By Dennis Seid / NEMS Daily Journal
TUPELO – For about as long as he can remember, John Rush has been a good salesman.
Growing up on a farm in Pontotoc County and pitching in as family members do, young John could barter with the best of them.
“My dad would go to the sales barn with a truckload of watermelons,” he said. “I was 11 or 12, and I’d sell that truckload myself.”
That early dabbling in being a merchant was just the spark that got him started selling clothes – something that’s gone on for nearly 50 years.
And at 67, Rush hasn’t slowed down. Retirement, he adds, is not in his vocabulary.
“I’m having too much fun,” he said.
His “fun” career started the summer after he graduated from high school, at Stubbs Department Store in Pontotoc.
Rush stayed on for nearly a dozen years. After a brief stint out on his own, he landed a job at Reed’s, where he’s been since 1975.
“John came to us and we didn’t have anything open at the time,” said Jack Reed Sr., the chairman of the iconic downtown store. “But about a year, year-and-a-half later, we got him.”
And it’s a decision that both men say has been mutually beneficial.
“Oh, he’s the best salesman I’ve ever seen,” Reed said. “And he does everything.”
Said Rush, “We’ve made a pact that neither one of would retire until the other one does.”
• • •
Anyone who’s stepped into the store likely has been greeted by Rush, even if a stop in the men’s department wasn’t planned.
Greeting long-time customers by name and welcoming new ones like old friends, Rush is the definition of customer service.
He is the consummate multi-tasker, darting between helping customers on the sales floor to answering phone calls.
“What size do you need?” he asks one customer. Getting his answer, Rush reaches into the catalog that is his head and quickly responds, “OK, I have one in white.”
Another customer comes in to pick up a suit that had been altered – Rush does all the alterations at the store, by the way – and Rush tells him how much he appreciates the customer coming back.
“It’s been a while,” Rush tells him, then softens his voice a bit to offer his condolences on his father’s death.
“I lost mine a few years back, too,” he said, lightening the conversation by adding that both their fathers are having a good time together up in heaven.
There’s nothing fake or contrived about Rush’s comments. He listens because he cares; he cares because he listens. So he has a fatherly, almost pastoral-like bearing
And no wonder.
“If I wasn’t doing this,” he said, “I guess I’d be preaching.”
• • •
Instead, three generations of shoppers have gotten to know Rush, and vice-versa, at Reed’s.
And while fashions and trends have changed through the years, Rush hasn’t. Each customer still gets the royal treatment.
“We help pretty much people from all walks of life,” he said. “I can put clothes on just about anybody. And we sell a lot of suits.”
Thousands, in fact, through the years.
But while suit sales remain important, Reed and Rush acknowledge a shift in men’s taste.
“It used to be men wore coats and ties all the time,” Reed said. “Now it’s more relaxed living. We still sell a lot of suits, but sports coats and sportswear have really taken off.”
But no matter what a customer is looking for, Rush is close by to offer help. And if it’s a long-time customer, he likely has a good idea of his size, his likes and his dislikes.
In several boxes are albums and folders with customers’ names, addresses and other pertinent information. Not that Rush uses them very often.
“A lot of it is right up here,” he says, pointing to his head.
His collection of customers’ files, however, pales in comparison to “the box.”
The “box” in which Rush carries around for his alterations is merely a shadow of itself. Held together by layers of tape and more tape, the 18-year-old box is as malleable as Play-Doh. But it serves its purpose.
“It’s not like we can’t afford to buy him another box,” Reed said with a laugh, “but he insists on keeping that thing.”
Rush figures there’s no point in discarding something that still works.
“It goes home with me, it comes back to work with me, it’s very flexible and it fits in my car,” Rush said. “It does the job nicely.”
An apt description for Rush himself.