…“If anything is worth doing, it is worth doing well”
…“If anything is worth doing, it is worth doing well”
By Sherry Vogel
The Russell’s Clothing Store has a long history of success. Opened as one of the first clothing stores in Baker, it is the only one to still remain open today.
The original owners of Russell’s, Martin and Birdie Russell believed that “if anything is worth doing it is worth doing well.” It apparently was a good policy and perhaps a link to Russell’s long story of success in the community. The name Russell’s today is still synonymous with selling fine quality clothing, shoes, jewelry and house décor.
Surprisingly, throughout 101 years of doing business the store has changed ownership only four times.
Don and Merri Beck, current owners, purchased the store from Matt and Margaret Helfrich on Oct. 1, 2004.
Merri, a former bank executive at the Bank of Baker, had started working at the bank when she was a senior in high school and only 18 years old. After 25 years in the banking business she was looking for a new adventure and with the persuasion of her husband Don, a local veterinarian, she stepped up to the challenge of store ownership when the Helfrich’s were ready to retire.
Helfrich stayed on at the store for two weeks to train Merri. Matt and his wife Margaret accompanied Merri to her first market in Billings. Then the capable Merri “just took the bull by the horns and ran it,” according to Helfrich.
Merri was pleased to have a couple of longtime Russell’s employees remain on the payroll when she took the helm of her new enterprise. Doris Dahl who had been a long-term employee of the Helfrich’s had already been working at Russell’s for 27 years when Merri arrived. Doris continued for three additional years before retiring in 2007, which marked 30 years of employment at Russell’s.
Sharon Buerkle, another long-term employee, started working the week after Merri took ownership and after thirteen years, remains working at the store today.
Current employee Donna Rowe joined the team in 2007, Abby Tunby, in 2012 and newcomer Kim Kleppelid has worked at Russell’s Clothing for the past two years.
Merri enjoys operating the store and working with the people she employs. “It doesn’t feel like going to work, at times it feels like ‘playing store’,” she said.
The staff at Russell’s strives to give the best of service to its valued customers. Each employee is well versed regarding the merchandise and is very attentive to the needs of the customer. They find satisfaction in helping their patrons put just the right outfit together for that special occasion.
Russell’s Clothing has stood the test of time. Having just celebrated their 100 Jubilee anniversary in 2016, the business activity remains an icon in our community for 101 years.
Merri contributes the success of her store’s longevity to the quality of merchandise they sell.
For example, Russell’s line of good quality substantial footwear, such as Born shoes and Ariat boots, are a better constructed product compared to many other shoe outlets and online shoe sites today. The average customer might tire of their footwear, long before the shoe wears out.
Always known for selling the best quality brand of shoe on the market in any given decade, it is not unusual even today to run across a pair of well preserved Buster Brown children’s leather shoes that had been purchased from Russell’s back in the 1940’s or 1950’s.
Merri’s clothing line follows suit. With brands such as Tribal, Under Armor, The North Face, Miss Me and Rock Revival, the clothing has proven to last far beyond its style run.
Merri has also strived to broaden the spectrum of styles for customers of all ages. When Martin Russell opened his first store he sold only men’s work clothes, jeans, cowboy boots and shoes. Eventually the store began selling shoes for the entire family. It was many years later that Russell’s would expand its inventory to offer ladies’ apparel.
Today Merri has successfully transitioned from niche retailing to a broader business. Although she has maintained Russell’s tradition of selling fine western wear; the same quality of hats, boots, western shirts and Levi’s as her predecessors, she has very successfully broadened the inventory at the retail store by introducing a large variety of delightful children’s and adorable baby’s attire, fine jewelry, fragrances, as well as, the latest trends in home décor.
Shopping at Russell’s is a pleasure. The store has an amazing arrangement of artsy displays, which enhance the ambiance.
Russell’s expansion of products, always geared to meet the needs of the surrounding area, has kept business ample during the ‘Boom or Bust’ cycles in the local economy due to the ever fluctuating oil field industry. Russell’s has become a local supplier for Fire Resistant (FR) oil field clothing to meet the needs of local workers.
One of the latest additions to the Russell’s Store is the addition of Brighton jewelry. This beautiful line of exquisite silver jewelry is an affordable, fun and fashionable way to express your style with artistically designed pieces of art dipped in pure silver.
With a large selection of beautiful, fashionable women’s apparel, rugged men’s wear, well-constructed shoes, fine jewelry, educational toys and home décor, Russell’s Clothing Store has become “a destination.” It is not unusual for a group of ladies from neighboring communities to motor to Baker, just to check out the latest arrivals at Russell’s. The store has the largest assortment of quality merchandise unparalleled by any other retail business in the region.
Merri finds satisfaction when she sees her customers wearing the clothes she sells at Russell’s. This is rewarding because when she attends a market to order her inventory for an upcoming season, she always tries to keep in mind the needs of the community. She is always mindful of keeping up with fashion yet not following every fleeting trend.
Russell’s receives new inventory a few times a week, so they rotate merchandise quite often. In fact, at times an abundant supply of clearance items have been marked down to savings of 75% off. This is a common occurrence at Russell’s. In the store’s endeavor to clear the racks to make room for their latest arrivals the staff has coined a phrase, “get a bunch we’ll help you carry it out.”
One of the biggest challenges for Russell’s in recent years is how social media has altered the retail industry as it has become more prevalent in people’s lives. It has been both a blessing and a curse for shopkeepers in small communities. On one hand being able to reach the masses with online advertising is a huge benefit, but the flip side is that brick and mortar retailers now find themselves having to compete with online businesses that are better able to maintain very low overhead costs. Russell’s has adapted to using not only local advertising firms but also social media to reach potential customers.
Over these past 101 years, Russell’s Clothing has successfully met many of the Baker community’s needs. Whether that be by providing the necessary winter apparel needed to keep warm in the drastically cold winters, to meeting the needs of the local oil field industry who requires its employees to wear FR work clothes or by providing tuxes for proms and weddings to offering a local bridal registry for weddings, Russell’s has given local residents quality items that they need and want to buy all conveniently located right here in Baker, Montana.
Over the years, Russell’s has built loyalty and forged long-term relationships with their customers by selling quality items in a friendly environment. Merri will continue this tradition of providing respectful service and quality merchandise. She shared, “We hope to always continue to be a part of this wonderful community.”
Merri is very appreciative of her faithful and loyal customers who have become like family to her. She added, “Don and I appreciate everyone’s continued patronage of Russell’s Clothing.”