All it takes is a bit of moxie!

March 2009

Marissa McTasney tackles the trades industry with style, passion, and determination. She believes in dreaming big, thinking the impossible and loving passionately. A few years ago, she decided to truly embrace her philosophies to find “her thing” – her company, Moxie Trades, is the result. Mompreneur Publisher Kathryn Bechthold recently caught up with Marissa and talked with her about her journey and life as an entrepreneurial mom.

Q: First of all, let me say how much I enjoy your website ! Moxietrades .com is not only an easy way to buy equipment, whether you’re a trades woman or simply the hip gal who takes care of her own home repairs , but it also gives helpful information such as tips on how to hire a tradesperson. I also love the video with Moxie women talking about their home repair abilities. Was this a part of your marketi ng plan fr om the beginning?

A: I started the business as a new tradeswoman in the industry – traded in my high heels in a corporate job for work boots on a job site! My goal was to be hanging from ladders and swinging hammers in people’s homes. Instead, I uncovered a gap in the market for women’s work wear that spanned far beyond the trades industry.

Approximately 50% of the work force in Canada wear work boots, and half of these people are women. This certainly isn’t a niche – this is a gap. I also discovered that women have been suffering in their “male” work boots and clothing. They were uncomfortable and they were getting injured. Personally, I wanted to wear pink work boots. I wanted to be myself on site and not have to prove that I was like a man, could swing a hammer like a man, or make as much money as a man. My goal was to rip a piece of wood with a circular saw in pink work boots.

Q: Why did you start

A: I started the business as Tomboy Trades a couple of years ago. The plan was to have teams of women who would do renovations. While I was building my trades business and attending trades school, my evenings were spent looking for anyone who would make pink work boots for me.

I found my manufacturer in China through a website. Many, many naysayers told me not to do it. But my gut was OK to move forward. My Chinese partners and I worked for months on product development. Once we had samples, I went to the bank to wire over the money. Not only did I have no idea what I was doing and what a TT transfer was, but my local bank was also experiencing wiring to China for the first time.

Everyone thought I’d lost it. I did it anyway. A week later, my precious pink work boots arrived and I was initiated into the manufacturing business. I presented my idea to the President of Home Depot, Annette Verschuren. The boots I sent her fit, and she wore them on a site with media and the CEO of Home Depot. One week before my meeting with Home Depot, I had created my website through a template on Three hundred dollars and five sleepless nights later, I had

After realizing that the business was going to take off and was likely to go global, I re-branded to Moxie Trades. Not everyone responded to Tomboy, so after market research, analysis and simple dictionary surfing, I found moxie – the ability to face fear with courage and spirit. This is every woman. The birth of Moxie Trades was immediately followed by the website rebrand to

We started the videos because women kept asking me what the course for construction was like and what it’s like working in the trades. It occurred to me to start a forum for women to share their stories. We have so many women with stories they want to share, and women who want to hear them. Our goal is to bring them together.

Q: What have been some of your major challenges?

A: Major challenges have been abundant. Every day I wake up and say “Today, I don’t want to learn a thing!” In reality, I am hungry for education. Everyone greets a challenge (when they are not the ones going through it) with “It’s a learning experience!” Yes, it is, but c’mon! I don’t want a learning experience every single day of the week.

One challenge is getting your hands on money through the bank, investment companies and investors. Purchase order
financing and factoring are also available options. The one thing I have always done is to only ask for money once I have the purchase orders from the customers. I got a bank loan after I received the order from Home Depot. I partnered with investors after I had business with HBC.

My latest venture and the break I needed came with the Dragons Den TV show. I had done a couple of interviews with CBC TV, and the producers asked me if I would like to participate in auditioning the new dragon. It was a great experience, lots of fun. But my intention was not to be on the real show. After all, I was already in business. After negotiations, I agreed to do the show and bring a team of women with me. I contacted tradeswomen who had purchased our products, women from our online registry, women from The Company of Women, members of CAWIC and instructors from the Burlington Center for Skilled Trades – and they showed up! They were happy, giddy and lifted me up for the pitch. My goal was to be articulate, and it was easy with 35 gorgeous supporters behind me. On the show, I turned down the deal. At the end of the taping, Brett Wilson said, “call me and I’ll help you.” Then, Jim Treliving said the same thing. So I’m walking off the show and have a millionaire and billionaire offering me help. This is the break entrepreneurs need. Yes, luck is preparation meeting opportunity and, yes, I only sleep four hours a night so I do work hard. And yes, we have great products, but everyone needs a break. I called Brett Wilson and we spoke for 45 minutes, shared emails, had breakfast, and finally shook on a deal. Now, I could breathe. This was the first time I felt safe.

I believe there will always be fear and that is what drives me. Once you build staff, make commitments and are in business, there also comes immense responsibility. It’s also not like you have won money; you need to be gracious and respectful with your investor’s money. They have worked hard for it, so you need to take care of it.

Another challenge is retailers who ask for exclusivity. My advice: don’t do it. It’s really difficult for a start-up to offer
exclusivity. Not only do you need to sell enough to cover your costs, but you have tremendous start-up costs so you need a lot of customers. There is also the reality that you may drive your one and only retailer bonkers. You live and die by your “one and only”, but they can do without you. Exclusivity can come in various styles, brands or a particular product, but shouldn’t be everything you have to offer.

Then there are the day-to-day ordeals of running a business. At the beginning, you think forget it, I quit, this is too big for me. Now, I just find another solution. There will always be challenges; strength comes in finding the solution.

Q: What tips would you recommend to a Mompreneur thinking about manufacturing a product ?

A: When it comes to manufacturing a product, I believe it is necessary to find a great manufacturer. I did not need a patent, but if you’re talking about a unique invention, do that as soon as possible. When working with manufacturers, especially those overseas, make sure you keep your investment as small as possible. Work on concept and prototype, just enough to test the market. Don’t buy in to “minimum quantities”. If this is a prototype, they should work with you. Keep looking for that company until you find one that believes in you.

Meet with your potential clients and see what they think. Ask for their advice. I have been asked to review people’s ideas and I have had a few people ask me to sign a non-disclosure agreement (NDA). This means that if I take their idea they can sue me. I will not sign an NDA, nor have I ever asked anyone to sign one for me. There will always be risk in launching a business, but do so with integrity and good will. I am a believer that you have to put it out there. For all of my ideas, I throw them out into the world and someone always grabs on and helps me get to the next place. Always ask – it’s amazing the results.

Q: What has the experience bee n like to manufacture overseas ? What challenges have you faced?

A: There have been a few language barriers, but in any language there are always communication issues. When manufacturing overseas you need to ensure you understand the taxes, duties, shipping costs and warehousing costs before providing prices to your customers.

Q: What have been some of your major successes?

A: There have been many! We are doing business with the largest retailers in Canada. Our company has also put a smile on many women’s faces as they don their pink work boots. It’s not about being pink or a girl – it’s about doing it ourselves. Some women have worn their husband’s tan work boots for decades, so wearing a pair of pink work boots is such a 180 that it’s empowering. Making women happy is our biggest success.

Q: How do you bala nce being a mom and an entrepreneur? What tips would you recommend?

A: I have tried three home daycares, my kids were on waiting lists at two daycares in my area, and my mother and husband have rallied around me for the last couple of years. In our house, it’s team McTasney. After three bad experiences with home daycares, I vowed never again. My biggest struggle was dropping my kids off with people who didn’t love them. Then, there was the rush in the morning, the panic at 5 pm, and then the guilt and dissatisfaction. I used to say to myself, all of this for a pink work boot? But, the lesson I am teaching my children is to follow their dreams and live large.

My business was started because I was looking for a passion. I wrote a book for my kids on my philosophy of life that I want to pass on to them. My philosophy is: Dream Big, Think the Impossible, and Love Passionately. So, is this just about a pink work boot? No, it’s way more than that. It’s my dream, my success and my journey of independence.

My daughter is learning how hard her Mom works, that she is happy, and that she loves her very much. My daughter is three, loves pink and knows how to use a drill (yes, already!) My son, now five years old, is learning how to shake hands, ship a carton to a customer, and doesn’t know the difference between his Mom going to work or his Dad. He also has daily chores and can make his own bed and bring down the laundry.

As for our current daycare scenario, I have tried to make my own life as efficient as possible. We now have a live-in nanny who loves my children. This works well because if I want to have breakfast, eat lunch or take my kids to school, I can. There is no red-tape, no codes to enter or calls to make. I can have my kids whenever I want them.

Also, my daughter attends a play group three afternoons a week at the Montessori school which is attached to my new
office. I was lucky enough to get my hands on an office space in an old mill from the 1850’s. It is a couple of blocks away from home and I can peek in on my little girl while she’s in the class. I certainly don’t have it all figured out, but I have learned the best way to manage my business and my family.

Q: What ’s in the cards for Moxie Trades over the next couple of years?

A: We want to make sure that our Canadian customers are happy, both at the retail level and most importantly at the consumer level. We will continue to grow our business across the border and overseas, but we are in no rush. We want to grow our business successfully in all markets. Most importantly we want to carry on the Moxie mission.

Author: Kathryn Bechthold

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