For many people, it takes years of trial and error to find the career they love–but Melissa Nance is not one of those people. She was hired by First American Title during her senior year of college when the company was launching its National Commercial Services Division in Phoenix. “I started by answering the phones, and within 15 months, I was closing a $200 million sale-leaseback gas station portfolio,” Nance says. “I was hooked.”
Nance has stayed in the world of commercial real estate ever since. She spent a number of years as a national commercial escrow officer closing multisite, multistate portfolios for REITs and institutional investors. She then ended up joining one of her REIT clients in-house, which gave her a chance to broaden her skills. “It was a different seat at the real estate table, and I expanded my knowledge base across many industries,” she explains.
That broad base of knowledge comes in handy for her current role as director of real estate development at Camping World, the world’s largest supplier of RV parts, supplies, and accessories. Nance sat down with American Builders Quarterly to discuss her career to date, her role at Camping World, and her hopes for the future.
What experiences during your career prepared you for your current role?
When you are in the middle of anything—your career, pursuing a goal, or even completing a specific task—it
oftentimes seems that you are taking the long road or a circuitous path. In reality, when I look back, where I’ve come from and where I am now, it’s been a natural progression. Every experience, from answering the phones at First American all those years ago to closing deals at the REIT, has prepared me to perform in my current role and made me better at what I do now. At each step, I was gaining the skills, experience, and knowledge that I needed to contribute to the success of the organization.
How did you end up in your current role? How long have you been with Camping World?
Camping World was a client, and I spent three years working on sale-leasebacks of their real estate to finance acquisitions of RV dealerships across the country. I was impressed by the strategy, potential, and the management team. When the opportunity presented itself to go in-house with Camping World, I took it. I’ve now been with the company for four years.
What does a typical day look like for you?
There really is no typical day. It ranges from site visits of potential acquisition targets, to design meetings for prototype locations, selecting finishes, closing real estate and asset purchases, addressing facility issues, and the list goes on. I spend quite a bit of time in the O’Hare airport right now.
What major initiative have you spearheaded during your time with Camping World that you’re most proud of?
In mid-2017, Camping World acquired limited assets of Gander Mountain out of bankruptcy, in addition to a series of acquisitions of other outdoor lifestyle companies. We have been working to re-open a number of the old Gander Mountain locations under our brand Gander Outdoors, with an overhauled look inside and out, revamped competitive pricing, a large service department, and a really exciting assortment of new products. My team has been instrumental in negotiating leases, defining refresh scope, picking new finishes, designing interior/exterior signage and fixtures, and executing all of those tasks. I am incredibly proud of the hard work that has been put in and excited to turn over every store. Our job is to use the facility to support our team members in operations and merchandising and to create an environment where all of our customers feel comfortable and enjoy their shopping experience.
What has been a major challenge in your career? How did you overcome it?
My major challenge is not specific to me. It is the same challenge that women in all industries and jobs struggle with: finding work/home balance is extremely difficult. The pressures of putting in the hours and travel required while trying to make time for family is an ongoing challenge that we are all still working through. Overall, you take each day individually and do the best you can to be a good boss, team member, mom, sister, wife, or daughter.
Talk about your leadership style. What have you learned about leading a team effectively?
The simple answer is I still learn something new about leading a team every day. I work for our COO/CLO, and he has taught me to slow down, listen, be compassionate, and care about my team members first as people and second as employees. When people feel valued and know they are making a contribution to the overall good of the organization, they are much more effective and will move mountains to accomplish the collective goal.
My most rewarding moments are seeing my team members grow professionally and personally and be excited by where the company is going and their role in it. Their victories, large and small, inspire me.
What advice would you offer to yourself at the beginning of your career? What advice would you offer to people just starting out in commercial real estate?
You’re going to make mistakes, you’re going to screw up, and there will be hard times, but don’t dwell on those. Learn from them, keep your head up, and keep going. Adapt, adjust, and find opportunity in the challenges.
What do you love the most about your current role? What makes you excited to come to work?
Every day is honestly an adventure right now. Camping World is in an exciting place where we are expanding outside of our traditional RV dealership space into a more comprehensive outdoor lifestyle company. As we roll out new brands, the challenges are immense but so are the opportunities. Working with my team to develop what each of those new brands looks and feels like from a facility perspective and seeing the customers’ reactions is extremely rewarding.