Bit by the retail bug
Published: Sunday, January 8, 2012 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, January 6, 2012 at 5:32 p.m.
Dan Mixson has deep roots in the community and in the company for which he works.
Occupation: Store manager, Belk at The Oaks Mall
Personal: Married to Judy Pettit Mixson, one son, one daughter, three grandchildren
Dream partner for lunch: Jesus Christ
Favorite book: The Bible
Favorite movie: “Courageous”
Playing in his car: Bible Broadcasting Network
Education: Gainesville High School, Santa Fe Community College and University of South Florida
The Belk store manager got his first job with the company as a student at Gainesville High School in 1964 when the department store was called Belk Lindsey and was on North Main Street where a Publix is today.
His father, Jim, spent 35 years with Belk in Gainesville and Melbourne. Both of his parents live on a farm homesteaded in 1863 by his great-great-grandfather outside Micanopy.
Mixson — now with 36 years in the company — said he was mentored in the art of retail and how to treat people by his father and by Lillie Mae Williams, who retired last year after 47 years with the company.
He said he was bit by the retail bug during that first job while working in receiving, where he learned the ropes by handling merchandise from the time it arrived to setting it up on the selling floor.
But first came college, starting at what was then Santa Fe Community College when it was located in the Thomas Center, then at the University of South Florida in Tampa, where he studied public relations.
Upon graduation, Mixson left Florida for the first time in his life — to work as a missionary in Bangdung, Indonesia. He was sent by the Southern Baptist Foreign Mission Board to teach college students English using the Bible.
He said he enjoyed working with the students and being in Indonesia, where he lived on the side of a mountain below a tea orchard and tooled around on a little Honda 90 motorcycle.
"They were two phenomenal years in my life," he said.
After returning home, he resumed his career with Belk, and a year later married Judy Pettit — a former Miss Sun Flavor for the state Department of Agriculture.
A series of promotions would take him from Orlando as operations personnel manager to a buyer in Gainesville to a store manager in Melbourne to Jacksonville, where he was a division buyer for 30 stores, and then divisional merchandise manager for about 50 stores.
When Belk centralized its buying office, Mixson said he had an opportunity to go to Charlotte, N.C., as a buyer for 300 stores but chose to go back into the stores, serving as store manager first in Jacksonville and then in Gainesville over 75 employees.
"That's where my passion is, is to be in the stores," he said.
He said his favorite part of the job is helping people buy clothes when they don't know their size and don't know exactly what they want.
"We sell a lot of clothes off mannequins because a lot of people don't know how to pull it all together and need guidance in that area," he said. "That's why we end up with a lot of naked mannequins from time to time."
Mixson said he spends an hour a day doing the necessary office work before spending the rest of the day on the floor with customers and staff.
Working with customers involves listening, he said.
"People don't come to stores to just come looking. They come there with a specific purpose in mind, and it's our place to find out what that purpose is and to try to satisfy that need," Mixson said. "If we don't do that, they're going to go somewhere else and shop."
Without getting into specific numbers, he said the Belk location at The Oaks Mall is "a very profitable store for the corporation." The store was one of two original anchors at the mall when it opened in 1978 along with J.C. Penney.
Mixson said the corporation has responded to customer feedback by offering a lot of Gator merchandise, including a new Polo line, and expanding its shoe and jewelry departments.
He emphasized the store's community involvement, including a fashion show fundraiser with the Junior League of Gainesville for the Pace Center for Girls, a fashion show for the Red Hat Society, and school fundraisers and uniform donations "for kids who are not of privilege."
"That's how you build good business partnerships," he said. "It's not just what you can take but what you can give back."