Lakes native goes from corporate America to owning her own business
Jennifer Carnahan - a Brainerd lakes area girl at heart - spent her childhood weekends at her family's cabin on Round Lake north of Brainerd.
Carnahan attended the traditional turtle races and other popular Nisswa events, ate at Rafferty's Pizza and, as she got older, she shopped at the specialty gift shops to buy presents for her family and friends.
Today, Carnahan is a proud owner of a gift shop in Nisswa. She opened Primrose Park on June 12. It is her second boutique - her first shop opened in October of 2014 in Minneapolis. Primrose Park is a contemporary, specialty women's clothing boutique, which also offers accessories and gifts. She carries a variety of clothing lines such as, Color Block and See U Soon from France; Lavand from Spain; and Lumiere, Everly and Skies are Blue from Los Angeles.
"I sell great styles for an affordable price," Carnahan said. "Most everything in the store is $50 and under for quality merchandise."
“London is one of my favorite cities and I wanted to bring that piece of me to life in my shop,” Carnahan said. “The decor is soft and sophisticated, charming and quaint. I want everyone who walks in this door to feel comfortable and welcomed. I want to provide a unique style that will make everyone feel special and good about herself.”
Carnahan added, "I aspire to bring stylish, sophisticated and on-trend clothing to the Brainerd lakes area and Twin Cities markets, giving women more options for great clothing, without having to shop online or jump on a plane and travel to have access to great fashion.
"I envision my store as a place where women can shop in a welcoming and unpretentious environment by making women feel positive and confident about the way they look every day. My vision is a combination of contemporary comfort that's infinitely feminine and through the product in my shop, you will see that the collection resonates across boundaries and cultures."
Carnahan also promotes several Minnesota artists and sells their products. Primrose Park carries Sota clothing, which creates and designs Minnesota T-shirts, mugs and more. It also has Kiyi Kiyi, a business in Willmar that makes handmade soaps; and Baubles and Bobbies, a business in Mankato that makes jewelry.
"I have gone through hundreds of Minnesota T-shirts," Carnahan said. "I've sold out of the Minnesota necklaces and the homemade soaps go fast. I had 64 of the Sota mugs and I need to get more as they are almost gone."
'Dream big and go for it'
Carnahan said opening a business was not something she planned to do right after college. Her education includes being a graduate of the Syracuse University's S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications in the broadcast journalism program and she earned her master's of business degree from the University of Minnesota's Carlson School of Management.
Carnahan was a strategic general manager and brand marketer for 15 years before opening a business. She said she had a track record of driving marketplace success for some of the top Fortune 500 companies, including McDonald's Corporation, General Mills and Ecolab.
Address: 25354 South Main Street, Nisswa; 20 University Avenue NE Minneapolis.
Hours: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily in Nisswa. Minneapolis store hours are 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Thursday through Saturday and by appointment Monday through Wednesday.
Carnahan said her job started to not be fulfilling to her anymore and it began to be more about managing people and navigating politics. She was ready for a change.
"I decided to take the leap in 2012 from the safety net of corporate America and into the realm of entrepreneurship," Carnahan said. "Owning a store was something I always wanted to do."
Carnahan said the idea for the name of her store, Primrose Park, came from Regent's Park and Primrose Hill in London. Carnahan said she first visited the sites in London in 2002 and has been there four times since. She said she loves the quaint neighborhood of Primrose Hill and it has great boutiques.
"London is one of my favorite cities and I wanted to bring that piece of me to life in my shop," Carnahan said. "The decor is soft and sophisticated, charming and quaint. I want everyone who walks in this door to feel comfortable and welcomed. I want to provide a unique style that will make everyone feel special and good about herself."
Carnahan opened her first boutique in Minneapolis in October of 2014, then Nisswa in June of this year and her strategic plan for the future is to grow Primrose Park into a multi-unit chain extending beyond Minnesota's borders.
Carnahan said her Minneapolis boutique has a staff of three and herself. The store hours are 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Thursday through Saturday and by appointment Monday through Wednesday. The Nisswa boutique is open daily from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. where she, her mother and another staff member work. Carnahan travels every Thursday night to work at her Nisswa boutique.
Carnahan's parents, John and Cindra Carnahan, live full-time in Maple Grove and have their cabin on Round Lake, where they plan to move permanently. Carnahan's parents met when they were in college. They were both camp counselors at Camp Lincoln/Camp Hubert at the time. John proposed to Cindra on Pine Beach Road, north of Brainerd, over a hill and marsh, said Carnahan.
Carnahan, who has traveled to five continents, 37 countries and 43 states, is proud to have her boutique open in her hometown of Nisswa.
"It's nice to be a part of the community," Carnahan said.
Something personal about Carnahan: "My favorite travel experiences include hang gliding off Pedra Bonita Mountain in Rio de Janeiro, indulging in street food throughout Indochina and exploring the art and architecture of Northern Italy. My personal goal is to visit all 193 United Nations recognized countries before my time passes. I also am an avid triathlete, half-marathon runner and yogi. To date, I've completed five triathlons, six half-marathons and am a certified Yoga Sculpt teacher at Corepower Yoga and Spa in Minnesota."
Carnahan, who still stays at the Nisswa cabin on the weekends, enjoys paddle boarding and biking on the Paul Bunyan State Trail.
In business, Carnahan has a motto, "Dream big and go for it."
"I've never been scared to push myself outside my comfort zone to grow both personally and professionally," said Carnahan. "I hope that my life experiences have inspired and will continue to inspire others along the way. My 6-year-old niece, Melaina Sophaphanh has already told me that she wants to go to Syracuse and be just like her 'Aunt Jenn' when she grows up."
Carnahan stays busy with her two boutiques. She also currently serves as the president of the Syracuse University Alumni Club of Minnesota, a board member of the National Association of Asian MBA's and a member of the Northeast Business Association, Nisswa Chamber of Commerce and the Junior League of Minneapolis.