Saturday, January 20, 2018
Business

Spanx founder Sara Blakely celebrates opening of store in Tampa

Clearwater native Sara Blakely built an empire selling undergarments that make butts look small and tummies look tight. Women everywhere strut with confidence, thanks to her shapewear, hosiery and bras.

About a year and a half ago, Blakely opened her first Spanx store at an upscale mall in Virginia, outside Washington, D.C.

On Friday, she brings it all back home.

Fourteen years after starting Spanx, Blakely is opening her sixth standalone store, this one at International Plaza in Tampa, near her old stomping grounds. For local fans, it's like a homecoming for a small-town girl who went big. As in billionaire big. Last year, Blakely became the world's youngest self-made female billionaire. In February, she appeared on the cover of Inc. magazine.

Choosing Tampa for a store was easy. Blakely, 43, grew up in Clearwater and credits her community with giving her the confidence to build from scratch a company with annual revenues estimated at $250 million.

It was also smart. Florida's warm weather means women wear dresses and capri pants year-round and can't hide beneath dark, heavy layers. Underneath soft whites, yellows and pinks, everything shows.

"When I'm in Florida, I'm always in light-colored clothes, and that's when I wear Spanx the most,'' said Blakely during an interview from her adopted city of Atlanta, where Spanx has its headquarters. "It makes all the difference as far as foundation.''

Blakely started the retail stores in late 2012 as a way to connect with customers more intimately and to showcase the entire collection of more than 200 products. Spanx products are sold at more than 11,500 department stores, boutiques and online shops in 60 countries, but the selection varies from place to place.

The new stores carry a broader assortment, from the original footless panty hose to slimming swimsuits and men's undershirts that suck in love handles. Starting this fall, expect to see Spanx's first foray into jeans — skinny ones, of course.

Having its own stores gives Spanx more freedom to test new products and launch limited-quantity items available only in stores and through Spanx's website. Sales associates on the "transformation team'' help shoppers navigate products by body type or clothing need.

"Women walk in, and they walk out with the biggest smile on their face,'' Blakely said. "They cannot believe the difference in how they look and appear. It has been really, really fun.''

So far, cities that have the stores — King of Prussia, Penn., Paramus, N.J., and McLean, Va. — have seen a lift in sales at other retailers that carry Spanx, such as Neiman Marcus, Saks Fifth Avenue, Nordstrom and Bloomingdale's. (Spanx's other retail stores are in the Atlanta and Detroit airports.) Walking by a store plants a seed for the next time a customer is in a department store and sees the product, she said.

Blakely plans to attend Tampa's grand opening with her mother and grandmother, both test wearers of Spanx who still live in the Tampa Bay area. Her 93-year-old grandmother loves the Bra-llelujah!, named after the cheers of hallelujah that fans say the bra evokes. Her mother likes the high-waisted shaper shorts and body suits that scoop below the bra.

Cutting the "hosiery ribbon'' with them will be extra special. Blakely's mother, an artist, drew the picture of the first item filed with the U.S. patent office.

"I stood in my living room in Clearwater, and my mother sketched me wearing my products,'' she said. "That's the actual picture that started it all.''

Blakely will kick off opening festivities at 10 a.m. Friday with food, music and people dancing around in Spanx. The first 100 shoppers will get to pick a free Spanx product from the "Tower of Power,'' and $100 "Shaping Spree'' cards will be raffled throughout the day.

Blakely looks forward to meeting with customers in person and celebrating their fashion solutions. Several will come with their daughters for a dose of entrepreneurial inspiration, she said. A few will even ask for her autograph on Spanx products they're wearing. And she'll happily oblige.

Susan Thurston can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 225-3110.

Comments
Tampa Bay jobs chief Ed Peachey making top dollar

Tampa Bay jobs chief Ed Peachey making top dollar

For years, Edward Peachey has bragged about the number of jobless people he has helped find work.As president and CEO of CareerSource Pinellas and CareerSource Tampa Bay, he’s in charge of the two main government agencies that provide training to the...
Published: 01/20/18
Sunday Conversation: Lightning VP Keith Harris strikes a chord for the Boys & Girls Clubs

Sunday Conversation: Lightning VP Keith Harris strikes a chord for the Boys & Girls Clubs

Keith Harris fondly looks back on some memorable days from his Tampa upbringing when he worked as a lifeguard at a pool next to a Boys & Girls Club. ¶Whenever it rained, he watched as the kids retreated to the safe haven of the club. They entered int...
Updated: 8 hours ago
Inspector General launches investigation into Tampa Bay’s local career centers

Inspector General launches investigation into Tampa Bay’s local career centers

The state has opened an investigation into CareerSource Pinellas and CareerSource Tampa Bay, days after the Tampa Bay Times asked about whether the two regional job centers were inflating the number of people they had helped get hired. The agencies, ...
Published: 01/19/18
Tech firm TranferWise moves to Ybor City, illustrating a new chapter in Tampa’s business history

Tech firm TranferWise moves to Ybor City, illustrating a new chapter in Tampa’s business history

TAMPA — You could sketch an economic history of the city of Tampa — and maybe get a glimpse of its future — just by looking at the old J. Seidenberg & Co./Havana-American Cigar Factory.It opened in 1894, making it Ybor City’s second-oldest brick ciga...
Published: 01/19/18

Want to buy into an exchanged-traded bitcoin fund? You might have a long wait

NEW YORK — It may be a while, if ever, before investors can buy an exchange-traded fund made up of bitcoin and other digital currencies. Federal regulators have a long list of questions they want answered before they’ll approve a digital currency fun...
Published: 01/19/18
Child psychologist weighs in on mom who charges 5-year-old ‘rent’

Child psychologist weighs in on mom who charges 5-year-old ‘rent’

A Georgia mother has gone viral for charging her 5-year-old "rent." Yup — the kid pays up for food, water, cable and electric, too.Essense Evans described in a Facebook post how she handles her daughter’s allowance. The post, written on Saturday, was...
Published: 01/19/18

Addicted to your smartphone? Now there’s an app for that

Did you text? Sorry, I can’t see messages right now. Arianna Huffington locked my phone.The media tycoon turned wellness entrepreneur wants to keep you out of your phone, too, with a new app called Thrive. Its goal is to make it cool for a generation...
Published: 01/19/18
Proposed monument near St. Pete pier would honor Tony Jannus history-making flight

Proposed monument near St. Pete pier would honor Tony Jannus history-making flight

ST. PETERSBURG — Tony Jannus’s history-making flight in an early seaplane — simultaneously as ungainly and graceful as a pelican on the wing — is what Mayor Rick Kriseman calls an "under-told and under-appreciated" story, but a team of local history ...
Published: 01/19/18
Learn how bus rapid transit (and rail) could work in Tampa Bay

Learn how bus rapid transit (and rail) could work in Tampa Bay

ST. PETERSBURG — The newest hope for transportation in the Tampa Bay area is a bus rapid transit system projected to cover the 41-miles separating St. Petersburg from Wesley Chapel and attract 4,500 new riders at a fraction of the cost of light rail....
Published: 01/19/18
Five things Tampa Bay needs to know about bus rapid transit

Five things Tampa Bay needs to know about bus rapid transit

ST. PETERSBURG — Transportation planners on Friday unveiled a new transit vision for Tampa Bay leaders on Friday morning: Bus rapid transit.Also known as BRT, it has arisen as the leading option in an ongoing study to find the best regional transit p...
Published: 01/19/18