“In order to run a successful family business you have to run it like a business – but treat everyone like family.”
Howard Vogt shared this piece of advice at my recent interview with him and his wife, Susan. The couple own Rodes For Him & For Her, and judging by the success of both their business and marriage, I’d say they are living accordingly.
After almost 25 years of marriage, Susan and Howard have mastered the balance of work, play and family.
How did you meet?
“We met through a mutual friend at college,” Susan said.
Both Howard and Susan were attending Texas Christian University where Susan was a freshman and Howard was a sophomore.
“We met at a bar!” Howard said. “We danced until about 4 a.m. and that was it.”
After that, Susan and Howard were merely friends.
“She played sports, I was playing lacrosse, so we were both extremely busy,” Howard said. “We were friends, we dated friends, but we never crossed that line.”
And it stayed that way until Howard’s senior year when an unfortunate injury and a canceled date finally broke their friendship barrier.
“I had torn my ACL playing lacrosse and was sitting at home at about 2 p.m. and thought I’d just call Susan up. I told myself this is the one and only time I will ever call. I just didn’t want to make things weird,” he said.
Across campus, Susan had just been stood up for her sorority party scheduled for later that evening.
“I was so mad about my date canceling that I decided to skip my 2 p.m. class and sulk with my roommates,” Susan said.
“I just so happened to call right at 2,” Howard said.
“I answered, asked him to the party that night and the rest is history,” Susan said. “So see – there are some benefits of cutting class,” Susan added with a laugh.
“It was the first time I saw her in a dress, too,” Howard added.
It must have been some dress. After a couple of years of dating, a trip home with Susan solidified their future.
“It was pretty funny,” Howard began. “I came to Louisville with Susan for Thanksgiving and really was coming to ask her dad for her hand.
“Her dad was an old-fashioned, bravado man, so I was terrified. I asked if I could take him to lunch, and he told me ‘It’s Thanksgiving, we’re busy and don’t have time, but I’m going to McDonald’s today and you can meet me there if you want.’ ”
“I think he made it hard on him on purpose,” Susan added with a grin.
“So we met at the McDonald’s outside the Starks building, and I asked him right there,” Howard said.
“I wanted to do it during that trip. We went to Del Frisco’s with her entire family for dinner. Everyone had told me that after dinner I just had to take her on a carriage ride to the Oak Room at The Seelbach, have a drink and propose there,” Howard said.
“But that is just SO not us,” Susan said, “All my friends were in town for break, and so I wanted to meet up with everyone.”
“So there we were at Butchertown Pub, and it was getting late so we got a table upstairs, which was big time then. I ordered their most expensive bottle of Champagne, which I’m pretty sure was $12, and got down on one knee right there,” Howard recalled.
“I said ‘yes’ immediately and we spent the rest of the night driving around showing off my ring to all my friends,” Susan said.
“I had been hiding the ring in the freezer for about seven weeks, so I was relieved she said yes,” Howard added.
That was more than 25 years ago, and Susan still adores that original ring – and Howard.
Do you have a system for dividing up household chores?
The couple that works together, also does housework together.
“We tag team it,” Susan said “We are both pretty good about just doing what needs to get done. I do all the cooking, and he does the clean up.”
“She does the cooking, I do the cleaning and it’s almost always been that way,” Howard added.
How do you make it work on a day-to-day basis?
The couple, who have worked together off and on since the beginning of both their careers admit that balancing work and their relationship, especially in a family-run business, has been a learning experience.
“I’m a guy, so separating work from my personal life comes easy; we are good at compartmentalizing issues, and I think the fact that Susan grew up in this environment, being around her dad and grandfather, has been helpful,” Howard said.
“We are both good at coming home and saying, ‘I’m not in the mood to talk about work tonight’ and that is all we have to say,” Susan said.
“My favorite story is when we first took over the store together, I had taken on a lot more responsibility and was learning how to budget and buy inventory. This one time I had WAY over bought – like a huge amount,” Susan said.
“So we are sitting in this meeting and I’m getting the ‘How did you let this happen?’ from Howard and after the meeting, I grabbed my purse and ran out the door.
“A little while later he calls me and I’m crying so I said to him, ‘I need to talk to my husband right now because my boss was a total jerk today.’
“And from that point on we just learned to separate it,” Susan said.
“We love going out to dinner at local places. We love to visit local chefs and restaurants and have some great relationships with them,” Susan said. “I don’t think there is a place we haven’t tried.”
Is there anything you always do together as a couple?
“We do everything together” Susan said. “We work together, we come home together, we are a 24/7 couple.”
“We love to travel together; we also love live sporting events,” Howard said.
What advice would you offer to couples – new and old – who desire to walk together through life in tandem?
“Be best friends,” Susan said, “Allow mistakes. Allow people to change and allow yourself to change and understand that it is a part of growing.
“You aren’t going to be the same people you were 25 years ago, but we’ve allowed each other the opportunity to change,” Susan said.
“And you don’t change at the same time,” Howard added.
“At the end of the day though, value-wise, you still need to be the same or at least on the same page with things,” Howard said.
“We are pretty open about discussing or not discussing things. I’ll ask if she wants to discuss something and if she says ‘no,’ that’s fine but at least she knows it’s out there,” Howard said. “You don’t have to over-communicate but you have to communicate.”
Oct. 5, 1985
Cats or Cards
Cards. “We aren’t anti-cats but we love the Cards.”
Since St. Patrick’s Day in 1914, Rodes has been the patriarch of fine retailers. Started by Susan’s great-grandfather, the family business thrives under Howard, president and owner, and Susan, women’s buyer and owner.
The couple have a son, Howie, who just turned 20 and attends school in California, and a recent addition, Sadie, a golden retriever puppy.
Category: In Tandem
About the Author (Author Profile)
Voice-Tribune Staff Writer Lauren DePaso enjoys being a tourist in her own city, exploring the nightlife and cheering on the Cards. A Louisville native, she currently resides in St. Matthews.