"I went over with a lot of ideas and worked with the vendors. The bags were hand-painted and printed. I took a lot of prints and postcards. I would say, 'I want this. Put the state of Texas on the handbag.' In Texas, they loved it.
"I opened a company in India for the Mediterranean Trading Co. and hired about 30 people over there, which essentially put me out of a job. That's how I made the leap into sales.
"I started selling handbags to Wal-Mart, JC Penney, Claire's Boutique, the mass market, and we did very well. You still see some of them today, especially in Texas. They loved that Texas bag.
"After eight strong years, the company wasn't doing well. It went out of business. The guy who owned it wanted to go into politics.
"A friend found this job for me. The timing was perfect. I got laid off in December of 1994 and started working for Tom James in January 1995.
"A guy who worked out of Lexington had a little office in Huntington and hired me to work the Charleston area. He moved to Puerto Rico, so I just moved the whole office here. I opened this store Thanksgiving of '95.
"Tom James was formed in 1966. We are the largest custom clothier in the world and the largest wool importer in the U.S. We used to make clothes for royalty. So we've been in business a long time.
"We sell custom and ready-made clothes. The whole concept is, we come to you. I call my clients and go to their office or home. I measure them and show them fabrics and take pictures of them. I went into training to learn how to measure and fit. A custom suit can go anywhere from $599 to $24,000.
"I had a guy come in who said he had no dress clothes. He bought five or six suits and sport coats. It came to about $40,000. When he put the clothes on, his wife cried. She said she had never seen him look so good.
"There was a guy who had been in an accident. He had no movement in his elbow. And he was very large. He couldn't stand up very long. Stores didn't treat him well. So he called me. I went to his house. The suit was for his son's wedding. He said it was the only suit he would ever own. He said he would be buried in it.
"I'm as busy as I want to be. Last year was the best year I've ever had with Tom James. I got into the President's Club, a level of leadership with Tom James.
"I think I have a great work ethic. I'm in here at 7:30 and work until the job is finished. Referrals are the best source of business. But starting out, I made a lot of cold calls.
"Most men don't like to go shopping. I called this one guy, a cold call, and he was very aggravated. He told me nicely but firmly that he was going to hang up. I asked if he would give me 10 seconds to tell him what I do and if he didn't like it, he could just tell me to stop. He said, 'Fine. You have 10 seconds.'
"I went through the spiel, and he said, 'Richard, Richard, stop, stop.' I thought, oh, no. He said, 'The one thing I hate worse than cold calls is shopping for clothing. You've bought yourself two minutes. Slow down and tell me what you do.' And he has become a client.
"It takes from four to six weeks for a suit, six to eight weeks for a shirt. But there's something to be said for a suit or shirt made especially for you.
"I'm a high school soccer referee. I was voted state referee of the year in 2009. I used to coach a little, but there was a shortage of referees. I'd been around soccer -- we call it football in England -- all my life. I'm a huge Manchester United soccer fan. My license plate is Man UTD.
"Coaches and players don't know the rules. It can get pretty intimidating. The parents are dreadful sometimes.
"I love this valley. I try to stay involved. Beth Wallace, my girlfriend, has a daughter, Jordan, who goes to UC. I go to a lot of her functions.
"Charleston has given me a good living twice. This is my home. People here are fantastic.
"I go to England once a year. Last Christmas, I took my dad to see a James Bond movie. That was our thing when I was young. I must have seen 'Goldfinger' at least 20 times.
"When I was 20, I would never have envisioned me doing what I'm doing now. But I will be here until I retire.
"I want to expand this business, maybe open up in the Morgantown area and train somebody who can carry the torch when I leave here."Reach Sandy Wells at san...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5173.