A Family Affair
By Tim Leeds
Watching Doug Ross wait on a customer is watching him use an approach to customer service Cavaliers has had since it was founded in 1958.
After helping the customer select a men's dress shirt and accessories, and suggesting and helping her find other items the gift recipient might need, Ross politely finds the best time for the shirt, freshly pressed and gift wrapped with the other items, to be delivered to her home.
"That's the number one thing about Cavaliers is customer service," Doug's son Joe said. "Basically they become part of the family."
The lines and kinds of merchandise change with the times, but the tradition of customer service has remained, Doug Ross said.
Joe Ross joined his father in the family business in 2001, about three years after he returned to Havre. Doug Ross has been in the business since 1968, and learned his customer-service habits from the founders, Joseph Bullinger and George Renaker Sr.
"I was in college that year at Northern Montana College, and went to work for them part time," Doug said. "I liked it. We immediately had a good rapport."
Bullinger and Renaker taught him work habits that he has kept, and that he teaches to his employees, Doug said.
"The little things you do that you do automatically because they become a tradition," he said. "We call them Cavalierisms.'"
Many people who had their first job at Cavaliers and are now successful in private business or public service come back to tell him that they still use the work habits they learned working there, Doug said. He expects some of the people in Havre for this weekend's 30th Havre High School reunion will stop by and visit.
The traditions won't change, Joe said. Things like pressing, wrapping and delivering the clothes will continue when he takes over the business from his dad. They've used the same style of bow for gift-wrapping since the store opened in 1958.
"People get a package with that bow and they know it came from Cavaliers," he said.
The traditions have built a customer base outside of Montana. People who leave the area still call the store's toll-free number to order clothes, Doug said.
Others who used to shop at the store and have moved away still come back to visit when they're in town, he added.
"It's fun to see people come through town in the summer and just stop in to say hi," Joe said.
The store also has a tradition of high-quality clothes, although what it carries has changed over the years. It recently added top-end merchandise also found at Macy's in New York City and other famous stores.
"We made a conscious decision about six or seven years ago to find better quality merchandise, more unique merchandise," Doug said.
The merchandise is higher-priced, he said, but it's a tribute to their customers that they appreciate the quality and are willing to pay for it.
The store is also carrying more high-quality casual business wear and also has clothes to wear to a backyard barbecue or while hiking.
"He's had to change with the times. It's not wall-to-wall suits anymore," Joe said. "We're carrying different things, fun things."
Doug said he hopes and expects the store will continue its long history of tradition for many years once he turns it over to his son.
His own history includes forming a corporation with Renaker and his son, Tom, when Bullinger retired about 1973. About a year later, George Renaker retired, and Tom Renaker and Ross were partners until 1996, when Tom retired.
Joe said coming back to his father's business probably was always in the back of his mind, but not something he really thought about.
"When you leave high school or college, you have visions of grandeur and visions of ruling the world," he said.
Once he had a family of his own, and was working for a large architectural firm in Las Vegas, he decided to return.
"I made my mind up I was going to put my roots down in Havre and raise my family here," he said. "I could have gone to anywhere in the United States and chose to come to Havre." After working for Spectrum Computers for a few years, Joe joined his father at Cavaliers, which was fine with Doug and his wife, Becky.
"It's always been in the back of our minds to have one or both of our sons in the corporation," he said.
There is no reason the family business shouldn't continue to succeed in north-central Montana, Doug said. The area has continued to grow, particularly in the last five years, he added.
"We're optimistic, we really are. Havre and the Hi-Line, it's been very good to us, to us and our family. It's hard to express in words how much that means to us," he said. "On the other hand, it puts a lot of extra pressure on us to be the best that we can be."