World Fashions, Inc., started 27 years ago. You could call owner Nancy Wheeler and her business a “New Bern fixture.” However, that is too static of a term to describe Nancy’s ownership skills. She continues to be a dynamic entrepreneur who knows how to endure recessions, competition, life challenges, and other small business challenges.
You could also say that Nancy was born to be an entrepreneur. As a little girl in Ghana, West Africa, she would help her mother make and sell bread. As she grew and explored her career interests, the assessments confirmed her enterprising nature. Despite this, Nancy attained a degree in biochemistry. Not surprisingly, she was selling t-shirts out of the trunk of her car while attending college.
Newly degreed, Nancy started her career in a county laboratory. Simultaneously, she would sell wares on weekends at the Newport Flea Mall to make extra money. Her business was growing there, and her customers and others encouraged her to open her own store. She took the leap of faith and open World Fashions in 1992.
World Fashions offers ethnic fashion for men, women and children. While the store has a wide assortment of suits, dresses, gowns, shoes, jewelry and hats, around 40% of sales comes from custom orders. She also specializes in apparel for church and special occasions. She imports about 10% of inventory from Ghana.
Some of the challenges she experiences as a business owner include lacking a systematic way to operate the business (past), finding one really good employee (present) and making the decision to sell/close her business in the future without emotion (future).
To drive revenue, Nancy’s utilizes strategies such as Facebook, customer relationship management, word-of-mouth referrals, relationships with churches, and collaboration with independent sellers (e.g., cosmetics, skin care, etc.) to use her retail location on Saturdays. She emphasizes how important it is to “cater to the customer” with her merchandising efforts.
To maximize profits, Nancy has one important priority—buy smart. She tries to buy directly from the manufacturer.
She said her key success factors have been seeking ongoing education, understanding that there will be problems, and having a good personal routine. Committed to continued education, Nancy obtained a Master in Business Administration degree, and she continues to take small business classes.
Nancy also is involved in events and activities to support the community. Over the years, she has worked with Carteret, Craven, Pamlico county schools for career days and Black History programs. She was involved as a committee member to support African American history education during New Bern’s 300th anniversary, where she spoke about her home country at the Tryon Palace.
Her best advice about becoming a business owner is to make sure, “it is your thing.” She also advises that you make your customers central to your business strategy. For Nancy, who is in the fashion business, she admits she personally is not the most fashionable person. However, she understands what makes a retail fashion operation successful. Which has more to do with efforts such as sales, buying, inventory management, marketing, and customer service.
She also advises to find the right places to seek assistance, to be very knowledgeable about your product/service, and to have a good accountant on your team.
“Problems will come and you can’t just quit,” advises Nancy.
For more information, follow World Fashions on Facebook > https://www.facebook.com/worldfashionsnb/
Deborah Kania, director of the Small Business Center at Craven Community College