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Nice Ideas moves, nearly doubles in size

By Times staff writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published June 26, 2002

LARGO -- A 2-year-old business specializing in children's coordinated leisure wear for resorts, theme parks and cruise lines has expanded, nearly doubling in size, and for the first time opened a retail outlet store.

Nice Ideas moved around the corner from its original location to an 18,000-square-foot space at 12395 Belcher Road. It cost $200,000 to move, buy new equipment and settle in, said Chuck Burkett, an investor and director of the company.

Burkett is responsible for pulling the business out of a larger company and setting it up on its own.

After he sold his multimillion-dollar Monogram International business in 1999, Burkett bought Nice Ideas from the new owner, a public company based in New York. He thought Nice Ideas was better suited to a privately held entrepreneurial environment.

"I underestimated how difficult it was to extract a small business from a big one," Burkett said last week.

"On the surface it seems so simple; and then when you get into it, there are a lot of tentacles," he said. "But it's on solid ground now, and things are moving along pretty nicely. We've carved a niche in coordinated children's resort wear. We happen to be a leader in that area."

Clients include the Crayola Store, Lowry Park Zoo, Carnival cruise lines, Ripley's Aquarium in Gatlinburg, Tenn., and Myrtle Beach, S.C., Gatorland, Guinness World Records in Orlando and Atlantis on Paradise Island in the Bahamas.

Nice Ideas is the brainchild of company president Ana Maria Elmendorf. When her two daughters, now in high school and college, were youngsters, she made their clothing, dressing them in matching items from hair ribbons down to their socks. When she submitted the idea of coordinated children's clothing to Monogram International, she found herself at the head of a new division.

"This is a fashion-oriented business," Burkett said. "There are trends and colors that you have to pay attention to. And Ana Maria's expertise is staying on top, putting new lines together, making sure we're on the mark when the season ends -- what the market will need in 2003."

Mrs. Elmendorf, 46, of St. Petersburg said the business had 15 employees when it opened as a private company two years ago. Today it has 25 employees and about 28 sales representatives nationwide. New to the business are Erin Whitaker, sales manager, and Drew Adams, who handles inside production, purchasing, customer service and marketing.

"As with any business, building a sales force and marketing your product are the biggest challenges," said Burkett, who lives nearby in Largo. "We've made some strides this year in establishing a sales force. Now the focus is on the marketing side."

Although retired and not an employee of Nice Ideas, he said he finds himself there every day.

"I'm spending a lot more time here," he said, "but it's a fun marketplace. I enjoy it."

The business is 80 percent children's clothing for the souvenir and resort market, Mrs. Elmendorf said. The other 20 percent is novelties and souvenir tote bags for adults. The coordinated outfits -- including T-shirts, shorts and caps, sun dresses and scrunchies -- are made in colorful fabrics and silk-screened designs. Novelties include plush animals, candy bags, makeup bags for little girls, sunglasses and hats.

The clothing is made in a Miami factory and returned to Nice Ideas, where the silk-screening is done and logos are put on. The packing and shipping also are done in the Nice Ideas factory, where employees work a Monday-Thursday 40-hour week.

The 1,200-square-foot retail store offers overruns and clothing, as well as novelties in prints no longer available at outlet prices.

St. Petersburg firm to design townhouses

Wedding, Stephenson & Ibarguen Architects of St. Petersburg has been hired to design 13 luxury garden townhouses in two buildings to be built on 1.7-acres at 2492 Belleair Road in Clearwater.

Each 2,500-square-foot unit at Belleair Oaks will have three bedrooms, 2 baths, a laundry room, two-car garage and private garden. The townhomes will be priced in the mid-$250,000 range.

Construction is to begin in 30 to 60 days on the $2.8-million project. General Home Development Corp. of Dade City is the developer. Mark W. Stephenson is project architect. Pam Cummings of SunBeach Real Estate and Liz Wallace of Realty Executives are handling the sales.

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