Yesterday in the early morning hours, we were awoken by a phone call from our mom. Our 88 year-old grandfather, Raymond Julian Laborde, passed away in his sleep.
Since we can remember, our Paw Paw has been the cornerstone of the Laborde family. A person that never stopped, Paw taught us many things in life.
Work hard. Really, really hard. It's no secret. Paw Paw loved Raymond's Department Store. Set on the courthouse square in downtown Marksville (que the local radio commercial), we grew up knowing it as "Paw Paw's store." Up until just three days ago, Paw Paw wanted to be in his store. It's what kept him going all these years. It gave him purpose and, in our opinion, kept him sharp as a whip until the day of his passing. In a sense, our first experience in the retail business started at Paw Paw's store. Nearly every grandchild worked in the store every summer to help during "uniform season." Paw opened at 7 a.m. (never later) and closed at 5 p.m. (never earlier). He'd only lock the doors if he had a good reason to and the only time we can remember him doing so is when our family took our annual Gulf Shores vacation every summer on Memorial Day Weekend. Paw Paw will never know the influence he had on us. We could have never told him enough how much his opinion and advice meant to us. In October of last year, we hosted a pop-up shop right in front of his store in Marksville. As expected, Paw Paw was there, directing and advising us. "Now, y'all have too many clothes on that rack. Are you going to move some around?" Oh yes, Paw, we sure are. In November 2015, the Marksville Weekly News wrote a beautiful story on SoSis and talked a lot about the influence Raymond's Department Store had on Annie and I's dream.
The first part of the article reads: For 65 years, Avoyelles hoppers have been able to buy their clothes, shoes and sundries at a locally-owned store in Marksville. Now, a new generation enjoys a new way of shopping, but Avoyelles consumers who prefer online shopping to the old-fashioned way can still find a Laborde to satisfy their shopping itch.
Always give a firm handshake. Since Paw Paw left the state legislature in 1992 (Chelsey was 4 and Annie Claire was 8 years old), most of our memories don't involve politics. Contrary to many people who can recognize a bright red Raymond Laborde bumper sticker in no time, we remember our Paw Paw standing in the doorway of Raymond's Department Store waving to passerby on the street. When an old friend stops in for coffee (and to talk politics), you could guarantee he received a firm handshake. It's something Paw Paw taught us during the long summer days working at his store. Look people in the eye and give them a firm handshake. First impressions weren't something Paw took lightly. Up until just a few years ago, Paw would wear a suit coat to work in his store. Although his grandchildren were mostly greeted by him with a tight hug and a kiss on the ear (we think he meant to catch our cheek, but always tended to pop our ear instead) he had the best handshake.
Love unconditionally. We can remember when Paw and Granny celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary. We were working in the store that summer. Granny came in around 11 a.m. like she always did to bring Paw a ham sandwich - remember, during "uniform season" you couldn't go home for lunch. Sitting down with us to visit, Granny propped herself on the back work table -- a vivid memory of our childhood. On the local radio station, KLIL, we hear the birthday and anniversary announcements."Congratulations Mr. & Mrs. Raymond Laborde on 50 years of marriage!" (or something like that). We tell Paw, "Congratulations Paw Paw!" He comes back with, "That's a looooonnnnngggg time married to one person."
Married for 64 years, we know Granny sure is happy she went on that blind date in New Orleans with a small town boy from Marksville.
Don't be afraid of a little competition. When Paw first started carrying uniforms in his department store, he knew he would have to compete with the larger chains to keep his customers. But with a history of successful political campaigns, competition wasn't something he was afraid of. For a long time, he was the place to go for Levis and Dickies, still is today, but when the public schools enforced a uniform policy, Paw took advantage of this opportunity. He always knew what Wal-Mart's prices were for school shirts and pants and would mark his prices accordingly. He greeted every single person that walked into the store with a smile and offered the highest level of customer service, even if they didn't find what they needed. You can't beat that. One thing we learned and still use to this day is how to count change back to a customer. Paw, with his old fashioned ways, was adamant about doing this in his store and we will forever think of him when we do this.
Stay organized and have a system. Everything about Raymond's Department Store was old fashioned, which is what makes it so unique. But the unpacking boxes, hanging clothes on racks, keeping them in order by size, school and color is still something that makes a successful retail store happen. It's something we at SoSis do on a daily basis and credit our OCD-ness to none other than our grandfather. He had a very particular way of doing things that you just didn't mess. It taught us passion and pride in every step of the way when running a business. He also taught us how to be humble. If you work hard, you will be successful, but always appreciate where you come from and how you got there. There will be trials and errors that you learn when starting up, but you must be strong enough to learn from them and not let them knock you down.
This picture was taken in 2011 during one of our family trips to Gulf Shores. And yes, we're wearing political red matching T-shirts....all for Paw Paw.