Business

Kieck's store owner makes a career out of career clothing in Cedar Rapids

Owner says customer service sets store apart from online competition

“I did some in-home business things, then saw Kieck’s for sale, and thought it was a good business model,” says Nina Brundell, seen here in the chef wear section at Kieck’s Career Apparel in Cedar Rapids in 2018. (The Gazette)
“I did some in-home business things, then saw Kieck’s for sale, and thought it was a good business model,” says Nina Brundell, seen here in the chef wear section at Kieck’s Career Apparel in Cedar Rapids in 2018. (The Gazette)
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CEDAR RAPIDS — Moving from the fashion world to that of the area’s police and firefighters, nurses and surgeons, and carpenters and agricultural processors was a bit of an adjustment for Nina Brundell.

“It’s just a learning curve,” Brundell said. “I had to learn about body armor and how to fit body armor — just stuff that you wouldn’t normally get exposed to.

“It’s a lot of repeat merchandise, versus in fashion everything changes every six months and you mark it down.”

An Illinois native, Brundell moved to Iowa in the mid-1980s after graduating from Western Illinois State University with a degree in fashion merchandising.

“I interviewed on-campus and there was a job in Iowa City,” she said. “That’s how I got to the area.”

She managed clothing stores and worked as a buyer for a regional chain before buying Kieck’s in July 2010.

“I did some in-home business things, then saw Kieck’s for sale, and thought it was a good business model,” she said. “I’d always been in fashion before, and I thought, ‘Oh, well, people have to buy uniforms.’ It made sense.”

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Brundell bought the store, then located on Mount Vernon Road, from Scott and Kim Loggins. They had purchased it about five years earlier from members of the Kieck family, who opened it in 1954.

In 2012, Brundell purchased K Jean’s Uniforms and Apparel. That store in the Town and Country Shopping Center specializes in medical wear such as hospital scrubs and nurses’ uniforms.

“I kind of hop back and forth between the two,” she said.

Kieck’s other specialties include flame-retardant protective gear and the high-visibility vests and outerwear worn by highway construction workers and tow-truck operators. The store also supplies varsity letter jackets to area high schools.

As with fashion, work wear has its seasonal shifts, albeit in a different way. Winter is the store’s busiest season.

“We’ve just been getting in a bunch of Carhart for winter wear, so we’re very well-stocked with coats and overalls and coveralls,” Brundell said.

Kieck’s market area reaches mostly east and northeast from Cedar Rapids, Brundell said.

“We do quite a lot of business in Dubuque,” she said.

Brundell’s seven employees include a full-time seamstress for alterations and applying identifying patches and logos. An outside contractor does the store’s embroidery work.

“Most of my employees have been here the whole time,” she said. “That’s lucky that way.”

Many workers wearing Kieck’s apparel have never been to the store, a former grocery store that still carries the A&P emblem on its facade.

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“We don’t necessarily do a lot of walk-in traffic versus what we do with companies like Quaker and Cargill and ADM,” Brundell said.

The effects of online competition Brundell saw at her last fashion-merchandising job followed her to Kieck’s.

“We are affected by the internet,” she said. “People will say, ‘I can get it cheaper somewhere else,’ and that’s the hard thing with brick-and-mortar stores — keeping up and competing with a website.”

Meeting that competition calls for customer service and strong relationships with clothing manufacturers.

“It’s nice when people come in and you have what they need without having to order it,” Brundell said. “We order weekly from different vendors, but it’s hard to stock everything.”

Still, Kieck’s local presence and emphasis on customers’ needs keeps things humming.

“We recently got a police-and-fire contract back,” Brundell said. “It’s nice that they’re going local and not out of state.”

Know a business that might make for an intriguing “My Biz” feature? Let us know. Email michaelchevy.castranova@thegazette.com.

At a glance

• Owner: Nina Brundell

• Business: Kieck’s Career Apparel

• Address: 222 Third Ave. SW, Cedar Rapids

• Phone: (319) 363-3503

•Website: kiecks.com

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