The Customer Is Always Right


Menswear department at Rudin’s Department Store

We have another wonderful story from Kathy Gamble, whose mother worked at Rudin’s. In this essay, focusing on an incident in the 60s, Kathy talks about Rudin’s policy that the “customer is always right.”

In a previous post, I  presented a poll to ask people what trait they most valued in a sales clerk.  (The poll is at the end of this post.) Of the 84 respondents, the majority said, “Greeted me by name,” “was happy to see me,” and “knew the merchandise.”

Olive Huggins was one of the best. She knew the customers and was always friendly, but in the incident Kathy reveals to us, her mother’s vast knowledge of  the merchandise had a temporary disadvantage for a mis-informed customer. Find out what happened by reading Kathy’s story.

*    *    *

My mother, Olive Huggins, worked at Rudin’s Department Store for many years.  I’m sure Mother never challenged Mr. Walter’s decisions, but there was a time she questioned his judgment.

When she was working in the men’s wear department, a customer wanted to return a shirt.  According to the customer, everything was wrong with the shirt she had purchased for her husband, and she wanted a refund.  In those days sales receipts were appreciated with a return, but not absolutely necessary.  The customer had no sales receipt, and it was Mother’s job to find a shirt like the one returned, check the price, and refund that amount.  As soon as she saw the shirt, she recognized the Towncraft  label as being a house brand of the J. C. Penney Co., a store one block north of Rudin’s.    Mother questioned the customer, asking if she was sure she purchased it at Rudin’s.  The customer emphatically answered “yes.”  Mother knew not to argue with the customer, but thought perhaps Mr. Walter should be advised of the situation.

She approached Mr. Walter with shirt in hand and explained the situation.  “You need to refund the customer a fair amount based on the price of shirts we carry here the store,” he said.

“But it’s a J. C. Penney Co. brand,” Mother protested, “and the brands carried by Rudin’s are a better quality and higher price than the Towncraft shirt.”

In his calm manner, Mr. Walter again told mother to do as the customer requested.  “The goodwill of the woman was worth more than the price of a shirt.”

After dealing with a difficult customer during the day, Mother would sometimes repeat this story at home in the evening.  She appreciated the Rudin policy that the customer is always right, even if the store lost a little money.


About Patti Albaugh

I grew up in Mount Vernon, Ohio, and graduated from Mount Vernon High School in 1965. I have a Bachelor's Degree from Mount Vernon Nazarene University and a Ph.D. from The Ohio State University. I am an Emeritus Professor at Otterbein University. In addition to writing creative nonfiction and fiction, I like bridge, genealogy, gardening, travel and Mah Jjong. I currently live in Tucson, Arizona, with my dog Tonto. I am the proud parent of children Justin and Amy and the proud grandmother (NANA) of granddaughters Katherine and Zoe.
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3 Responses to The Customer Is Always Right

  1. Mary Lou Brown says:

    I loved reading this story as my father was the manager of the J.C. Penney store in Mt. Vernon, Ohio from 1964 to 1966. My sister and I attended MTVHS, she graduating in 1966 and myself as a freshman and sophomore. My dad was promoted and transferred to the JCP district office in Pittsburgh so we moved during the summer of 1966 but I loved living in a small town with such friendly people. James Cash Penney also believed “the customer is always right” and I heard my dad repeat that often while growing up so he would get a kick out of this too! Sadly, he passed away two years ago at the age of 86 after enjoying 30 years in retirement from the Penney Company. Thanks so much for sharing Kathy and Olive’s story.
    Mary Lou Neff Brown
    Charlotte, NC

    • Mary Lou…thank you so much for filling in more of the story! I’m sorry to hear about your father. It sounds as though he had a full life. The Penney building is now an antiques store and I love walking through there remembering the bustle of customers and clerks. I remember Susan Fusch (sp). Her father was manager at Penney’s for a while.

  2. Bruce Kopytek says:

    Hello, Patti!

    I just returned from a two-week vacation, and saw your note on The Department Store Museum web site. Thanks for getting into touch. Of course, we can “talk department stores.” You can find an email address for me on the site if you’d like to contact me.


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