Buckle’s Kari Smith: From Part-Time Sales To Executive Vice President of Stores

Buckle's Executive Vice President of Stores, Kari Smith, celebrates 40 years with the company.

From a 14-year-old part-time teammate in small town Kansas to Executive Vice President of Stores for a major fashion retailer, she’s come a long way in all her years with Buckle.

Meet Kari Smith: Buckle’s Executive Vice President of Stores. She’s someone who truly lives for people, purpose, and passion; and someone who has made her mark on Buckle for the past 40 years.

Kari Smith, Executive Vice President of Stores for Buckle

Kari Smith, Executive Vice President of Stores for Buckle

As the epitome of hard work, love for serving others, and a never-give-up attitude, Kari’s career is the perfect example of what happens when you mix these qualities with an environment that promotes from within.

In her 40 years at Buckle, Kari became one of the company’s first area managers, was promoted six times, is a member of Buckle’s Board of Directors and was a recipient at the First Annual John Maxwell Leadership Awards, being recognized as one of the top three leaders in business.

She’s also been recognized in her hometown, receiving the Legacy Award from The Great Bend Chamber of Commerce & Economic Development for making an indelible mark on her community.

 “Kari is a visionary leader who is recognized by her constant mission to develop those around her. She is fueled by the people who surround her and has added tremendous value to Buckle’s growth over the past 40 years.”
– Dennis Nelson, Buckle President & CEO

In honor of Kari’s incredible 40 years of service and dedication to Buckle, we caught up with her to talk about her successes, her inspirations, and of course, fashion.

How did it all start?
I wanted a discount, but it turned out to be more than just a part-time job for a girl who wasn’t even old enough to drive. I rode with my mother into town and waited in her car until the store opened because I wanted to work there so bad.

You’ve been with Buckle for 40 years, how and when did you decide that you wanted to make a career out of this?
I knew I wanted to be in fashion, but it was knowing that I was making a difference in people’s lives, knowing that I could teach and lead people, and when I could tell that I was influencing people, that I realized I wanted to do this. You don’t realize what it’s all about until you really get into the job and understand what it all entails, and how rewarding it is to work with people. I’m still amazed that forty years went by this fast, because it feels more like twenty years, but I guess that’s what happens when you love the people you work with.

It’s a great honor to help mold young people, and make people feel good about who they are and what they do.

Kari Smith coaching at Buckle's Leadership Academy

Kari coaching at Buckle’s Leadership Academy, a training conference for store leaders.

As a visionary leader for the company – who and what inspires your leadership?
Part of my leadership style comes from my father and watching him lead a congregation three times a week as I was growing up. I admired how my parents were viewed in the community and how they treated people – it had a direct influence on who I am and how I lead. There are so many leaders within our company that inspire me daily by how hard they work and their ability to see where we can take the business. I’m also an avid reader and it’s been an important part of my growth and development.

As someone who has experienced a lot of success, what’s the best career advice that you can share?

  • Who you surround yourself with is everything. You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with and you want to be aware of this to keep growing.
  • You have to love what you do. People have to see how much pride and passion you have. They can feel it when you don’t love what you do.
  • It’s important to be transparent. I put emphasis on sharing what I think and believe because it’s how people develop.
  • Allow everybody to participate, because if you give them the tools and get out of their way they’ll most often amaze you with how well they do. Most people don’t realize their full potential, but your belief in them and the right tools will allow them to become better than they’ve ever dreamed possible.
  • Remember to thank yourself more along the way! I don’t think people give themselves enough credit for what they are accomplishing. I share this message at every Leadership Academy because it’s so important for our future managers to know.

Beyond the awards and promotions, what are you most proud of?
I’m proud of my family and Buckle’s teammates for how hard they work and what they accomplish on a daily basis.

Kari Smith with her family at Buckle's Years of Service Recognition Event.

Kari Smith with her family at Buckle’s Years of Service Recognition Event. Kari’s sons, Jace and Cole, both work for the company’s Men’s Buying Team.

You spend a lot of time visiting all of Buckle’s store locations. Tell us about store visits and interacting with teammates throughout the company.
The leadership team and I have the opportunity to travel to stores around the country almost every week. This is a key part of developing our stores and teammates, and I love being able to personally thank the teammates for the great job they are doing to live Buckle’s mission statement:

“To create the most enjoyable shopping experience possible for our guests.”

While visiting stores, it’s exciting to meet the families of our managers and our guests in each location because they are such an important part of what we do. When we are not on the road, I have an office in the Great Bend, Kansas store, so I stay connected daily to everything going on in our stores, including the people that come in and the new product we receive daily.

Speaking of our stores, why is working at Buckle more than just clothes? More than just retail? More than just a mall job?
People think it’s just selling clothes, but it’s more than selling clothes – it’s changing lives, it’s developing and mentoring future leaders, it’s teaching business knowledge and communication. It isn’t just retail, it’s the best relationships, friendships, and family that anybody could ever dream of having.

Kari Smith in Buckle Store with Michelle Hoffman and Darah Klima

Let’s talk about the clothes. What’s your style? Favorite brands? Favorite denim?
The newness lately has been amazing and nothing gets me more excited than our product, because I naturally think of everyone I know that needs it. Since Buckle is known for denim, we must start there.
I love everything about our denim: the fits, the fabrics, the details, the selection – it’s all amazing! We absolutely have the best denim in the business! Some of my personal favorites include Buckle Black Fit No. 53, Buckle Black Fit No. 76, KanCan Kurvy, BKE Payton, and Daytrip.

Since I’m on my feet every day, I am drawn to all the comfort footbeds currently available. I live in overpieces (kimonos, cardigans, and jackets) layered with tops. The overall selection in brands, price, trends, fits, and details has never been better in all our men’s, women’s and youth product – so it’s the perfect time to update your wardrobe for fall.

What’s next for Buckle? What are you most excited for in the company’s future?
We are always working to take everything to the next level, including the development of our people, training tools, and our constantly changing product. I’m proud of the way we work so hard to always be evolving and growing.

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For someone who has positively impacted so many lives, we can’t thank her enough! 

Kari – thank you for your contagious love and zest for life, thank you for igniting those around you, thank you for your relentless pursuit of growth and excellence, and thank you for relishing in every opportunity to lead your team!


Interested in joining our team?




  • Mona patel

    I just joined the company as Assistant store Manager in mobile Alabama and I love the way Mrs. Kari motivates us to connect with our guest. She’s wonderful! I would love to meet her one day. 👍👍❤️

  • Jodie Johnston

    Kari Smith was my first boss and the things I learned from her stayed with me my entire professional life. I think of Kari every time some takes the time to thank me for giving great customer service in my current job. She is the kind of leader that stays with you, even afte 20 years! -Jodie DeShazo Johnson, Great Bend, Topeka, Hutch teammate 1987-`91

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