A little over two months ago I proudly opened a second Marc Nelson Denim location, Marc Nelson Studio, in beautiful Lakeland, Florida. People have asked me why I decided to take this leap to serve customers in the Sunshine State. Here’s my story:
It all started in 2018, when I was rebuilding my life after spending fourteen months in prison for illegal gambling. Welcomed home by my native city of Knoxville, Tennessee, I was determined to make good on this second chance. But I wasn’t sure where God was going to take me. And little did I know that a chance opportunity to answer a phone call would change my life, and the direction of my company.
On probation and living at a halfway house, I was not allowed to work for myself, so my dedicated employee Kim Milligan was in charge of the store. I was nearby, though; I worked for a company that I rented space to in the rear of my building.
As I walked through the quiet Marc Nelson showroom after being out for a lunch break, the phone started ringing. Kim was in a back office, so I picked up. A man with a voice like a wise, patient grandfather said, “Yes… I bought several pairs of denim from a shop in Lakeland, Florida, and the owner no longer carries your brand.”
He spoke as if we had been friends, like we had known each other for years, and asked, “Would it be possible to purchase online, or through you directly?” When I told him of course, he asked if this was Marc Nelson. I laughed and said, “Why yes, it is.”
He knew about my prison sentence. We spoke about it for a moment, and he showed no judgement. He told me he was glad to have talked with me, and he loved my clothes. I sent him three or four pairs of denim.
The man was Ronnie Hedrick II, a member of one of the most influential and generous families in Lakeland. I didn’t know it at the time; I was just grateful for the purchase and support.
Ronnie called again and said he loved the jeans, and asked if it would be okay to visit my store sometime. We were happy to host him when he came with his family a few months later.
After several trips to Knoxville, Ronnie invited me to come see him in Lakeland. When I arrived in his scenic city, it was love at first sight. Lakeland reminds me of Knoxville. It's a small, big town where you never meet a stranger, and people take care of each other like family. Three years later after I’d flown back and forth many times, Ronnie and his circle of friends told me that I needed to open a local store.
My first thought was, “Oh, no I don't!”
I had almost opened a second location in Fort Worth, Texas, but it was my last year of probation and I was denied the travel. Four months later, the world shut down due to COVID-19. I counted the missed opportunity as a blessing. Now, life was finally settling down a bit (and I had actually had a pretty good year despite the pandemic).
But the guys didn’t give up. Ronnie, Wesley Barnett, Patrick Spinosa, brothers Jack and Will Harrell, and Mac Miller – who had all started off as clients and who I now call friends - simply stated: “We won't let you fail.” And again, God was at work.
The men in Lakeland had amazing style and flair, and after looking closely at the situation I found out that Nathan’s, the premier men’s store in town that had been open for 78 years, had recently closed. Maybe they really did need me. Wesley sent a few pictures of buildings, and when I visited Lakeland and saw the historic house that is now Marc Nelson Studio, I knew this was meant to be.
Lakeland is a few minutes from Tampa and 45 minutes from Orlando. It’s named “Lakeland” for a reason - there are 38 named lakes within its city limits. When I'm there - aside from the humidity and Florida heat - I feel like I’m home. But it's the people who mean the most. They went out of their way to support me, and share the news that Lakeland has a new men's store. This was the key that unlocked the door and relationships for me and my company. I am forever grateful.
Had Kim answered the phone all those years ago, I don't believe I would be in Lakeland. I don't believe Ronnie and I could have made a connection at all. What I truly do believe is that God put me where I needed to be. He put me in the right place at the right time.
Thank you, Lakeland, for opening your doors, hearts, and minds to me. Please stop by Marc Nelson Studio to try on clothes, enjoy a chat, and drink a glass of fine whiskey. We’ll be open Monday through Saturday starting September 1st; check Facebook and Instagram for when I’ll be in town. I'm honored to be a part of your special city and look forward to dressing your fashionable men for years to come.
Especially you, Ronnie.
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