The Profit

Marcus Lemonis not only saved this struggling swimwear business, he became a part of the family

It's sink or swim for this plus-size swimwear company
It's sink or swim for this plus-size swimwear company

Chuck Handy had a million-dollar idea: Inspired by his wife's complaints about the lack of plus-size swimwear, he'd start a company to fill that retail hole. He wanted it to be a family business. So he recruited his young son to occupy the vice president spot, his daughter to handle operations and his wife to chip in at nights when she wasn't teaching. Chuck, for his part, would act as both president and head of design.

And in 2010, SWIM by Chuck Handy was launched in Miami. But for all the buzz surrounding the company, the buyers never lined up and the millions never materialized. With their entire family life and fortune wrapped up in SWIM, the Handy's homegrown business was going under -- until The Profit's Marcus Lemonis tossed the clan a lifesaver, that is.

With years of experience leading sales for swimwear, Chuck believed he knew the industry well enough to take it on head first. What he hadn't prepared for, however, was the disconnect between his aesthetic point of view and that of SWIM's middle-aged female demographic. Chuck's designs, which he based off of visits to high-end retailers -- visits he billed as "research" -- just weren't a hit with customers. What's more, these patterns and styles were simply out of date since they were modeled on swimwear designs that were already on the market.

A design overhaul would've been a simple enough salvo for the fledgling brand, but as Marcus soon found out during an audit of the business, SWIM's finances were a mess. The company, run somewhat haphazardly by Chuck and son Charlie, had grossly underpriced its wholesale business and, as a result, was missing out on crucial profit and incurring debt. And with no operating profits to spur it on, the company's inventory, housed in a tiny Miami warehouse, was also sorely lacking.

SWIM's CEO can't seem to settle on any new designs
SWIM's CEO can't seem to settle on any new designs

SWIM was, for all intents and purposes, out of business already. But Marcus, sensing great potential in the company's plus-size mission and a synergy with his larger fashion portfolio, decided to invest, taking on over half of the company and revamping it top to bottom. With SWIM now under his control, he moved quickly to relocate its headquarters from Miami to New York and fabrication from China to the US.

To further help pull the Handy's family business out of its free fall, Marcus enlisted the design advice of ML Creative, his LA-based fashion company. The team confirmed the obvious: Chuck's designs were bad for business and they were limiting its reach. And so, to change course, Marcus brought in another of his companies, Printed Village, to connect SWIM with a pool of young graphic designers, update its look and shift Chuck out of his design role.

He also introduced a new name, Siloett, to rebrand the company away from its conspicuously male point of view and expand the product line. Siloett would now carry hats, bags, towels and flip flops as extensions of its main swimwear line -- an effort Chuck's capable daughter, Mary Ellen, with her fashion background, would spearhead.

With these sweeping changes in place, Marcus gave the family space to prove their worth. And while the Handy clan managed to pull it all together in time for an impressive industry showcase, selling hundreds of thousands of orders and wowing Marcus in the process, it was Mary Ellen who shone the brightest. She'd not only taken Marcus' advice and direction for Siloett to heart, she went beyond what he'd asked, delivering fresh concepts and outlining a vision that could effectively grow the brand.

Now, thanks to Marcus' careful recalibration of the Handy family business, Siloett is thriving with Mary Ellen at its head. Chuck and Charlie are still involved in the sales aspect of the brand, but it's Mary Ellen who gets to call the shots, working in tandem with Marcus when necessary over email and text.

Siloett may not look much like Chuck's original vision of his family's swimwear business. He may not even be calling the shots anymore, a concession he admits was difficult. But, still, he's grateful for the second chance Marcus gave him and his family. And, it seems, he now considers Marcus a part of the Handy family, too.

"Marcus came in not necessarily as a partner," says Chuck, "he came in as a brother."