Keeping pace in an industry where changing preferences is the expectation, and where a revolution in shopping habits is the backdrop, would make a 25th anniversary celebration a big deal for almost any small-town business owner.
Nancy Klaassen, owner of Nancy?s Fashions at 101 N. Main in Hillsboro, takes the achievement in stride.
But with the 25-day celebration she is planning, starting Sept. 17, Klaassen is hoping her customers will be the ones exhibiting the excitement.
?We?ll have door prizes every day, and at least one item of clothing to give away?plus jewelry, scarves, handbags and lots and lots of good stuff,? she said.
Repeat winners are allowed, Klaassen added.
?People should sign in every time they walk by.?
This Thursday, French Dressing Jeans will have a professional fit specialist in the building located immediately north of the store to accommodate women looking for good-fitting jeans.
?We have 154 pairs of jeans, so we have every size and every cut they make,? Klaassen said.
The fit specialist will be available from 1-6 p.m. for a free, personal consultation.
?She?s a problem solver,? she added. ?That?s probably a huge complaint we hear, that it?s so hard to find a pair of jeans that fit.?
Klaassen was advertising manager for the local newspaper when she stopped in for a weekly visit with one of her clients, Edith Rempel, owner of Edie?s Fashions.
?She mentioned that she was ready to retire, and would I be interested (in acquiring the business),? Klaassen recalled.
?Of course, I was interested in shopping, clothing and that kind of thing. I thought owning my own business was the way to go.?
That was summer 1987. She attended a fashion market with Rempel in Kansas City that fall, then took over as owner Jan. 1, 1988.
Aside from ever-changing tastes in popular styles, Klaassen has navigated a variety of other changes during the ensuing years.
?Definitely the mix of merchandise is different,? she said. ?In those days, (Rempel) had a lot more categories than I have. She sold everything from swimsuits to coats to lingerie to children?s clothes?all ages.
?My focus is narrower. I am probably 60-40, clothing to accessories, which is growing every year. That?s something that changes really fast.?
The industry itself has changed dramatically.
?In those days you went to market twice a year, you bought for the season, and then you were done,? she said. ?Now, you need to buy all the time. You never know what you?re going to need, or what the next big thing you need to get in right away.?
While sales reps still stop at her store, the visits have significantly declined because of the expense of traveling, and the reps have a much larger area to cover.
Shopping habits of customers have changed, too. Two decades ago, customers tended to buy complete outfits?pants, jacket and a top.
?Now, it?s way more separates-oriented,? Klaassen said. ?Somebody will come in and buy a top because they have a basic they want to change.?
An even bigger change has been the explosion of shopping options that consumers have these days.
?Obviously, online shopping (has made an impact), and people don?t think anything of hopping into the car and driving somewhere,? Klaassen said. ?Twenty-five years ago, if you went to Wichita it was kind of a big deal. Now it?s drop of a hat.?
In the face of these challenges, Klaassen has tried to focus on advantages she can offer that most online and urban chains can?t or don?t.
?I can?t compete with discount or mass merchants,? she said. ?So I try to do quality, a moderate-to-better price point, and of course customer service is our huge advantage.?
Klaassen has developed a committed clientele over the years because of the personal attention she gives them. She knows their name, size and style preferences, and offers free gift-wrapping and free alterations on regularly priced items. She even lets customers take an item home on approval.
?If they?re not sure it matches, they take it home and try it,? Klaassen said. ?Then they bring it back or pay for it.?
Through personalized attention, Klaassen has attracted a cadre of loyal customers that extends well beyond Hillsboro to a radius of 50 miles. They make the trip to Hillsboro whenever possible.
?Of course, a lot of small towns don?t have stores (for women) anymore,? Klaassen said. ?But I get a lot of people who come here because they also come (to Hillsboro) to get their car serviced or on ag-related business. Women actually offer to come get (equipment) parts because they can come here, too.?
One of the ongoing challenges Klaassen said she faces is the perception that her store caters primarily to older women.
?I do cater to older people because, No. 1, they?re very loyal,? she said. ?I have customers who have been with me since Day 1. That?s the plus.?
But Klaassen said younger customers form a different opinion of her store once they enter it.
?High school girls will come in with grandma because grandma wants to buy them something?and then they?re so surprised what?s in here,? she said. ?There?s stuff they like.?
Klaassen wants customers of all ages to know they are always welcomed to come in just to look around.
?I think it?s great if they come in the door just looking,? she said. ?I don?t expect them to buy something every time.?
Her connection with customers has fueled Klaassen?s motivation for staying in business amid the many challenges that go with it.
?I think you really have to like working with people, because that?s a daily thing, hopefully,? she said.