One of the best things about independent retailers is that they are precisely that: independent. These stores aren’t the homogenized corporate versions of big box retail that removes all individual personality—they are filled with personality. Nancy’s Fancys in Highlands, North Carolina is exactly that kind of independent retailer— a place stocked full of great products and great personality.
Bob and Nancy Mills have travelled an interesting path taking them to their current position as owners of Nancy’s Fancys. Bob had been a commercial builder for 30 years. He would repair, remodel or build new both residential and commercial spaces. One of Bob’s last jobs as a contractor was to build their own home in 2003. They entered their beautiful home in the Southern Living Home awards contest. While the home didn’t win top honors, it did well and was a satisfying project.
Another of Bob’s final construction projects included the remodeling of the retail store now known as Nancy’s Fancys. Nancy had actually begun her business as a specialty store on a side street in downtown Highlands, NC in 1980. The store’s success grew quickly, and became known as a great place for women’s apparel. They continued to grow their product line, and in 1990 they committed to a full line of ladies apparel. But as it turned out, they were just warming up. Bob and Nancy then purchased a building on the Main Street in Highlands that offered both residential and commercial space. In 1993 Bob put his years of building expertise to work and carved out a retail space in what used to be the living room and kitchen of the building they’d just purchased. This space is now known as The Exchange Men’s Attire.
The combination business works well for this industrious and tireless couple. Nancy runs the women’s section and Bob of course runs the men’s section. They joke that they have an iron curtain between the two parts of the business to separate them from each other, but we’re not buying that. They share that their secret recipe for success is part style with determination, part pride with patience. Their favorite thing throughout the day is when customers come into the store with questions or looking for guidance. They love nothing better than to answer questions about fabric, styles and colors; gladly sharing all their skills and knowledge with customers that want to learn.
And those educated customers come back year after year, bringing with them the future generation of customers. “We always found that the Grandparents used to dress up the youngsters in fine garments, helping the young ones become aware of finer apparel. It’s an education, one generation to the next,” says Bob. And when those youngsters (as they like to call them) come into the store and tell them: “my Grandma and Grandpa always shopped here,” they feel that’s just one of the very best things about their business.
“We really believe in teaching people to dress for success, even if that means simply dressing appropriately for the right occasion or even weather,” Nancy shared. In Highlands, NC, the climate is somewhat cool and wet at times, so Bob shared that his go-to St. Croix garment is the microfiber jacket. He also favors the light weight knit Merino Wool sweaters that always stay perfect, and likes to pair them with the Five Pocket Trouser Jean—which is the perfect comfortable sporty ensemble.
Nancy’s Fancys and The Exchange recently had a big celebration of their business. In July 2015, they held a four generation family, customers, friends, and Chamber of Commerce party at their property—over 150 people attended. They had been planning this event for some time to celebrate a significant birthday for Bob and the burning of the Main Street store mortgage papers. The two events came together perfectly for a celebration of family, friends, work and community—a great reflection of this warm and genuine couple.
St. Croix Sale Representative Richard Welmering knows exactly just how warm and welcoming these retailers are. “Bob and Nancy are great people who love to give their customers the best,” he shared. There’s a reason they work so hard to create a welcoming environment. “I have walked into many stores in my life where there is just no warmth or even communication,” says Bob. “The first five seconds are the most important message in selling. We get it. People want to feel welcomed. Well, we are retailers that care and we will always make shopping fun.”
This is a couple that makes work fun, and also makes fun work for them. If you thought that “all” they did was manage this gem of a retail store, you’d be wrong. They manage to run another entirely different business: they own an eight-acre RV park in Franklin, NC. They love to travel in the off season, either east coast or west coast depending on the buying markets. The picture below is the image they shared with us of their current location. We wish this fun-loving, gracious couple many more years of success and happiness! Please visit Nancy’s Fancys and The Exchange Men’s Attire when you are in the Highlands, NC area.