford County Bank is located. On April 1, 2001, Reynold’s Clothing opened in the former JC Penney building on Broadway.

Brett Gehlsen said his family decided the JC Penney building would be the store’s final destination, where they could expand.

Troy and Brett graduated from the University of Northern Iowa, Troy in broadcast journalism and Brett in marketing. Both majors taught them something about running a business, but it was from their father that they learned the social aspect – how to treat people, how to provide services and how to fit clothes.

Brett joined his father in the business in 1992. Troy was already pursuing his career in broadcasting. He was news director at KDSN Radio in Denison from 1990 to 1991, then worked for a radio station in Hastings, Nebraska.

Brett recalled that shortly after joining the company, Reynold decided he wanted to take more time off because he had someone to replace him. Brett told his dad they needed another salesman who knew the business.

They extended an invitation to Troy, who thought it over and joined the family business in 1995.

The clothing store has changed over the years and continues to change based on what people need – and what they want.

When Reynold Gehlsen started Reynold’s Clothing, the store probably sold 80% dress clothes and 20% casual clothes, and that was just men’s clothing. Today, the store carries about 20% dress wear and 80% casual-to-casual wear, and the store also sells women’s shoes and clothing. It is also a dry cleaning drop off location for Touch of Class cleaners.

Much of Reynold’s Clothing’s longevity is due to the personal service provided by Reynold, which continues with Troy and Brett.

Brett added that he couldn’t talk too much about the womenswear side of the business, since they’ve only been in the business for five years.

“But on the guy side, from a consumer behavior perspective, guys generally don’t like to shop, so if you can help him and he feels comfortable, he’ll come back,” said Brett said. “We make it easy for the guys and easy for his wife because she does the shopping for him.”

He added that Reynold’s Clothing has a great mix of clothing styles.

Troy and Brett also picked up another practice from their father; he wouldn’t sell something if it didn’t look good on a customer.

“I think a lot of people liked that about my dad,” Brett said. “He would just go out and tell a customer that he didn’t like the way the clothes fit him, or if it was the wrong color for the customers.

“We could tell you that too, but we’re a little more politically correct.

He remembers a client of his father’s who was very picky about his appearance and what he wanted when it came to clothes.

“My dad knew he could help the client, but he just couldn’t please him with the fit. My father knew that it didn’t matter where the client was going; he wasn’t going to adapt any better. So he said, “I’ll just tell you – you’re not Burt Reynolds.”

The economic downturn of the 1980s was hard on most companies, including Reynold’s Clothing, but Reynold never let his children know how bad it was.

“There were times when I knew my dad had to go borrow money just to make payroll, and things like that,” Brett said. “He actually had the opportunity to sell his business in the late 1980s, but I expressed an interest in it, so he moved on.”

The Gehlsen boys also went through their own tough times just a few years ago with the coronavirus pandemic.

Stores were ordered to close, but business owners still had fixed costs to pay and their own families to support.

Marriages also came to a halt, which affected Reynold’s Clothing business.

So, at the height of the pandemic, Reynold’s Clothing had plenty of merchandise but limited access to customers.

Then came the Gifts of Hope program launched by the Crawford County Chamber & Development Council. People could buy gift cards for local businesses they frequented and use them later when COVID restrictions eased and they could shop in person again.

“It was awesome. It was huge,” Brett said.

He explained that people could buy the gift cards at a discount, but stores would be paid in full.

Some items were still sold out at the height of COVID.

“One thing we did well during COVID is we had a database of people who bought boots from us,” Brett said.

Having steel-toed work boots was a necessity for people who worked at factories like Smithfield and Monogram Foods, and workers were defined as essential workers. People called Reynold’s to ask if they could buy boots. Troy and Brett or an employee could look at the database and ask the customer if he wanted the same boot he bought last year. Customers had the option of having the boots delivered to their car, or the boots would be left on the counter and the customer would pick them up and leave payment.

A bigger problem caused by COVID was getting goods, which are ordered months in advance.

“So we had all this merchandise coming in during COVID but we had no income,” Brett said.

He added that he and his brother had always saved up for a “rainy day”, but they had no idea the rainy day was going to last nine or 10 months.

Troy and Brett called their suppliers and canceled goods, which the suppliers didn’t necessarily like but understood.

“What was ironic was that we canceled the merchandise and everything was fine, but a year and a half later we couldn’t get enough merchandise,” Brett said. “It was the lag after the height of COVID.”

He said it’s a lot better now because they’ve adjusted the way they buy, with about 65% of merchandise ordered ahead and 35% ordered in-season. It was the opposite before the pandemic.

“That’s the advantage of being a small store,” Brett said. “Your reaction times are much faster and your delivery times don’t need to be as far off as department stores. You have better inventory control.

He added that after the pandemic, customers feel more comfortable shopping in a smaller atmosphere with fewer shoppers in the store, as opposed to shopping in a large store with hundreds of people around.

“Will it come back? Maybe,” Brett said.

The Gehlsen boys plan to be around for a while and are constantly adjusting their product and service offerings to match the economy.

“I see our women’s department growing. I don’t see our men’s department shrinking. Our goal is to be around for another 20 to 25 years,” Brett said.

He and Troy are also pursuing something else their father gave them – a positive attitude.

“People want to go where there are people and people want to go where there is positive,” Brett said.

The Gehlsens would like to thank all their customers over the past 50 years and their loyal employees.

“Many of them have stuck with us through thick and thin over the years. We appreciate everyone who has helped, from the high school internship program to part-time and full-time employees to the person in charge of modifications “Brett said. “We’re blessed with great employees, and without them, you don’t have a strong business either.

About Oscar L. Smith

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