5 questions with Jim Gavens: JCPenney men's wear salesman has seen a lot of changes

mrice@ledger-enquirer.comNovember 10, 2013 

You've been selling men's clothing at JCPenney for 24 years. How have styles changed during that time?

The size of coat lapels increased and decreased in width, windowpane and stripe suits have come and gone (width and type), pleated pants also have come and gone. Today's trend seems to be fitted suits with flat pants, no cuffs for the 40 and under group. Additionally, there is a create-your-own look, that seems to prevail as to color, fit and textures for the occasion someone is dressing for.

How can folks be smarter shoppers?

Customers need to take their time, try not to wait to the last minute to make a purchase. Many mistakes are made when purchasing in a hurry. If you do not know much about selecting the right clothing, shop at a business where associates know materials and style, and whether or not it is appropriate for the occasion. Compare shop, look at materials used in clothing. For example, 100 percent worsted wool is usually an indicator of higher quality of material. The more natural fiber content verses polyester/rayon is the mark for a better suit or sport coat.

What is the most memorable experience you have had while serving a customer?

One evening at JCPenney at Columbus Square (early 1980s), I was asked to cover the major appliance and electronics department. A while later, an angry customer came in with a microwave oven, slammed it on the desk and loudly demanded his money back as the microwave was defective. I asked him what was wrong with it, and he told me that he could not get it to cook for 120 seconds. It just would not do it. I told him 120 seconds is 2 minutes. He looked surprised, grabbed his microwave and left as abruptly as he came. This goes back to what I spoke of earlier -- not being so much in a hurry and making snap decisions or choices.

You are also a Columbus native and have been working at Peachtree Mall for many years. How have you seen the city and mall change?

Columbus has become much more diversified since the late 1970s, when I first started working retail. The shops in the mall and around town have reflected that. There are more places to shop and dine than there were in the 1970s, when Peachtree was built and I started working at Columbus Square Mall. Over the years, many new chain businesses moved in, and local businesses either moved north or went away. When Peachtree opened, there were local, upscale businesses: Tillman's, Jan's Town and Country, Colony Men's Shop, Kiddie Shoppe/Warren's, to name a few. Some businesses continued to move north to the new shopping complex; others went away.

What's the best-kept secret in the Chattahoochee Valley?

Customer service. Customers tell me it is a vanishing art, that it is getting more difficult to find experienced salespeople that are willing to help the customer. I hear this at least several times a week: A customer goes into a store, looking at suits, sport coats, slacks or dress shirts, and there is no one there that can help them and how glad they are to come here to get the service and help they needed.

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