Business Q & A

A Conversation with Richard Fruhauf

In the early 1900s, Walter Innes traveled to New York to find a tailor for his Wichita department store.

There he found Herman Fruhauf, who first started as a tailor's apprentice in his native Vienna, Austria, when he was a teenager.

Fruhauf moved here, and to make extra money on the side, he made robes for various fraternal organizations.

That led to work making band uniforms, and in 1910, Fruhauf left Innes Department Store and opened Fruhauf Southwest Garment Co.

His son, Lou, followed him into the business, as did Lou's son, Fred.

Now, Herman's great-grandsons Richard and Kenneth Fruhauf run the business, which today is known as Fruhauf Uniforms.

The company, which is at 800 E. Gilbert downtown, has 150 employees and primarily makes marching band uniforms for high schools and colleges. It manufactures about 60,000 of them a year.

To help celebrate the company's 100th year, Richard Fruhauf shared some of his thoughts on the business and what he's learned along the way.

How old were you and your brother when you joined the company?

"I guess as soon as we were born we were down here."

How is it working with your brother?

"We work very well together as a team. We all know what needs to be done, and you just get in there and do what needs to be done.

"A lot of people say, 'How can you work with your family?' To me, I know nothing else. It would be unusual for me not to work with my family."

You both worked with your grandfather and father for 20 years. What lessons did you learn from them?

"First of all, you had to know the business from the ground floor up.

"They also told us we have to work twice as hard to get half the distance because your name is on the door. Everything you do is going to be scrutinized... differently than other people, and you just have to accept that and make sure you're doing the job correctly... and you'll have no problems."

Anything else they taught you that's particularly stuck with you?

"If you ever make the product cheaper, sell the company because in two years, you'll have nothing."

Early on, your father sent you and your brother out on the road to do sales for the company instead of working office jobs. Did you resent him for that?

"I questioned him, and he said to me, 'You need to go out and see what it's like to get the door slammed in your face and you walk away with a smile.'

"And it was about two weeks later that I called him up and said, 'I know what you're talking about.'

"It's a whole new way of looking at things."

What did your father say when you and your brother said you wanted to get off the road and back in the office?

"'OK, replace yourselves.'

"In my case, I hired my stiffest competitor, and from then on the territory basically was ours."

How has the business changed through the years?

"The fabrics, the materials we've used have changed through the years, becoming a little more lighter weight, more comfortable.

"And, of course... the more computerized machinery has definitely helped also."

What is the biggest challenge in your business?

"The challenges are changing daily, hourly, minutely, and you just have to be ready to respond and address the situation, correct it and move on."

Your sons Landon and Evan are 15 and 12. Do you hope they one day follow you into the business?

"Hopefully they will take over the business as we did and my grandfather and father did, and that is we earned it."

If you could give only one piece of business advice to your sons, what would it be?

"Learn every single aspect of this company from the front door to the back door and know it like it's second nature."

Is there any general business advice you offer?

"You have to have patience. Your time will come, and your success will come, but it's not going to come overnight."