Backstory

Bikini Bus delivers swimwear and accessories

vbridges@newsobserver.comJune 24, 2014 

  • Advice from Melanie Pierce

    • Don't worry about failing because if you never try, you will never succeed.

    • Listen.

    • Ask questions.

    • Finding a good logo is key to brand development.

— Three words: Brazilian. Bikini. Bus.

Yeah, Melanie Pierce thought that concept would get your attention. Now, she is trying to build a business on it.

Pierce took a former City of Greensboro 20-person bus and transformed it into what one camp calls a mobile boutique and another calls a fashion truck. Pierce calls it the Bikini Bus, a mobile boutique that sells women’s swimwear from Brazil and Miami that include brands such as Mar Egeu and Martha Aponte. The bus’s chairs were replaced with bamboo flooring topped with a dressing room, drawers to store inventory, racks to display bikinis, Havaiana flip-flops, hats, cover-ups and jewelry.

“I always set the one-pieces outside so people see that it’s not just bikinis,” said Pierce, 50, of Cary, whose suits range from $64 to $150.

Since debuting the bus in February, Pierce has been hunting for ways to find customers as she perfects her systems and listens to feedback.

“Every time I take the bus out, I learn something new,” she said.

She got the idea for the bus while having lunch during a June 2013 trip to Massachusetts. The broadcasting company where she worked had just been bought, and she wasn’t sure if would keep her job as a sales, advertising and support manager. She had moved to Cary in 2012 for the job after losing a similar position in Massachusetts.

A friend suggested that she go into business for herself.

“I should,” she responded. “I could sell bikinis on the beach.”

At the time, the remark was flippant, she said, but over the weekend trip she kept building on the idea. Pierce loves the beach, where she wears a coordinated ensemble, from the sandals to the hat. In 2011, Pierce visited a Brazil beach where vendors sold bikinis on a pole carried on their shoulders.

“I was like ‘that is so amazing,’ ” she said.

Pierce got off the return flight from Massachusetts and went straight to Staples, where she bought posters that she set up in her living room. She labeled them business ideas, concerns, legal matters, marketing ideas, merchandise ideas and event ideas.

For three months, she researched and added to the posters daily. She turned the information into a business plan.

Pierce sought insight from a handful of businesses that sell clothing out of trucks in California and Connecticut. She connected with merchandise vendors after joining a swimwear and bikini group on LinkedIn.

By October 2013, she had ordered samples of 20 designs. In November, she bought the bus for about $13,000.

She debuted the Bikini Bus in February at the Brazilian Carnival at Carmen’s, a Cuban café and lounge in Morrisville. She parked the bus outside and set up a table with flip-flops and bathing suits with a goal of getting feedback on the concept and the quality of the Brazilian made products.

In March, she took the bus to the Beer & Bacon Fest in Cary, where she figured out that the bus had electrical issues after the battery died in two hours. Since, Pierce has continued looking for events to attend and has started booking private parties.

Earlier this month, she was a swimwear sponsor for Miss Charlotte U.S.A. pageant, providing items for the contestants to get pool-ready.

Meanwhile, Pierce is still working her broadcasting job and has taken on more responsibility there. But she still can’t stop dreaming about the future of the Bikini Bus.

“What do I want to do next year, and what am I going to do in three years?” she said. “How big do I want to take this?”

Bridges: 919-829-8917; Twitter: @virginiabridges

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