By Sue Botos
In today’s world where everyone is in perpetual motion, Ford’s Clothier in Rocky River is like a calm oasis.
“It’s not unusual to have a couple of fellows back here sipping coffee. There’s kind of a barbershop feel,” said owner Paul Gorton, sitting at a round table in the back of his store recently. It was before opening time, but Gorton said it’s not unusual for him to arrive early.
“Just because the sign says we’re open 10 to 6 doesn’t mean we can’t accommodate you,” Gorton said, adding that it’s this attention to customer service that has kept Ford’s dressing generations of area gentlemen for 100 years.
Founded as W.N. Ford Supply Co. by William Ford in 1913, the store’s original location was at 1824 W. 48th St. in Cleveland. His son George took over and moved it to several Lakewood locations before settling in the River Square Plaza on Detroit Road as one of the original tenants in 1960. Eleven years later, a teenage Gorton began working Ford’s.
“I was the prototypical stock boy,” recalled Gorton, who first worked with George “Grandpa” Ford, then his son Jeff, who bought the store in 1979. After Jeff Ford retired in 2008, Gorton purchased the business, and has been there for 42 of its 100 years. He said that Jeff Ford still works at the store part time. “I didn’t work with the Fords as much as I worked for them,” Gorton said of the family atmosphere.
This camaraderie extends to customers, some of whom Gorton has served for generations. “We know the lion’s share of our customers. If we don’t know you when you walk in, we will know you by the time you leave,” he stated. Gorton added that it’s this attention to service that has kept the store going for 100 years. “Success is your customers. We look at customers as being our No. 1 component.”
To make shopping easier, Gorton said, files are kept of customer purchases. “In that regard, you really get to know the fellows,” he noted.
The trend toward more casual attire is the biggest change that Gorton has noticed throughout the years. “There’s not as much window shopping. Today, you go to the ATM instead of the bank. The pace of life is faster. It’s good to have a customer walk in and say it’s nice and quiet here,” he stated.
Even with sales of more casual wear outpacing suits, Gorton said, there is still a need to “dress for success,” especially for job interviews. “How you look when you meet people for the first time says something about yourself,” he stated. Gorton said that staff members can even teach someone to tie a necktie.
While Gorton said that he can’t compete volumewise with chains, he dismissed the perception that a smaller store is automatically more expensive. “If anything, I’m a little lower on some products,” he said. However, Ford’s will custom fit items for customers, and even have shirts made to order.
As for the future, Gorton said he plans to spend 50 years with the store, but can’t predict what will come next. One thing is for certain: Ford’s will remain a single location. “We’ve always had one store and we’re very happy with it. There’s a belief that bigger is better, but we’ve always resisted that temptation,” he stated.
Ford’s will be thanking customers throughout the year with a series of giveaways and celebrations coordinating with the seasons. Since April is traditionally “suit and sport coat trade-in month,” where old items are brought in for charity, a drawing will be held for custom-made suits and sport coats. Gorton added that a birthday party is tentatively scheduled for the fall.