Pat Mason Ramsey knows the secret to success in the shoe business — listen.
Hear the employees, the fellow business people and, above all else, the customers.
“They’ll tell you their life history if you’ll listen,” she said. “What you have to do is be a good listener and give good service and help them anyway you can.”
That philosophy has allowed Ramsey’s own Town and Country Shoe Outlet Inc. on U.S. 27 south of Lancaster to successfully operate for 29 years and counting.
At this point, Ramsey can’t imagine any other lifestyle or even retirement.
But the vision of running a small business, specializing in work boots and comfort shoes, was not originally hers.
Her late husband, John Mason, saw the need for such a business in Garrard County and opened shop in 1982 to begin reconditioning shoes.
“I never dreamed that I would be in a business like this,” Ramsey said. “All I ever wanted to be was a housewife and raise my children.”
For three years, she somewhat lived that fantasy, helping Mason run the shop and spending time with her sons, Todd, 45, and Greg, 41.
But when her husband passed away in 1985, Ramsey knew her days of domestic dreaming were over.
“I thought, ‘This is it. You have to move on, girl,’” she said.
So she set out to run the business herself, despite obvious obstacles. Few women in the area owned or operated their own business at the time, and Lancaster was a small town without much visitor traffic.
“Everybody told me from the beginning of time that I’d never make it,” she said. “But I knew I had to make it, so I never had any thought that I wouldn’t.”
Motivated by the desire to help her sons through college and the need to pay the bills, Ramsey picked herself up by the boot straps.
She attended shoe shows to keep up with the latest trends, kept the store open seven days a week, perfected her budgeting and made personal contact with every customer she could.
“We remember those times quite well because it was a lot of hard work,” she said.
It was also a lot of listening.
Connie Naylor, a 20-year employee of Town and Country, likened the salesperson position at Town and County to another profession famous for open ears.
“You know, like the bartender,” she said. “Customers tell their stories, and you listen to them, and you make them feel like they’re the only ones, because they are special.”