BRANDON — When New York City entrepreneur Frank Scozzafava wanted to expand his bikini business, he went to the sharks.
Specifically, the sharks from the reality TV show Shark Tank. And one of them bit.
Real estate mogul and business consultant Barbara Corcoran agreed to invest $50,000 in Scozzafava's company in exchange for 25 percent ownership. Four months after the show aired, MiX Bikini opened its first retail outlet this week at the Westfield Brandon mall.
Located between Center Court and JCPenney, the kiosk sells build-your-own bikinis designed from 40 different colors and prints. Shoppers mix and match triangle or halter-tops with classic or scrunchie bottoms connected by pliable metal rings or colored string for a possible 10,000 combinations.
"No girl ever wants to be caught dead wearing the same bathing suit as someone else on the beach," Scozzafava said. "This turns every girl into a fashion designer."
Scozzafava came up with the idea last year when his former girlfriend bought two identical bathing suits — one in black and the other in red. With a little seamstress work, she hoped to create tops with both colors.
MiX Bikini was born.
At the time, Scozzafava was working in marketing and advertising for a cloud computing company on Wall Street, earning well over six figures. He created a few prototypes, then went to Europe for two months, asking women what they thought of his bikinis.
They loved them.
Scozzafava decided to pursue MiX Bikini exclusively about the same time as Shark Tank came calling. He quit his job, downsized his apartment and sold his Porsche to pay for a patent.
"I took a chance. I had a good job, but it wasn't going to have the freedom I wanted," he said. "I was making my boss millions, but I wasn't getting it."
His good friend Adam DiSilvestro was a fan of Shark Tank and emailed the show about MiX Bikini. Each episode features entrepreneurs who pitch their product or business idea to a panel of potential investors, who can invest in the concept or reject it. Its fourth season premieres today on ABC.
Scozzafava had never heard of the show but submitted a videotape of his pitch. Months of conversations later, he flew out to California for a taping in March. The show aired May 11.
Ted Kaminski, senior vice president of specialty leasing for Westfield based in Los Angeles, happened to see the episode and right away thought the bikini business had potential.
"Westfield likes to reach out to entrepreneurs," said Dawn Arvidson, marketing director of the Brandon shopping center. "We are always looking for unique concepts that our shoppers are seeking out."
The Brandon location is the first of 10 planned for Westfield properties in Florida and California — beach-centric states. Countryside and Citrus Park will get kiosks next, followed by malls in Sarasota and Broward County. Others will open in Los Angeles and San Diego. Eventually, all will be franchise-owned.
The product targets 17- to 30-year-old females savvy about social media. Shoppers design bikinis on a computer, then post their selections on Facebook. The suits — often called the Legos of bikinis — cost $45-$85, depending on the pieces used. Unique to most mall kiosks set up in the walkways, each has a phonebooth-like dressing room.
Scozzafava credits Shark Tank with accelerating his business plan and creating buzz.
"We wouldn't be where we are without Shark Tank," he said. "It was the publicity from Shark Tank that really mattered, not the money."
Susan Thurston can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 225-3110.