Consignment shop owner meets customer needs, trends—and thrives
“Focus on who you are, what you do, what your customers want—and do that really well. Don’t let other things distract you from that focus.”
That’s sage advice Tracy True Dismukes, who left a career in banking and bought a suburban Birmingham consignment shop, has for small business owners. Twenty-five years later, Dismukes’ business, Collage Designer Consignment, has expanded into a popular chain operation, and continues to seek new avenues to reach customers.
“Things change. Trends change. Customer habits change,” says the 1988 Harbert College finance graduate. “If you don’t pay attention and evolve and change—you will be left behind.” Not only has Collage continued to expand or move from location to location, but it has taken to social media and the world wide web to show its products. It even had a TV show—“Consignment Chic” on a local CW affiliate.
“Consignment shopping finally became cool,” she laughed, noting the 30-minute segment aired in 22 Alabama counties, specifically in Birmingham markets. “I became executive producer, sales person, writer, in addition to my four stores at the time. I knew if I could get into people’s living rooms and show them the fantastic things that we have and that they can have them for less, they would be hooked.”
Dismukes described Collage as “the Saks of consignment.” Collage carries new and pre-owned designer apparel, and specializes in designer handbags and formal wear. Dismukes says that Collage’s products are no more than two years old and must be “authentic, current, trendy” styles. Depending on customer wants and needs, Collage has even offered furniture and plus size apparel. “You constantly have to try things,” Dismukes says. “We did a survey last fall. You think you know what your customers think about you, but until you see it in writing . . . you can learn a few things. The more you can grow and evolve based on what our customers want us to do and not what we want, that’s how we stay in business.”
But Dismukes wasn’t always a small business owner. For 12 years, she was an internal management consultant at SouthTrust Bank. “I loved the finance side,” she says. “I loved looking at existing businesses, products and services and finding a better way to do it operationally. That was my sweet spot in the financial realm.”
She noted that attire for banking professionals was somewhat bland in the 1980s. “For me, I needed to find business suits at an affordable price,” she added. “That’s where I discovered consignment shopping. I liked the concept of recycling versus tossing in the trash. It was interesting that something that doesn’t have value to one person has a lot of value to another.”
While carrying the full-time load at SouthTrust, Dismukes continued her education by obtaining an MBA at Samford University in Birmingham. She graduated – and purchased the existing Collage—in June of 1992.
“I bought the store on a Friday night and that Saturday morning I had to open for business,” she says. “I thought ‘I need somebody to show me how to work a cash register.’ I had to learn to delegate. There was already an employee there that I kept. Pretty soon after that, I brought in a manager. But any time I was not at SouthTrust, I was working the business on nights and weekends.”
Dismukes left SouthTrust in 2000. She’s come full circle from new business owner to veteran.
“People looking into starting their own businesses should always research before they leap,” she says. “And don’t just do that on the Internet. You can learn a lot from people who have done this for a long time. Talk to other business owners. Join business owner groups. Meet people who do what you want to do.”