Keep an Open Mind

If someone had told then high school football team captain Derrick Case that in the not so distant future he would be the proud co-owner of a line of women’s clothing boutiques, he would have laughed.  Owning boutiques had never been one of Derrick’s dreams while growing up.

When Derrick started dating Danielle Thomas during their high school days, he quickly realized his new girlfriend had a serious shopping habit. Weekend after weekend he would find himself joining her at the mall, a pastime they would continue to enjoy going into their college experience at the University of North Georgia (UNG) and eventually as a newly married couple.

Derrick graduated with a degree in marketing in 2008 during the recession. He started out in a career in sales while his new wife continued her work at her family’s hair salon. A year later, after a particularly unsatisfying shopping trip and rising frustration over a surplus of unimaginative and expensive stores, Danielle shared with her husband her dream of opening her own women’s clothing store.

Eight days later, the couple signed a lease for retail space in Dahlonega, Georgia. Five short weeks after they signed the lease, they opened Dress Up to the public. A dream became a reality. Soon there was enough business growth for both husband and wife to work at Dress Up full-time.

At the beginning of 2020, Dress Up had grown to 20 locations and 300 employees. Half of the stores’ inventory is sourced in China so the couple started getting a heads up about COVID-19 in late January from their Chinese vendors who were beginning to close their factories due to the new pandemic. By March the virus had spread to the U.S. and Dress Up, like most businesses across the country, had no choice but to close temporarily.

Derrick and Danielle pose for a family photo with their two sons.

“We always rely on God to guide us, but with this situation we had to rely on God and the government,” Derrick explained. “Our number one goal was to just survive this.”

The couple met with their CFO, a fellow UNG graduate, on a weekly basis to determine the best way to utilize whatever funds were available at the time. “It is one thing to have a slow month, but a zero month is a totally different thing,” Derrick said.

As business owners, the couple felt the burden of worry not only for themselves but also for their employees. They were concerned, especially during the first month, about making the right financial decisions for everyone. Thankfully, as the result of hard work and sheer determination all locations of Dress Up have reopened.

Derrick and Danielle stand outside one of their boutiques with Danielle’s sisters, who also work for the clothing store.

Reflecting on the previous few months, Derrick continues to be thankful for everything he learned from his marketing professors at UNG. “I’ll always remember the ‘Four Ps of Marketing’; product, price, place and promotion,” he recalls. “Those timeless principles are still the mainstay of marketing, and I apply them as often as I can during our day-to-day operations.”

Derrick Case would encourage current UNG students and recent graduates to not shy away from networking and to always keep an open mind, even in these uncertain times,. “I got my first job because I struck up a conversation with two salesmen in line at a Subway sandwich shop,” he said. “I am where I am today because I was receptive to my wife’s idea of opening a women’s clothing store. Be open to new possibilities and opportunities—you never know where they might lead.”