How did I come to love retail and start my own business? It is truly a series of puzzle pieces that have formed this career. Let’s start with my history. As a baby boomer, I have to dig deep, 39 years ago (ouch, that hurts) I was 16 years old, living in Staunton…..It was time for me to get a job……I just wanted to have “my own money”. My very first job? The Visulite Theatre. I was ‘the popcorn girl”. Mr. Spade, owner/manager of both the Dixie and the Visulite hired me and I also worked with a wonderful soul, Peggy, the ticket lady wearing her red and white striped smock. Anyone remember them? Peggy was so special and we remained in contact through the years until her death. I have always prided myself with my work ethic and I honestly think this is where the love of working grew deeper in my heart. I have not stopped since this first job and still prefer to be busy.
I kept this job, as well as babysitting, until I left Staunton for College. I was a A/B student but Academics was not my favorite. I knew I had to go to college and I was blessed that my parents were open to allowing me to go out of state as long as I “just went” to college. I applied to Old Dominion and UNCW and chose the latter. Why UNCW? Well for those that know me well or as a Facebook Follower, you know the beach is in my heart, so why not study near the beach? As a Navy Brat, NC stole my heart years before plus my older sister was in Emerald Isle, NC. To this day North Carolina is still one of my favorite states.
I lived in the dorms for ½ a semester and then got my own place, got a dog, went to school in the morning and worked in the afternoon. I have always worked hard but don’t get me Wrong, I like my down time. I had 3 different jobs in college, a summer job……you won’t believe this……are you ready?….I was the drive thru girl serving early morning coffee and biscuits at Hardees in Wrightsville Beach (laughing). In the summer, I would get up at 4 am! I guess those early mornings got to me and they did not work with my school schedule during the year. “The Plant Place” in Wilmington worked better with my schedule. This was my very first taste of a privately owned small business. Until now, I did not realize the impact this job had on my life. I loved this job. I learned so much about plants, retail gifts and customer service. I admired Bobby and Bill. I loved them and what they created. I worked for them, in 1982 and now looking back, they were exactly where I am with LTD 7, about 5/6 years into their business. We did not stay in contact but I was so glad to look them up and see they are still VERY successful. An inspiring retail story for sure.
Love for fashion started at a young age……..my family always joked with me saying I never wore anything twice to school. My last job in College was corporate retail working for Casual Corner in our mall. In all of my retail jobs, I moved up very quickly and knew that serving the public came naturally for me. I started in sales and by the end of graduation was promoted to Asst. Manager. As a young college grad, I listened to the naysayers and was thinking…..I got a four year degree to work retail? Is this where I want to be? I let them put doubt in my mind with something I truly enjoyed. I was actually a Criminal Justice Major. I did my senior internship in a halfway home for trouble youth. Although I loved them dearly, I quickly found that my heart could not handle the emotional rips I felt with each child. Taking them back to their abusive environment for weekend visits was heart wrenching. I wanted to “adopt” them all and provide the love and security I had when I was growing up.
I also applied for other positions in Criminal Justice, with interviews as a juvenile Probation officer and also with the FBI. None of these panned out. As a young adult, making my own money was important to me and I was making more as a retail asst. manager than what they were offering me as a college graduate entering the field of Criminal Justice. I knew I did not want more school….so Casual Corner is where I stayed for another year after college until I figured out the right path for me.
I researched Management/Buying programs in bigger cities and in 1986, I received an offer to move to Atlanta with hopes of entering the Management Training Program for Lord and Taylor@Phipps Plaza. Atlanta was a big place for a small town girl but I jumped at the opportunity. While living in Atlanta, I met up with a highschool friend, Rebecca, we became roommates and and we explored the ups and downs of young adulthood together.
Lord and Taylor was fun, I quickly became a department manager in the junior dept. it was perfect fit or so I thought. I quickly found I preferred a smaller store atmosphere rather than the large department store……another piece of the puzzle. Funny as it seems, I still prefer to shop independent shops rather than department stores.
I applied and became an Asst. Manager at The Limited/Perimeter Mall and learned a great deal with this company. They also owned other popular stores such as Bath and Body Works and Limited Express. At that time they were doing everything right…..a top rated company and looking back, the one I learned the most from as far as standards and practices in the retail industry. Enjoying this position and mentoring under my Manger Sonya, I was soon promoted and transferred to Gainesville GA as a Manager of my own Limited Store. Scared me to death to be the Manager at the ripe age of 23-24 but I was ready and loved it! As a young adult in corporate retail, getting your own store was an honor and I had to “fake it until I make it” with this one. I knew customer service like the back of my hand but hiring and firing, payroll, figures and reports at that young age were a bit daunting to me. Remember, I did not study business or finance in college. I grew to love it but I could not have done it without my Assistant manager, Donna, who soon became a lifelong friend.
After more downs than ups in GA, many lessons and more experience to add to my resume, I decided I needed to return to my roots in Virginia. I ended up in Charlottesville back at Casual Corner, Fashion Square Mall. I still was not where I wanted to be emotionally and personally. I was impatient and I was like any other girl in her mid twenties, My friends were all getting married and I was still in a female dominated industry….how would I ever meet the man of my dreams? I know you are laughing but I am keeping it real. Majority of girls, at that age are searching for Love, if they have not already found it. I was still searching… I started asking myself questions, Is retail what I really want to do with my life? Is Retail a “real” career? Maybe I should try something like Banking! Yep that’s it……I will enter the banking industry! I am sure my parents were scratching their heads at my job hopping but they let me be, guided me and let me stand tall or let me fall when needed. In 1988, I was hired by Jefferson National Bank, I started as a Teller and quickly moved into the Marketing Dept………… where I was asked to fill-in for a co-worker and teach the week long Teller school. Enter Duane Breeden into my life….. the handsome, born and bred, Charlottesville Management Trainee that was assigned to my class. I am not saying change your career to find a man, this is just the path my life led me on.
It was frowned upon for Employees to date, so you guessed it, I went back to Casual Corner……..and continued dating Duane. Its now a family joke that I taught him to count money. If I had only known how intelligent he was as a UVA Business School graduate in Finance! I would have been very intimidated! But it all worked out and we are now 28 years into our marriage.
At that point in my christian life, I knew about God but I did not “know” God. Although, I asked for him to come into my life as a teen, I strayed and only called upon him when discouraged or in trouble…But he stayed with me and guided me. I listened to that tiny voice within, followed my heart and yes, as crazy as it seems, I did find the man of my dreams but…..there is one change in our family…….. Now Duane controls the money. 😉
As you can see, in my early days of working, I explored, took chances and followed my gut. Its very much like dating….You have to kiss a lot of frogs to find your prince. I remained open and allowed myself to learn from each and every job keeping a mental log of what worked and what did not.
Advice for my younger self
Don’t be afraid to try new things, be open and allow yourself to grow
Follow your heart, be you and have confidence in your decisions
Each rise and fall is a puzzle piece in your life…. keep building your puzzle
Money is not everything and does not always bring happiness
Pray, listen & let God guide you.
Relax, have fun & be patient, everything is going to be ok.
You are capable & you are worthy
Retail is a career
Stay tuned, for the next ten years, on our next blog.
Living the dream,