Family matters: the foursome

by Harry Sheff

Humility and faith in God have guided Gordy Engel and his family to succeed at The Foursome.

2013UptownDowntownWhen Gordy Engel, owner of The Foursome, is asked about the least favorite part of his job, he’s confounded. “There really is no part of this job I don’t like,” he finally says, and if you talk to him long enough, you believe it. He’s managed to blend faith, family and business successfully, inheriting The Foursome from his parents and passing it along to his children.

Ron and Lucille Engel—Gordy’s parents—took a stake in the Wayzata, Minn. store in 1955. It had been opened 20 years earlier by four school teachers who golfed together. The Engels later bought the store outright and expanded it. At one time they had four locations, including a women’s store and a shoe store. When Ron and Lucille passed away in 2007, everything was changing. Gordy and his family closed all doors except one and exited the women’s apparel business.

The Foursome

By 2009, they were at another crossroads: should they move or shut down? They decided to move to nearby Plymouth and the bad economy actually ended up working in their favor—developers needed tenants and contractors wanted to keep their best employees working. In addition to clothing, sportswear, custom clothing and other men’s apparel, the 12,000 sq. ft. store has 3,000 sq. ft. each for shoes and big & tall. It employs about 30 full- and part-time people including in the tailor shop.

Today, four of Gordy and his wife Nancy’s six children work at the store. Nicole handles marketing, Keri does HR, Beth does visual displays and Michael, the youngest, is working on financials and merchandise. Two other daughters, Kathryne and Christine, are not involved directly, although they are shareholders.

Like her father, Nicole grew up in the store. “As a child I would help bag items during the busy holidays and remember lots of fun playing hide and seek in the clothing racks during off hours,” she recalls. When she started fulltime after college in 1997, she worked with her grandfather Ron on marketing and ad campaigns. “He was a great mentor and we worked well together despite the generational differences. I give him a lot of credit for accepting change and allowing me to do things differently. My father is great to work with as well; never pushed me to stay in the business, and taught me a lot.” 

Gordy credits his father for showing him how to work with family—and for giving him time off to spend with them. “He let me do some things with my family that he didn’t have the chance to do because he had earned me that privilege. It’s very seldom that third generation family businesses can do this because somewhere down the line, it’s like ‘You’ve got to measure up to what I did.’ There was never a ‘measuring up’ to my dad—he was one of the most humble guys you’d ever meet.”

The FoursomeRon encouraged Gordy to continue his passion for coaching youth sports; over the years he’s coached nearly every sport for boys and girls. “There are thousands of kids I’ve had the privilege of coaching over the years, and today, I’ll see them as adults with their spouses and kids and they’ll still call me coach. It’s more about encouraging young people than about winning.”

Today, though, he does a different kind of coaching. “I’ve started doing a jail ministry,” explains Gordy. “I go to a jail once a week. When I’m there I’m not ‘Gordy who owns The Foursome,’ I’m just Gordy. We sit down with a Bible and we talk. There’s no agenda, we just try to help people.”

The work/family balance extends to all Foursome employees. GMM Scott Winterbottom came on eight years ago after spending nearly 20 years with Younkers in Iowa. “The Engels are a great family to work for,” he says. “If I need to take my kids to soccer practice, I can—we have tremendous flexibility here.”

“It’s an amazing adventure,” muses Gordy. “If it all goes away, we still have our family, and that’s what’s important. To me, the most rewarding thing is how you work through the process, rather than the outcome. It doesn’t mean you don’t have problems, it’s the way you look at it. My dad was always positive. A water main would break, and he’d say, ‘well, we’ll get through it.’ I just trust God and say if something bad happens, it must be for a reason and we’ll work through it.”

GMM Scott Winterbottom on business

“Tailored clothing business has remained steady. The other positive I’ve seen is that we’ve developed a younger demographic in this new location. Brands we’d tried in the old store, like Robert Graham, work better here. Other brands that resonate are Bugatchi, Southern Tide and 34 Heritage. Our biggest brand is Tommy Bahama, which along with St. Croix continues to be the backbone of our sportswear.”

The Foursome at a Glance

  • Established in 1935
  • Owners: Gordy Engel and family
  • Location: Plymouth, Minn.
  • Size: 12,000 sq. ft.
  • Ratio: 100% men’s apparel; 60% men’s shoes, 40% women’s shoes
  • Assortment: 90/10 branded/private label
  • Category breakdown: 40% sportswear, 28% clothing, 20% furnishings, 5% accessories, 5% denim, 2% designer
  • Top Vendors: 34 Heritage, Allen Edmonds, Bills Khakis, Cole Haan, Hart Schaffner Marx, Joseph Abboud, Polo, Scott Barber, St. Croix, Tommy Bahama