How can women get a foot in the refinished cherry door of professional carpentry and other skilled trades (or DIY, for that matter) if they don’t have the right shoe? Problem solved. Ladies, Marissa McTasney has something for you in a red steel-toe boot. And a pink hard hat. Men, you too, if your tastes run that way. If not, we’re thinking: Gift idea.
Statistics show that more women are living alone and those who aren’t are learning that if you want a reno job done right, do it yourself. That way you don’t have to wait until your partner comes home from the golf course and wants a nap.
Another statistic. According to the Department of Labour in the United States, for every four people who leave skilled trades, only one new person enters an apprenticeship.
We have felt the shortage of skilled tradespeople in Ontario, even though salaries are good and hours flexible.
Women in low-paying jobs, are you listening? McTasney was planning to go back to her software job after daughter Francesca (Frankie) was born two years ago.
“But software wasn’t my passion,” says McTasney, who lives near Whitby. “I’ve always been handy but not properly trained. And with two kids (son Carter is four), I wanted something with a flexible schedule.”
She took a course at the Centre for Skills Development and Training in Burlington that is sponsored by the Ontario Women’s Directorate. New students are given coupons to buy workboots, but when McTasney went shopping, all she could find were black or brown boots.
McTasney learned a lot in the course, and the trip to the workboot store gave her a life-changing idea. Several weeks ago, the pink steel-toed workboots of her company, Tomboy Trades, were available online from the Home Depot.
But Tomboy Trades isn’t just pink boots. It also sells tool belts, T-shirts, hard hats and safety glasses in pink, red, blue and green … and does renovations.
If sales are good — and signs are already encouraging — her products will be available in Home Depot stores in a few months. She would like to branch out into tools designed to fit women’s hands.
McTasney owes a measure of her success to her daughter. She wrote a book of advice for her, With Love (Trafford Publishing, $14.99) in which she urges Francesca to follow her passion. Then she realized she should heed her own advice.
She consulted focus groups, received a loan from the Business Development Bank of Canada, and she and her husband David remortgaged their home twice.
Boots, tool belts and T-shirts are made in China, and hard hats and safety glasses are made in Canada and the U.S. She sleeps with an instant messaging unit and gets by on four hours of sleep a night.
Her pitch to the Home Depot almost didn’t happen. She had the pink boots in a galvanized tub with flowers and cupcakes for Annette Verschuren, president of the Canadian operation. “But she could not be located. I was just about to leave when I bumped into someone I know who works there, and he promised me he would get the package to her.”
A meeting was held the next morning, and McTasney e-mailed her friend to find out what happened.
“My friend said to me, ‘Not only do they fit, she’s wearing them right now in a meeting with the president of the Home Depot worldwide, and he’s ordered a pair for his wife.'”
McTasney developed her product line while doing renovations, the real business of Tomboy Trades and what she prefers to do.
“While all this was going on I retiled my splashpad.”
McTasney also developed a registry of Canadian women tradespeople on her website, tomboytrades.com.
Tomboy Trades’ boots are $100. All other items are $25 or less.
And the Burlington course is so successful that last month the Ontario Women’s Directorate added five new trades programs for women.
Marissa McTasney met her English husband, Taz (a.k.a. David), while backpacking in Australia. They scuba-dived in Thailand and Bali and got married in Mexico. They teach scuba and she has written a book. Now she sells pink workboots, does renovations and inspires women to get busy in the trades.
Credit: The Hamilton Spectator