Women in business often feel the pressure of having a good work-life balance. Trish Ludemann of Gary Michael’s Clothiers (GMC) in Hastings says, “I have always feared my kids would always remember the times I missed because I was always at work. I do not want them to remember me as the mom who was never home, but long hours are necessary especially during Christmas and prom. I try to attend their activities and go back to work late at night or early in the morning. My goal was to never be that parent that ‘forgot what time it was’ and have my child be the last one picked up… or forgotten at school, and yes… that has happened. But, being a business owner and mom does allow me to adjust my schedule as best I can to be there for my kids.”
The owners of GMC are a great example of how women can be great parents, operate households and have careers. They have become an inspiration to their families and friends by accepting that it takes compromise and balance. It is common to walk into GMC and see their children or grandchildren helping in the store. They want their customers to feel the family vibe in their business.
In 1993, Ludemann was hired at GMC in Hastings, Nebraska to open and manage the new women’s clothing department. She had previous retail experience and felt it was a great opportunity. She started going to market with then owner, Mike Nevrivy to buy for the women’s clothing segment of the business. It was exciting to be able to bring current trends to central Nebraska.
At about the same time, Tammy Valentin was working part-time doing books on a contractual basis for several businesses in Hastings including GMC. Through this relationship, she became familiar with their business and two years later became an employee of the company.
The store was opened in 1983 by Gary Novotny and Nevrivy and was located in downtown Hastings. The original store was a block down from the current location in a bigger building that also housed a sports apparel department, Game Day Shop. The store quickly became a success, as there was a need for higher-end formal wear and men’s business and casual wear.
Valentin was soon recruited onto the sales floor in addition to doing the accounting for GMC. Both women began learning all facets of the business from marking and tailoring men’s suits to setting up displays and buying from the designers.
In 1996, Novotny decided to move to Lincoln and expand GMC by opening a retail location there. They split the business two years later and he became the sole owner of the Lincoln location and Nevrivy created a new entity to take over ownership of the Hastings store. At that same time, they downsized the Hastings business by eliminating the sportswear department and moved to a smaller storefront in downtown at 642 W. Second Street, the current location.
Through the years, Ludemann and Valentin became good at serving the clothing needs of their Hastings area clients. They had a good customer base that they built up through specialty items and customized clothing items. Nevrivy began to rely upon the two women to run the business in his absence as he started other businesses and traveled often. As his attention began to shift to his new ventures, he started to plant the seed to have them become partners in the store.
Together, they decided they didn’t want to share ownership with Nevrivy, they wanted to take over the ownership of GMC in Hastings. In 2009 the time was right, and the business was sold to Valentin and Ludemann. Because the trio had been discussing this option for many years, it was an easy transition for the new owners. They had been preparing both financially and strategically.
“Well, when you have been the owner of a business for over 25 years, it is hard to turn the keys over, but it was much easier because I knew I was turning the keys over to two very competent and talented ladies who would not only retain the great reputation GMC had held for many years, but make it even better,” Nevrivy said. “I was confident they would continue the tradition of GMC because they had been doing so for over 15 years already. They always treated our clients as though they were the owners from the beginning. They exhibited sincere care for each client, and always took great pride in the relationships they developed with each one.”
The transition was fairly seamless for the new owners. Valentin and Ludemann are different in their approach and their individual skillsets have complemented one another to create a well-rounded team. This was similar to the original owners’ relationship.
“I never thought I would become an owner,” Valentin said. “I just evolved. I thought it was a good part-time job and would be great when my sons were ready for prom tuxedos.”
Through the years they learned everything involved with operating the store, so the biggest change was that it became their signature on the checks.
Becoming owners of a retail business in the Midwest during a recession had its risks. GMC relies on business that is generated through special events like weddings. At the time, the economy was adjusting and these events weren’t as common, at least at the scale that required the products and services of a fine clothing store.
“There have been times where the economy, whether the recession or farming hardships, impacted our business,” Ludemann said. “There is a decrease in weddings booked during hard times just because the economy warranted time to wait to tie the knot. In the clothing world most inventory is selected six to nine months prior to the seasons. You have to keep a plan and not overbook because it’s hard to know what will happen.”
However, the loyalty of their clients helped them push through this time and become even more successful. The popularity of their women’s clothing department has grown and they have added accessories. They continue to serve the clothing needs of men. Many of these customers first came to GMC when they rented their first prom tuxedo and have been customers ever since; buying their first professional suit, outfitting their wedding tux and groomsmen to continuing to build up their business attire.
Longtime customer Ryan Swanson has been a loyal clothing client.
“I discovered their shop while working professionally in central Nebraska a number of years ago. They were knowledgeable and expertly able to meet my professional wardrobe needs all the way from a tailored fit formal business suit with ties, shirts and socks to match to a more relaxed business casual day at the office,” he said. “They have my measurements on file and they know exactly what I am looking for, so well that I’ve even picked out a great fitted suit via text message. You don’t get that anywhere else.”