Quality, service a constant at Nancy?s Fashions in 20th year

Nancy Klaassen has guided Nancy?s Fashions through myriad changes in business and marketing practices these past 20 years. Don Ratzlaff / Free Press.

While those changes conspire to make a healthy fiscal bottom line an ongoing challenge, Klaassen?s perspective after 20 years is as healthy as ever.

?I like being around the people,? she said.

And Klaassen has a core group of some 200 loyal customers who like to be around her, too, and keep coming back year after year.

And why wouldn?t they? Chances are Klaassen knows their clothing size?and their taste?by memory. She still offers alterations and free gift wrapping, and allows them to try on garments at home before paying for them.

Klaassen?s storefront is small enough not to overwhelm the customer, but has a product line diverse enough to meet most needs.

And, unlike discount competitors in larger cities, Nancy?s Fashions offers quality clothing that customers can expect to last a long time.

?They sometimes comment, ?I don?t know what I?d do if you weren?t here,?? Klaassen said.

Her path to a career in women?s apparel was roundabout. The Hillsboro native earned a degree in elementary education from the University of Kansas, and taught in Lawrence for a short time.

She was the advertising manager at the Hillsboro Star-Journal when Edie Rempel approached her about buying her store, Edie?s Fashions.

?I had thought about it briefly,? Klaassen said about working in the area of women?s apparel, ?but not specifically about buying this store.?

In fall 1987, she went with Rempel to market in Kansas City that fall, then worked in the store in December before taking ownership officially in January 1988.

?It was a different time and a different economy then,? Klaassen said. ?It was more like if you had the merchandise, they?d come in and buy it. There wasn?t a lot of promotion involved then. You ran only two sales a year?a January and July clearance.

?The competition was different, too,? she added. ?We didn?t have the Internet, and you didn?t run to Wichita or Newton or McPherson every time you needed something.

?It was just a different mentality then.?

Merchandising strategy has changed, too. In the beginning, Klaassen would have more than 100 dresses, and customers were more likely to mix and match items such as jackets and pants.

?There were major companies that I bought from, and that?s all that I bought,? she added. ?I pretty much bought the same lines over and over again?until all those old companies started fading away. Then you found out you couldn?t count on every line for every season.?

Today, the inventory at the store is much more item oriented.

?Accessories have been a huge increase,? she said. ?The first few years, I don?t remember if I even had jewelry?except maybe one little case.?

Today, it?s a significant part of the mix, accounting for between 25 and 30 percent of her total sales.

?That part has grown, and the kids (clothing) area has shrunk,? Klaassen said. ?When I bought the store from Edie, she had from infant to girls size 14, which is the whole children?s range. Over the years, I gradually backed that down so that now I only have an infant section.?

Klaassen?s customer base is similar in some ways to those early years, but it too has evolved.

?I still have a good base of customers who are basically in the 40-and-up range,? she said. ?They are loyal and keep coming back and often bring their friends.?

But that base comes from a greater distance than before.

?It used to be more local,? Klaassen said. ?It?s more out-of-town now?a lot of Newton, McPherson, Abilene.?

She maintains a list of some 1,200 customers for direct mail promotions, and recently has begun using e-mail for those who sign up for it.

?Direct mail goes to my existing customers, it doesn?t bring me new customers,? she said. ?I have to keep doing other things to keep my name out there.?

When Klaassen purchased the store, Hillsboro?s had two other businesses that offered women?s clothing. Today, not only is she the only women?s clothing store in Hillsboro, but has outlasted stores in neighboring communities as well.

That isn?t automatically a boon for her business, Klaassen said, because out-of-town clientele want a variety of shopping options when they hit the road.

?Thankfully, there are other businesses in Hillsboro that draw women to town,? Klaassen said, including stores offering books and music, antiques, furniture, quilts and more.

Klaassen said the 20 years have gone by fast. Though the environment has grown increasingly challenging, she has no regrets about her decision to take the plunge.

?It?s been a good thing,? Klaassen said. ?And I?ve had lots of good help over the years.?

Having celebrated her 20th anniversary in business last week, what does she see for the future?

?I?ve just been telling people that I?m not planning on celebrating a 40th anniversary,? she said with a smile.

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