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An Interview with Tom and Lily of Tom’s Direct Cargo

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This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at Kent State chapter.

Experimenting with your style, but can’t afford to do so at full price? Look no further than Tom’s Direct Cargo (Tom’s DC) on West Main Street in Kent, Ohio! I had the pleasure of interviewing the owners of this lovely store Tom Negron and Lily Young. They are both friendly people who want the best for their customers. I had such a fun time getting to know them and their business on a deeper level during this interview!

MOLLY ACQUARD: Tell me about yourselves, what is your background?

TOM NEGRON: I’ve been in Kent basically my whole life. I was born in Ravenna and I lived in Streetsboro. I went to Kent Roosevelt, and I’ve been in the community for a long time. I’m huge into animals, I love my dogs and my cats and I’ve enjoyed my time here. I used to play sports back in the day, and then I became more of a nature guy.

LILY YOUNG: My name is Lily Young, I went to Kent as well but I grew up in Ravenna until middle school and then I switched over to Kent. I also love our cats and dogs and I used to run cross country/track in high school. I’ve lived in Kent since I graduated. We (referring to Tom) actually met in high school! He was a grade above me.

NEGRON: Yeah I was friends with her older sister and we used to talk/mess around, but it was 2 years after high school when we went on a double date with one of my friends. We went tubing and we’ve basically been inseparable ever since!

ACQUARD: So for those who don’t know, what is your business? And what do you sell?

NEGRON: So, we’re a bargain store. Basically, we get a whole bunch of items from liquidation outlets. Stuff like clothes, home goods-almost anything. So we’ve had a power-washer come in, we’ve had car jacks. We’ve had kids toys and we try to sell all of these goods at a fraction of the cost. They’re all brand new, they’re all in the box and we try to go in and look at their asking price and mark it down by 50-40 percent. The big thing in our business is that all of our clothing is three dollars.

YOUNG: And brand new!

NEGRON: Yeah, so all of our clothes are going to be from Target, Walmart and we just picked up Kohl’s clothing. And all of it is three dollars! We had Vera Wang come in, we’ve had all sorts of different Target brands. Nike kids’ clothes and all sorts of wild stuff that I know people would love to buy but the asking price is just ridiculous.

Now, I’ve been to Tom’s Direct Cargo more than a couple of times, and I wholeheartedly agree! To be able to browse for new styles all at just three dollars is amazing! As a Fashion Design major, style changes are constant and almost habitual. Finding name-brand clothing for such a bargain is mind-blowing. Not too long ago I found a stunning pair of Levi’s Jeans and my now-favorite pair of pajamas at Tom and Lily’s store. And for three dollars? Come on! Who could say no?

ACQUARD: What made you want to start this business?

NEGRON: We both love the idea of not being in charge, but being our own boss. We like the idea of having the direction to choose what we want to do and throw our creativity at the wind and see what happens with it! We’re both very creative and innovative people. Lily is constantly coming up with new marketing ideas and I’m constantly trying to find a new thing to sell. We also like the idea of getting expensive goods and selling them for cheap. We find it a breath of fresh air, kind of like the Arizona Ice Tea effect, where they’re always selling stuff for 99 cents. We want to be that store. Everything we sell is always cheap and affordable and we’re reaching out to real people.

YOUNG: And it doesn’t matter about inflation, we’re still going to sell three-dollar clothing.

ACQUARD: Alright, now what would you say your mission is as a business?

NEGRON: We want to create some kind of culture, similar to a Gabe’s or a Marc’s. So people know that they’re going in and getting quality goods at a fraction of the cost. We’re not going to be taxing people on everyday household goods like soap, detergent and clothes-the stuff that you need to be a young or middle-class adult. We’re here for that and we want to bring back that style of shopping. A style where everybody’s included and we have all of the good that you might need. Maybe even one day, stepping more into the grocery life a bit. Just really opening up to what we want to see and do.

ACQUARD: Okay, now what are some of the goals you have looking to the future for your business?

NEGRON: We really want to branch out and expand! A big thing for us is that we’re in a pretty small space right now and it’s a bit of a hole in the wall. So our goal is to almost double or triple that space and maybe even one day take on that Marc’s-size location. You know, like a pretty big location with a grocery store kind of vibe. Or maybe even branch out and open multiple Tom’s DC’s. I think it would be really cool if we could more of these cheap alternatives into the communities that don’t have many options to get clothes. I know there are plenty of more rural areas that just don’t really have the opportunity. Like if they just have a Dollar General in their town and a restaurant or two. With a Tom’s DC there, they could get Kohl’s clothing or clothing that they wouldn’t have to travel an hour to go get.

ACQUARD: Now what are some Obstacles you guys have faced since you’ve opened?

YOUNG: So one of the big things that I had to learn was social media. I’m not that old, I did grow up with it but I still didn’t know how to do reels or really how to post stuff on Facebook or Instagram and stuff like that. It’s a big learning curve but I think I’m kind of getting into it. Yeah, and also trying to learn how to make a website and do all that good stuff to help get the word out!

NEGRON: Posting for a business is completely different than posting on your personal socials. We almost kind of want to seem like an AD but in that same sense, we want to be personable and that’s the hardest part. We don’t want to photo-dump or seem like a robot.

YOUNG: We want people to know we have a personality behind the Facebook page.

NEGRON: Yeah, but we also want people to know that we’re still human and we’re willing to talk. That’s the one thing that we didn’t really foresee coming into this. It’s a lot of marketing issues right now.

Posting for a business — especially a small one — can definitely be challenging. I’ve worked for a small business (a clothing boutique) and posting on social media was one of my duties as an employee. It can be hard to think of new ways to post pictures and videos of your clothing and other items while keeping your audience engaged. I think Lily has done a great job though, despite the challenges she has mentioned! Be sure to Give their Facebook a like and their Instagram a Follow!

Facebook: Tom’s Direct Cargo

Instagram: tomsdirectcargo

ACQUARD: So, how can people-especially college students like myself help spread the word about your store?

YOUNG: What would help is definitely to comment on the content we have on our Facebook and Instagram. Comment what you think if you’ve been to the store or even if you haven’t, if you have any ideas about how we can improve our social media or even the look of our store, reach out. And then give us a follow! Also leaving a review if you’ve ever bought from me on Facebook Marketplace or if you’ve come into the store. Just to get the word out and make it so we don’t look like a robot-especially on Facebook. Give us some reviews so other people know that we’re trustworthy.

NEGRON: We’re locals trying to sell to locals. We want people to know that we’re here. A big thing that I go out and do right now is I’m putting flyers out and walking around campus (Kent State University) giving out flyers so people have probably seen me! It’s just really important to spread the word and create that-

YOUNG: Put a face to the store. They can see us out saying ‘Hi’ and trying to get people in there!

ACQUARD: Amazing, so who are you guys trying to reach? Who would you say is your Target Market?

NEGRON: Anyone and everyone. What’s nice about living in Kent is obviously the college students are a huge commodity for us. We have cheap clothing, you guys are going through a time in your life where you’re constantly changing or maybe want to try on new styles and we are the place to do that! You don’t have to come in and hurt your pocket going to a name-brand store or even some of these thrift shops nowadays, they’re charging ridiculous asking prices for some of these clothes. We’re always going to have your name-brand clothes at three dollars. So if you want to try on something new if you want to be a new you- and that’s for anyone of all ages! We’ve had older women come in and we’ve also had13-14 year old come in and they both love the store! We just want everyone to know that we are looking for them — That’s our target audience.

ACQUARD: Alright Lastly, Is there anything else that you would like to highlight or would like people to know?

YOUNG: We’re on Facebook daily and we have dozens of listings on Facebook Marketplace, too. So you don’t have to run into the store. If you’re just on your phone scrolling and have a free second to look at what items we might have that you might be interested in. it can be easier than having to run all the way across town. You can always message me or direct message me for any questions and to see if things are still available.

ACQUARD: Alright, well thank you guys so much!

NEGRON: Thank you, we love the opportunity!

I had a great time conducting this interview and writing this article for a local small business. I really hope those of you reading will go give Tom and Lily’s store a visit (hopefully, more than one visit)! Whether it is in person or online you’re sure to find some incredible finds and shocking deals! Tom and Lily are both amazing and kind people who care deeply for their customers and are extremely personable!

Tom’s Direct Cargo Location: 1211 W Main St Kent, OH 44240

Molly Acquard

Kent State '25

Molly Acquard is a junior studying fashion design and creative writing at Kent State University. She is from Buffalo, NY and a huge Sabres hockey fan. In her free time, she enjoys reading, listening to music and doing thrift flips. This is her second semester in Her Campus, and on the editorial team.