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Sanibel swimwear firm scooped up in mega deal

August 28, 2014
by CRAIG GARRETT ( , Island Reporter, Captiva Current, Sanibel-Captiva Islander

You never know.

When Don and Mary Bauer purchased a fading swim and beachwear store in Sanibel in 1994, they could not have imagined the outlet would evolve into the Aqua Beachwear chain, that ultimately the upscale women's brand would go nationwide.

And they certainly could not have envisioned the 15-store chain being scooped up by a larger women's wear competitor, a mega deal worth a reported price tag of between $10-$20 million. Privately held, the firm would not release exact figures.

Article Photos

Don Bauer and Mary Bauer

The Sanibel couple close on the deal with Everything But Water in late September, said Don Bauer, Aqua Beachwear's president. Everything But Water is an Orlando-based women's swimwear firm with nearly 100 stores. Don Bauer has accepted a position as senior vice president with Everything But Water, where he will help expand the brand, he said. After years of executive work in purchasing, travel and 15-hours days in the company's early history, Mary Bauer will relax before deciding her next move.

"I will take time off," she said. "Find a reason to get bored."

Success is not new for the Bauers. As a young man in suburban Detroit, Don Bauer repaired electronics for a large appliance dealer. That, in turn, led to his forming a company that serviced and repaired appliances for a couple of Detroit-based appliance chains. The larger chain, Fretter Appliances, fused Bauer's repair business into Fretter's business anatomy, naming Bauer as an executive. The seed of that merger provided the experience and funding that would lead the Bauers to southwest Florida.

The couple in 1994 purchased Beach House Swimwear in Sanibel. The business sold beachwear, lotions, tourist gewgaws. But the business also placed heavy restrictions on guests, Don Bauer said, limiting the items in changing rooms, for instance. Along with dumping those and other rules, Mary and Don refurbished the store, creating a friendlier and more upscale feel, the couple said. They quickly expanded to the South Seas Resort in Captiva. Stores in the ensuing years were opened in Sarasota, the Miromar Outlet in Estero, into Scotsdale, Key West, Las Vegas and the Caribbean. The newly christened Aqua Beachwear became noted for attention to service and knowledgable staff, a fun store design and layout, later its use of the web to market and sell, its attractive models.

The company was especially noted for its selection of fashion, said Mary Bauer, the firm's buyer. The company in its 2015 catalog will offer fashion for some 40 designers, she said. The company's vibrant colors, fabric, and forward fashion earned rave reviews, a legion of fans, media adulation -- and sales. The company over its history closed just two stores in its rapid growth. Office staff in the sale have either signed on for the new move, or were given options.

Mary and Don met in suburban Detroit in a basic cooking class. A novice, Don Bauer decided that if he had to learn to navigate a kitchen, that he would sit next to the most attractive woman in the class. The couple married in 1994, moved within months to southwest Florida.

"We've been very lucky," Mary Bauer said, "and very happy."



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