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Making a splash in Minnesota swimwear: HHS grad’s business is proving successful in Edina

Jennifer Cermak, a 1999 HHS graduate, has seen her store grow significantly over the past seven years. Now she’s working on her own line of swimwear and beginning to expand her business into additional locations. Submitted photo

Over in Edina, there’s a store that sells only swimwear. Although winter has settled in here, the store is just getting started with its busiest time of year.

The store, Nani Nalu Beachwear Boutique, is owned by a 1999 Hastings High School graduate, Jennifer Cermak, and has been growing every year since it opened seven years ago.

After graduating high school, Cermak moved to Florida. She had started attending the art school, but dropped out and started working her way up the retail ladder until she became an executive.

At age 21, she returned to Minnesota to re-settle and reconnect with her family, she said. Shortly after she moved back, she met her husband. Her time in Florida gave her the inspiration to start her business. There, she said, she saw many swimwear brands that retailers in Minnesota weren’t offering.

“I decided to take a dive into the industry and see what would happen,” she said.

Her focus is making sure women find swimwear that fits properly and flatters their figure, no matter what figure that is. Cermak named her store Nani Nalu, which means “beautiful wave” in Hawaiian.

Cermak takes a different approach to selling swimwear. Instead of letting her customers shop on their own, she and her staff get involved, offering a free personal shopping service to every customer. In the first two months of business, Cermak noticed that a lot of women would pick swimwear because of the color or the print on it instead of the style or fit, and they weren’t asking questions. She wanted to make sure her customers looked good and loved their swimwear, so she and her staff started telling customers which suits to try on. Then they started taking down customers’ measurements, as well as asking what activities they wanted to do and even if they have children. Based on the information they get, staff pick out a selection of suits and bring them to the customer to try on.

“It becomes an easier experience,” she said.

Then, customers are expected to show staff the suits they try on. If they’re not comfortable showing her or her staff, Cermak said, they probably won’t be comfortable wearing the item in public.

Selling swimwear during Minnesota winters might seem a little backwards, but it’s made Cermak’s business successful.

“It’s actually one of the best (places),” she said.

With many people here taking winter vacations, January to March is her busiest time of year. Then, once the weather warms up, people look for swimwear to enjoy the Minnesota summer on the lakes.

Each year, Nani Nalu has seen 40 percent growth, Cermak said. Two years ago, she had to relocate her store to a larger location, where she could accommodate more fitting rooms. Before the move, some customers waited hours to get a fitting room.

Now, Cermak is adding to her business by launching her own line of swimwear, JennaSea, for D- to G-sized busts.

“I wanted to bring a different type of fashion to swim within that category,” she said.

Cermak sells her designs at five locations in the U.S. and Canada, including her own store.

Keeping her business’s growth in mind, she’s also scouting locations for a second Nani Nalu location somewhere in Minnesota or within driving distance of her existing location. And in the future, she’d like to do more expansion. She wants 15 locations across the nation, she said, and she also wants to expand her JennaSea line to include A- to G-cup sizes.

Cermak’s business is gaining a strong reputation in the Twin Cities and beyond.

“I definitely think we’re the experts in the Twin Cities,” she said.

The store has earned a nomination for best small-business customer service in Edina Magazine’s 2014 Best of Edina survey, which is no easy feat for a swimwear company.

“Most women up here in Minnesota absolutely despise swimwear,” Cermak said.

“We sell swimwear to women who hate swimwear.”

She feels honored, she said, that her business was even nominated. The winner won’t be announced until February.