Maria Proctor: Madame Couture
She’s a true fashionista. Always sporting the classic lines of high fashion cleverly obtained by shopping consignment stores, clearance sales, and thrift stores. Budget conscious Maria Proctor’s knack for obtaining great clothes at a great price finally out-grew her home in April of 2012 and spilled over into a stylish downtown shop – Madame Couture’s Consignment Boutique. In two short years, Proctor has turned her knack for finding a great deal into a great business venture.
While Maria has always had a penchant for fashion, she hasn’t always worked in the industry. Born and reared in Tennessee, Maria met husband, Reggie while at the University of Tennessee. After graduating, they moved to Florida, following Reggie’s career in the cardiovascular field. Maria worked in medical administration.
“We spent thirteen years in Tallahassee, then Reggie opted to work with St. Joe in Atlanta and we moved there in 2000,” she said. “Reggie was working at St. Joe with Dr. Christopher Leggett, when Dr. Leggett was recruited by East Georgia Regional Medical Center to start an Interventional Cardiology practice here. Reggie came here with Leggett. He was here for two years before I came.”
In 2004, Maria’s mother became ill and she left her medical career to help care for her. That same year she met successful Atlanta area funeral director Gregory B. Levett. Levett was getting ready to open the third of five funeral homes, and asked Maria to come to work for him. “I love working with people and I realized I could help people cope with making final arrangements for their loved ones. I wanted to be a part of that,” she stated.
Maria started in an apprenticeship with the goal of becoming a licensed funeral director. She stayed with Gregory B. Levett & Sons until Reggie asked her to join him in Statesboro.
“I quit the funeral business and came here,” she said. “It was another career change, and I had no idea what I was going to do when I left. I still have ‘funeral director’ in the back of my mind for 2016. There is a program right here at Ogeechee Tech.”
In the meantime, Maria struggled with finding a career in Statesboro. “God has a divine way of closing a door and opening a window,” she said. “He takes care of the back end and the front end.”
As was her custom, Maria began to shop area thrift stores and consignment shops. “I went to Cherrie’s and Goodwill, but I wasn’t finding the kind of clothes I could find in Atlanta consignment shops.”
“I checked out Label Stalkers when it opened up, and I asked Casey at Dèjá Vu if she needed any help, but she wasn’t hiring,” Maria said. “One year in college I worked in a consignment shop before I started nursing.” She noted her short lived early stint in the consignment business may have been foreshadowing.
By October of 2011, Maria had done much soul searching about her future. She had attended silent retreats and meditated on her next move.
She recalls, “One day at the post office I had the world on my shoulders. An older lady said, ‘Are you okay?’ Then I started crying. The lady said to ask God, ‘Now what?’”
“The first of November I told my girlfriend about my struggles and she said, ‘Sitting around the house ain’t cutting it.’” Maria started journaling in a notebook about the things God had shown her. One day she wrote – Consignment Shop January 2012.
“I decided to start with what I had, so I shopped my closet. I pulled out gently used nice clothes I no longer wanted and started calling girlfriends over to go through the selection and purchase items at a discounted rate,” she said. Before long the girls started bringing their own clothes to add to Maria’s inventory. She said, “I started getting clothes before I had a location!”
Wanting to locate in downtown, Maria contacted Elena McClendon at Statesboro’s Main Street office about leasing a store. “Elena was great. She was my biggest champion. She walked all the vacant buildings to find me a spot.” One day when Maria was looking, she spotted Donna Harville’s phone number on the building at 5 North Main Street. “When she showed me the building, I felt God’s presence and I said, ‘This is the place.’”
Eager to get started in her new business, Maria said, “Reggie wasn’t so sure. He said this was a slow economy and that people were not starting businesses. I told him this is what God wants me to do.”
Maria took the money from her 401K and invested in the renovations and fixtures of her new store. She opened for business on April 4, 2012. “It’s been thriving since I opened,” she said.
Designer labels are now her currency. Proctor employs her bargaining skills to consign the finest quality clothing items and accessories available. Ladies who start as customers quickly become clients as they work with Proctor, the fashion professional, to update their wardrobes while cleaning-out their closets of gently used high end brands.
Inside the shop the stacked rows of designer dresses, tops, skirts, and pants line the walls in neat rows of complementary and contrasting colors. Designer jewelry and sunglasses decorate the tops of glass cases filled with chic leather handbags and clutches. It feels more like a high end boutique than a consignment store. Most of her marketing has been word-of-mouth from satisfied customers.
Her main customers at Madame Couture are females ranging in age from middle school to grandmothers – mostly working women in the 30 to 60 range. From December to April, Maria noticed a specialty set of shoppers looking for prom dresses. When the building next door became available for lease, Maria expanded her selections to include new formal dresses for prom and special occasions. “In 2012 we sold 99 dresses and in 2013 we sold 235,” she said. She also expanded her lines to offer smaller boutiques within the second store including an area for larger customers – Real Women, and a line for children – Teeny Tiny Trendy.
Serious about growing her business, Maria went to a consignment convention in St. Louis in 2013 and attended seminars on the latest trends in the business. It was there she met Tierra Destiny Reid, a consignment specialist from the Atlanta area. Tierra works with small businesses like Maria’s and has helped her develop on-line marketing. As a result she has started a Retail Campus on-line for school girls. This fall she will be further developing the local college market by opening a second location – Southern Glamour – in the Market District between Shane’s Rib Shack and La Berry’s Yogurt.
Maria attributes much of her success to great customer service and to knowing her clients and her labels. “I don’t take just anything on consignment,” she said. “The items are no more than two years old, freshly laundered or dry cleaned on hangers, and designer only. I don’t take big box store brands and most department store brands, I pass on.” The consigner gets 60% of the purchase price and the store retains 40%.
She carries Ralph Lauren, Oscar de la Renta, Louis Vuitton, Chanel, and Prada labels. “If I am not able to sell an item in the store,” she said, “I will sell it on-line.” Maria uses eBay, Facebook, Pinterest and Instagram. She also links to the college market by employing interns from Georgia Southern and through an on-line blog started by a high school student – Jenay’s Blog.
Maria believes in serving the community in which she has found success. In 2013 Tim Chapman, Director of the Averitt Center for the Arts, approached Maria about doing a fashion show for First Friday Downtown during the Wedding Walk. Maria engaged Fashion Merchandising students from Georgia Southern as models. Maria, along with Fashion Manager Allison Gould, also organized a benefit for Safe Haven called Fashion with Compassion where patrons were charged paper goods as the price of admission. Proceeds filled a 13 passenger van. Madame Couture’s partnered with DaVita Foster and Brow Baby for hair and make-up. Now an annual event, the 2014 show included other downtown stores the Children’s Cottage, Dèjá Vu and R. J. Pope’s Traditional Menswear. She also holds Third Saturday’s Fashion University, where special events are featured to benefit area charities. Events like 9/23, where nine articles of clothing are chosen to mix and match into 23 different outfits, and The Survivors Night Out to benefit cancer survivors.
Invested in the community, Maria believes it can benefit from drawing college students downtown. To that end, she volunteers on the Main Street/DSDA Board of Directors where she serves as past president. Her investment in Statesboro has paid big dividends.
“I started out with 30 consigners and today I have 900. I have customers who drive from Savannah and beyond to shop,” she said. “Every week I mail packages of clothes to California, Maine, New York, all over.”
But even the most successful can face challenges. “My biggest challenge is people knowing my location and knowing I’m a consignment store,” Maria stated. “People still think I’m a high end boutique, but they just love to find out it’s so affordable.”
Check-out Maria’s selections online at www.madamecoutures.com.