Sep 19, 2011 – 8:36 AM ET | Last Updated: Sep 19, 2011 11:23 AM ET

Moxie Trades is the home of the original pink work boot for women, and the brainchild of Marissa McTasney, who happens to be full of moxie. As a woman working in construction, Marissa needed boots to keep her safe on the job. Being fashion conscious, she went looking for pink steel-toed boots, but couldn’t find any. She quickly saw an opportunity to cater to the growing number of women trades. Established in 2008, Moxie Trades products are designed for women, by women, combining the best of comfort, safety, design and fashion.

The Den Deal $600,000 for 75% equity

Before Marissa came into the Den, she already had business and retail partners, and strong sales. She was a confident presenter who knew the value of her business. In real time, her pitch was 2.5 hours, and one of the most interesting negotiations ever in the den. On air, Robert and I offered $600,000 for 75% of the business. It was an animated discussion that hinged on the valuation. Given the strength of her sales, Jim told her not to take the deal. She listened, and turned us down. No hard feelings, we hugged and I said, “Call me, I’ll help you.”

The Real Deal $600,000 for 50% equity

That night, she called. She knew that dealing with partners like Mark’s Work Wearhouse, Wal-Mart and Zellers would require a larger investor to help manage inventory and logistics. We had breakfast the next day and shook on a deal. I bought 50% of the company from another shareholder with a combination of cash and shareholder loans totaling $600,000.

Why I did it Marissa has fantastic energy and a natural sales ability. Her passion and business sense had me from, “Hello dragons.”

Marissa’s challenges Moxie Trades had $1-million in gross revenue in its first two years in business. Then 2009 hit. Marissa found out how difficult it can be for a startup to provide the best marketing, price and customer service to large retailers. Fines for late inventory can kill a small business. Logistics to support supply is critical. At the time, she was doing it all herself. She lost Wal-Mart and Zellers. Her biggest clients became her biggest competitors, selling their own line of work wear for women. Devastated, she had to start all over again.

After losing her biggest retailers, she thought she was done. We encouraged her to stay the course. She revamped the product line, hired staff and pre-booked sales – she didn’t put anything into production until the sales were booked. That worked so well that in 2010 she ran out of inventory. She went from $150,000 in sales in 2009 to $1.5-million in 2010. She was still having trouble forecasting sales, so she partnered with a distribution company to take over logistics and inventory. They’d worry about bringing in the product from China, delivery, and accounts payable, and pay Moxie Trades a commission in the form of a royalty.

Using a distributor has freed up Marissa to do what she’s really good at: sales and marketing, and managing her main accounts – including a strong relationship with one of Canada’s largest retailers, Mark’s Work Wearhouse, which now carries her products in 130 stores nationwide.

How Marissa Felt “I was prepared to walk away from my company in 2009, but Brett believed in me more than I believed in myself.

“Working with a distribution company really saved me. I resisted it at first. I wanted success on my terms. But Brett saw that I was only getting three to four hours sleep a night. He said, ‘I’m scared you’re going to get divorced and kill yourself.’ Using a distributorship forced me lay off staff, which was hard. Then I read a book called Double Double that talked about creating a dynasty with zero full-time staff. It gave me a new vision. Now I’ve embraced my new reality. I could still work 24 hours a day, but I don’t have to. I can have dinner with my kids every night. I’m a better wife and mother now.

“My company just hit the five-year mark. I’ve learned so much, and I’m proud that I’ve survived this long and have built something strong and stable. It’s just about growing now. My original loan from the BDC is almost paid off and my personal liability is going down, which feels great. Brett’s shareholder loans grew way beyond his original commitment and thankfully he’s patient and believes in me. I hope that one day I can make him proud and give him all his money back.

“In the past five years, I’ve also found a platform for giving back. I volunteer my time and raise money for Habitat for Humanity as an Ambassador. As great as it is to be a receiver, giving is even better.”

Outcomes and Forecast Marissa still has her ups and downs, but she’s learned a lot about the cyclical patterns of the footwear industry. She has six regional reps in Canada and four in the United States who market to retailers and end users. With regional reps in place, it’s just about building. She’s discovered that working with independent retailers, such as privately owned safety stores, is a more reliable business model because their needs are easier to meet. She’s working on building a network of suppliers across North America so that if she loses one, it won’t cost her the entire business.

– W. Brett Wilson is one of Canada’s most successful businessmen and innovative philanthropists. You can follow him at @wbrettwilson.

Company Moxie Trades
Founder Marissa McTasney
Measure of success Moxie Trades bounced back from the loss of major retail partners by establishing a network of regional reps who market primarily to independent retailers. Moxie Trades went from $150,000 in revenue in 2009 to $1.5 million in 2010.

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