Business

Kieck's Career Apparel specializes in career wear and uniforms

Nina Brundell, owner, poses for a picture at Kieck’s Career Apparel in Cedar Rapids on Thursday, Aug. 9, 2018. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)
Nina Brundell, owner, poses for a picture at Kieck’s Career Apparel in Cedar Rapids on Thursday, Aug. 9, 2018. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)
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Nina Brundell has always worked in the clothing industry, but for the past eight years she’s focused on a more practical side of the business, specializing in career wear and uniforms.

Brundell has put her fashion merchandising degree from Western Illinois University to good use throughout her career. Brundell’s background includes earlier stints as a fashion buyer and store manager.

“I worked at Paul Harris Company, managing stores in Iowa City and Cedar Rapids, as well as the Mark Henri store in Iowa City,” she said. She also was a buyer for Seifert’s women’s clothing store in the 1990s.

During the time she and her husband, Paul, were raising their three boys, she also maintained an in-home fashion party business.

Brundell also was very active with Theatre Cedar Rapids, and in 2007, she was asked to help TCR as a campaign coordinator. When the 2008 flood hit, she was very involved with the theater’s rebuilding and revitalization efforts. After TCR got up and running again, Brundell began looking for a new opportunity for herself. So when Kieck’s became available, she decided to buy the store in 2010.

“I was at a point in my life where I wanted to get back into managing or owning a retail store. Since my three sons were grown, it was a good time to purchase Kieck’s,” she said.

In addition to owning Kieck’s, Brundell also owns K Jean’s Uniforms & Apparel in the Town & Country Shopping Center in southeast Cedar Rapids. That store is dedicated to medical uniforms.

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She admits it has been an interesting challenge, transitioning to a specialty area where clothing’s function often comes before fashion.

In the past, as a fashion buyer, she would regularly travel to New York City on buying trips. “This is really different from the fashion world,” she said.

Kieck’s has been in business for more than 60 years, and Brundell is only the third owner. In 2014, Brundell moved the store to 222 Third Ave. SW.

“We’re in an old A&P grocery store,” she said. In fact, the round A&P medallion sign is visible on the storefront.

The building had formerly been an auto-parts store and flooded in 2008. Four years ago, before moving in the building was remodeled for Kieck’s needs.

“We raised the floor 15 inches, and with the open ceiling, it has rafters that could act as shelves, in case a flood happens again,” she said.

With more than 7,000 square feet, the store carries a wide variety of workwear for police and fire, culinary staff and industrial employees, among others. Kieck’s also carries an extensive assortment of popular brands like Carhartt, Dickies and Tommie Copper.

The store is bright, colorful and well-organized, with a large stock of uniforms, hats, gloves, boots, belts, and high-visibility work wear for safety occupations. Quaker Oats is one of her bigger industrial clients, and she said she recently contracted with Kirkwood Culinary for chef uniforms.

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Another growing industry with uniform needs, according to Brundell, is retirement communities. Several have been built in the Cedar Rapids area recently, with more planned in the near future.

One of Brundell’s biggest marketing challenges is bidding for contracts from government entities.

“I don’t really have local competition much, but my biggest competitor is the internet and online orders.” She feels, however, owning a local career wear clothing store with personal service gives her a business advantage.

A sewing and embroidery room in the back of the store handles customization and alterations.

She encourages customers to either come in or call with their needs. They can look at merchandise, and she and her staff can research and provide custom fitting and alterations. “That personal service is something they just can’t get online,” she said.

Over the years, she has received support from other women business owners in the community, attended seminars by Iowa Women Lead Change and was involved in Junior League.

“Networking is the key to helping other women. It’s important for women to bounce ideas off each other.”

Her management style is pretty straightforward as she continues to build her business, along with her four employees.

“I don’t ask my employees to do anything I wouldn’t do. Tami (Wood) has been here longer than I have, and is an expert in all uniform needs.”

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As you walk into Kieck’s, something you might not expect to see is the antique Model A car that is on display.

“It was my dad’s old car that our family restored,” she said.

The Kieck’s building also is home to her husband Paul’s construction business, Allan Custom Homes. She said it’s nice having him just down the hallway. “This way, I can bring leftovers, and we can have lunch together some days.”

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