When Danielle Case embarked on a shopping trip to the mall with her sisters in 2009, she didn’t know it would lead to an epiphany about the fashion choices available in her hometown.
“Being from Dahlonega, a college town, there was no clothing store there for the college girls,” said Case, the vice president and creative director of Dress Up. “I said ‘The girls up there need somewhere to shop.’”
The idea for a store that sold affordable, good quality clothing geared toward young women would eventually become Dress Up, the colorful clothing boutique anchoring a corner of the downtown Gainesville square.
Dress Up celebrated its fifth anniversary Saturday, complete with pink cupcakes, discounts and giveaways.
The business, which now boasts 10 locations across North Georgia and spacious corporate offices in Gainesville, still can trace its roots to that fateful shopping trip.
While still in the mall, Case posed the idea to her husband, Derrick Case, who was sitting on a bench “like normal.”
Within five weeks of the original idea, Derrick Case, who worked in corporate sales, and Danielle Case, who worked in her family’s hair salon, had renovated a space on the Dahlonega square, purchased inventory from the Apparel Mart in Atlanta and were operating the business with the help of Danielle’s sisters, Morgan and Madison.
The business’ initial takeoff wasn’t without its sacrifices. The Cases lived in an RV on Danielle’s parents’ property while construction of the first store was underway.
“It was the year Georgia flooded,” Derrick said. “(Danielle) got her car stuck two or three times. It was very dramatic, but we didn’t think about it at the time.”
After the immediate success of the first store, Derrick Case saw a future for himself and his company that demanded full-time attention.
“Everybody thought I was crazy for being in corporate sales and doing very well and to quit to run a tiny, 800-square-foot women’s boutique in the basement in Dahlonega, Ga., but I did,” Case said.
The boutique began in Dahlonega, but it didn’t stay there.
In 2010, the Cases chose Gainesville as the location for Dress Up’s second store. Most of their original clientele came to Dahlonega from Gainesville, and while Derrick saw this as a confident indicator the store would be a success, others weren’t so sure.
“I cannot count on both hands how many people said ‘Don’t open a business in Gainesville; it will never succeed,’” Derrick said. “They said ‘You can’t make it in Gainesville,’ and I said ‘I think we can.’”
Their critics were proven wrong, and soon Dress Up was expanding again. In 2011, additional stores opened in Suwanee and Woodstock.
In 2012, the burgeoning business expanded to Alpharetta and also launched the website ShopDressUp.com.
Derrick Case credits some of the store’s original success to his and Danielle’s frugality as business owners.
“In the beginning we did all the marketing ourselves,” Derrick Case said. “We didn’t pay anybody to do anything literally other than our hourly employees. That was a big, big part of it.”
The original model of doing everything themselves was no longer a possibility, however, after opening their third store. The Cases soon hired their first full-time employee, public relations manager Hillary Harper.
The business now employs an average of more than 100 workers a day, including full-time staff. A website manager and social media manager were all added once the corporate office opened in Gainesville in 2013.
In 2013, additional locations also opened in Norcross, Brookhaven, Snellville, Perimeter and Marietta. The corporate headquarters on Washington Street also serves as a distribution center. Last month, the headquarters held just under 400 boxes of clothes to be distributed among the many locations.
“At one time, we were opening a store every two months,” Derrick Case said. “Thankfully we did that before we had a baby.”
The Cases welcomed their first child, Hudson, in 2013.
On Thursday, Derrick and Danielle accepted the 2014 Small Business of the Year Award from the Georgia Downtown Development Authority.
“It’s kind of cool that (the award) comes on our five-year anniversary,” Derrick Case said.
After five years, 10 stores, one website and a steady clientele, Derrick Case credits Danielle’s initial recognition of a need in the market for Dress Up’s exponential success.
“Most boutiques don’t even make it through their lease, and they go out of business because it was a dream — there wasn’t really a need for it, and they don’t really have anything special about what they’re doing, whereas we fulfill all of that,” Derrick Case said.
While Dress Up has taken a break from its rapid expansion, the business has no intention of letting it stay that way.
“Our goal is to add three to four to five stores a year indefinitely,” Derrick Case said. “For sure in 2016 we’ll have to go out of state.”
Despite the lengthening list of locations, Dress Up’s business strategy for the future remains unchanged.
“So many people in this industry get worried about what the competition is doing,” Derrick Case said. “I don’t care what they’re doing down the road; we’re just doing what we do.”