A fashionista from modest means, Melissa Dixon knew the value of a vintage item tucked away on a rack of worn clothing long before Macklemore’s song “Thrift Shop” made popping tags trendy. No longer strapped for cash, Dixon has made her mark in business by opening up a consignment store, combining the very best elements of secondhand shopping.
Born and raised in Bolivar, Tennessee, Dixon grew up as the middle child in a single-parent family. This often meant wearing hand-me-downs from her older sister, and when she did get to go clothes shopping, she was more likely to be found at the local bargain store than at the mall. “Things were a little tight to say the least,” she says. “We didn’t get a lot of new clothes, and when we did, they definitely weren’t the cream of the crop.” At the time, Dixon’s mother was working during the day and going to school at night to become a nurse. After she finished school, her work hours increased, keeping her away from home.
Before long, Dixon was off to the University of Tennessee at Martin to study communications and start a career in public relations. As much as she loved styling clothes, she never considered fashion to be an available career choice. “Ever since I was little, I wanted a job where I wouldn’t have to worry about how I’m going to pay the rent. I didn’t want to have to pinch pennies for my family.” After college, Dixon moved to the Big Apple to work as a low-level assistant for the Food Network. “I was at the bottom of the totem pole,” she says. “I still couldn’t afford new clothes.” Though she only stayed in New York for a year, she was introduced to a whole new world of affordable fashion. After discovering H&M’s cute and inexpensive offerings, Dixon all but lived at the store.
Dixon’s second life-changing discovery — thrift stores — came when she moved to Memphis. “Martin was so small that most people wouldn’t want you to know that they thrifted. It’s accepted in Memphis; the perception is a lot more open.” Enthralled by the possibilities, Dixon found herself thrifting several days a week and would scour estate sales for designer items every Saturday.
Well aware of the stereotyped dirt and grime associated with secondhand shopping, Dixon began to develop her idea for a store that brought in big-name items, as well as more common clothing brands, to sell for a fraction of the original cost. Items would have to be in good condition and would be cleaned before being put out on the floor. The store would look like any other but would cater to the bargain-hunting fashionistas of the area. “I want to get people exited!” she says. “It’s fun finding treasures that have been carefully selected for you.” Though options such as Plato’s Closet were available, she felt as though there wasn’t a strong enough consignment presence catering to women of all ages and sizes.
By January 2010, Dixon was well on the road to obsession. She began filling one room in her apartment with items she thought would make great additions to her future store. “I was buying clothes from stores going out of business,” she says. “I would hit every one up and get a deal on racks, hangers, sliders—anything that you would need to open up a retail store.” Stepping into hoarder territory, she accumulated so much stuff that she had to relocate her items to a storage unit. “I didn’t want my boyfriend to see all of my stuff and think I was crazy, so I took out a storage space.”
Operating under the age-old ideal that if you build it, they’ll come, Dixon continued to get things ready. “I had this overwhelming push from God,” she says. “I would wake up and think about it, I would go to bed thinking about it, and I had notes written down everywhere.” Thanks to a family friend, Dixon was able to take a six-week crash course in the Fall on how to write a business plan—a far cry from her novel attempt to do so with the help of a ‘how-to’ book. Now, with a professional business plan to back up her consignment dreams, Dixon thought she would be able to get a small business loan from the bank and be on her way.
She couldn’t have been more wrong. After being denied by more than one bank, Dixon was reluctant to accept a personal loan from a close family friend. “They believed in what I was doing and said there would be no harm, no foul if it flopped,” she says. “I said no for about a month because I didn’t want to mix friends or family with business.” After finding her current space off of Ridgeway Road, she knew she had to take advantage of the opportunity and said “yes” to the loan.
However, when financial negotiations with the location’s real estate agent didn’t go as planned, Dixon thought she had missed her chance. Then, out of the blue, one week before Black Friday in 2010, Dixon’s agent called to tell her that they accepted the deal and would grant her a one-year lease. In order to have a big kick-off, Dixon knew she had to get the store up and running before the shopping holiday. “I thought, ‘if we’re gonna make it happen, we have to be open by then.’” And they were. Sugar Plum Consignments opened to a record crowd and has continued to grow its clientele and positive rapport.
CLICK: When did you first realize you wanted a career in fashion?
Melissa Dixon: There’s a picture of me from when I was three or four where I fell asleep on a porch swing looking at a fashion magazine. It was still in my hand while I slept! I don’t know if it started there or what.
C: What is your personal style like?
MD: I started out more conservative, but since the store has opened, I try out more creative pieces. I still love a good cardigan, don’t get me wrong, but I’ve had a lot of fun trying out the funky stuff that comes in.
C: Have you come across any items that you wanted to keep?
MD: I shop here all the time! It’s actually one of the main places that I shop. I buy items just like anyone else—I don’t price them lower because I want them or anything like that. You really can’t argue with something that’s $8.50! I would say that about 90% of my wardrobe is from here, since this is where I spend most of my time.
C: When you’re not at Sugar Plum, what do you enjoy doing?
MD: I love to relax and watch TV. One of my favorite reality shows is Resale Royalty on the Style Network. It’s great to watch shows like that because is really shows the behind-the-scenes work that goes into working in retail with secondhand items.
For a small-town girl with big-city dreams, Melissa Dixon was able to combine the best of both worlds in a high-end fashion enterprise.
Story by Tess Catlett | Photos by Casey Hilder