Story by Amy Geiszler-Jones - Photography by Kacy Meinecke
Britt Fulmer doesn’t just look the part of a sharp dressed man and help others achieve the look – he can actually play ZZ Top’s “Sharp Dressed Man.”
The owner of Gentry Ltd., Fulmer plays bass guitar in the tribute band Deja Vu, which includes the rock song as part of its repertoire.
When he and his three bandmates play the song, they dress the part – donning long gray beards, dark shades and hats to recreate the ZZ Top look.
Dressing for the part is important, especially when it comes to the business professionals who comprise most of the clientele who shop at Gentry Ltd., a high-end menswear shop in Wichita’s Waterfront development. Gentry was originally founded in 1965 as a college prep clothing store for men and is now a premier clothier for gentlemen looking for fashionable casual and business attire, including customized, tailored pieces.
“I encourage guys to always remember when they go to the office to look like the professional they aspire to be,” said Fulmer, who recently celebrated 40 years with the company. “Your physical appearance is the glasses through which people view how you present yourself.”
Fulmer got an understanding of that early in his life. He was in seventh grade, preparing for his first junior high school dance in his hometown of Topeka, and his dad decided he needed to look the part of a proper young man. Fulmer recalls how excited he was to try on dress clothes at the menswear store where his dad shopped. “I thought, ‘This is the coolest thing.’”
The cool factor never wore off for Fulmer, who got his first job in a men’s clothing store – Starbuck’s in Topeka – while in high school. When he went to the University of Kansas to study advertising, he worked full time at Mister Guy, even though his dad paid for his college.
After college he went to work for his dad, a land developer. He lasted only a few months in the real estate field, but he again learned a valuable lesson from his father that would serve him well in retail, he said. As Fulmer tallied up his commission from his first listing and eagerly considered future commissions, his dad stopped him. “He said, ‘if you take care of your customers first, you won’t need to worry about the money,’” Fulmer recalled. “In terms of selling that was the best advice: Focus on them.”
And Fulmer does just that. As two customers arrive first thing on a Friday morning, he welcomes them by their first names and then excuses himself from an interview to take a few minutes to check on them as they are being helped by his staff.
Fulmer has been helping Gentry Ltd. customers since 1976, when he was hired by then-manager Daniel Goldschmidt. Fulmer moved to Wichita for two reasons: He’d realized real estate wasn’t his thing and wanted to get back into retail menswear and he wanted to pursue his girlfriend, Brenda, who was living in Wichita. They’d met in junior high, dated off and on in high school and college and then reconnected later at a mutual friend’s wedding after college. Shortly after moving to Wichita, he married Brenda, with whom he has two daughters. Three years later, he became the co-owner of Gentry with Goldschmidt.
From Goldschmidt, Fulmer learned several more valuable business lessons: like how to selectively curb his enthusiasm at market to ensure the store carried inventory that it could successfully market to its clientele and how to relate even more with its customers.
“He really taught me the business part of the enterprise,” Fulmer said. Goldschmidt also told him to dress like the customers they were trying to reach. Back in the 1980s, that meant wearing suits, which Fulmer still does. Now business casual has become acceptable attire and Fulmer encourages his 10 employees to adopt that style if they want.
“But I don’t feel comfortable doing that,” said Fulmer, who was sporting a peach-colored Skip Gambert custom shirt with the left cuff made just slightly wider than the right to allow him to glance at his watch more efficiently, a patterned Samuelsohn wool, silk and linen blend blazer and comfortable lightweight wool and cashmere slacks in a deep camel color. In the pocket of his jacket was a pocket square, a finishing touch.
“I tell the guys that’s a little dash of subtlety that says, ‘I care, I’ve thought about it,’” Fulmer said, of the swatch of cloth peeking out of his jacket’s top pocket.
The store’s selection has grown over the years, particularly since moving to the Waterfront development near 13th and Rock Road in 2005. It now even carries undergarments. “A guy could come in here buck naked and walk out with a complete outfit of clothes,” Fulmer said, laughing.
For nearly as long as he’s been selling clothes, Fulmer has played in a band, starting in junior high and high school and continuing today with Deja Vu, with whom he plays a couple of gigs a month, often at Mort’s Cigar Bar. Fulmer lapses into his best impression of Paul McCartney, a fellow bass guitar player, when he describes the band’s transition from a Beatles cover band to one that plays a variety of danceable covers.
“Music – my wife refers to it as my therapy,” Fulmer said. “When I start playing, all my thinking focuses on the music. All the stresses that have built up in the everyday world are released. I like how the blending of all the voices and instruments make a beautiful sound.”
It’s the same satisfactory feeling he has when he helps a customer become a sharp dressed man.