Some people think big. Others, like the popular “pink boot lady,” just think bigger.
And manage to get there faster.
Featured last summer in the Star’s Thinking Big series on small business, Marissa McTasney, the founder of women’s work-wear line Tomboy Trades Ltd., has found hers growing by leaps and bounds since her story hit these pages.
Of course when you have the gumption and a great idea that involves fashion friendly gear for the female “fix-it” set in pale pink and baby blue, you already have a foot in the door, so to speak.
Since she opened for business in March, the Brooklin, Ont. mom quickly became one of the best sellers of women’s apparel online at Home Depot Canada. Over the last few weeks she stepped things up with her successful launch in 10 Zellers stores in the GTA.
Turns out Zellers customers love her chick-friendly boots, tool belts, hard hats, tinted safety glasses and T-shirts so much that the retailer is launching the line in all 281 of their stores across Canada by Mother’s Day in May.
In particular, the pink tool belts and construction-ready work boots “are flying off the shelves,” she says.
Naturally other major retailers including Wal-Mart have also expressed an interest.
“The response has just been amazing since the story ran in the Star. Nothing compares to that exposure. I’ve heard from people in Ireland and the U.S. I have people coming up to me and shaking my hand,” she marvels.
Zellers got on board when an employee at its store at Shoppers World in Brampton saw her story in the paper last August and contacted the store manager.
McTasney got a call from him the next day and mistakenly thought they wanted her for a public speaking gig on starting a business, which she’s been called on to do quite often this year – most notably last month at the prestigious Canadian Club.
“He said ‘No, I want your stuff’,” she recalls.
Without skipping a beat, McTasney made a presentation at a Zellers regional managers’ meeting, but even before they inked a deal, “I gambled and ordered the leather (for the belts and boots) in advance.”
Her instincts and hard work paid off. She had to fully stock the stores in 10 weeks, but she did it, including providing the packaging and promotional materials and signage with the distinctive Tomboy Trades logo – which resembles the Charlie’s Angels logo, only with two women wielding a saw and a hammer.
“She worked miracles to get it in the first store but she did it,” notes Lori Ronald, Zellers’ general merchandise manager for ladies’ wear at the Brampton head office.
“We thought it was an innovative line and obviously it was home-grown. It was very well accepted,” she says, adding she owns a pink tool belt herself and got one for a friend’s 12-year-old daughter too (they’re adjustable.)
“We really feel that this is a great line for the ‘do-it-yourselfer’ woman. It just shows what hard work and determination will do for a person,” adds Ronald.
Statistics show that one in four Canadians planned to remodel or renovate their house this year, and women now make up more than half of those fixing them up.
Since the business exploded, McTasney had to get warehouse space to store her product. She found a 20,000-square foot space in Markham, and instead of working out of her home north of Whitby, she now officially hangs her shingle outside an office near her warehouse.
And thanks to some key investors, the 32-year-old finally makes a regular salary from the business, which means, among other things, “I don’t have to buy groceries on my credit card anymore.”
Of course she inherited a couple nicknames along the way, from “pink boot lady” to “pinky boots.”
McTasney and her husband also just returned from an eight-day tour of the factories in China where they make her product line. She’s especially thankful to the manufacturers in Tianjin, where they make the work boots and tool belts, and in Qingdao, where they make her cute T-shirts.
“It was fascinating to see it all. I’ve been so naive and inexperienced and they really stuck with me from the start,” she notes.
Besides pastel pink and blue, the line comes in darker shades like forest green and dark red. The gear ranges in price from $19.99 for a hard hat to $99.99 for work boots, all of which meet required safety standards.
Next on the list is a planned expansion into the U.S., re-branding to include tools – to go into those handy tool belts of course – and a kids line by next Christmas.
“I didn’t really believe all this could happen. I’ve never worked harder but it’s been worth it.”
Credit: Toronto Star; Lisa Wright