RedSphere Network

Interview Series: Lori Mitchell, Tomboy Tools Canada

Posted on: December 2, 2009

What do you get when you take a vibrant, part-time stand-up comedian from Manitoba with an appreciation for women’s inner “do-it-yourselfer” and mix in a big dose of entrepreneurial spirit?

Meet Lori Mitchell, President and CEO of Tomboy Tools Canada. A finalist for Manitoba Women Entrepreneur of the Year Award in 2007 and 2008 and a recognized speaker on women in business and achieving your dreams, Lori knew she was on to something when she read an ad in the newspaper about an interesting start-up company out of Denver. She was so intrigued by what this company was up to that she set the ball in motion and quickly made inquiries.  Within months Lori had secured the rights to Tomboy Tools Canada.

Tomboy Tools boasts the world’s first pink power tool – an 8v Pink Impact Driver, and their Pink Hammer was featured in the October 2008 edition of “O” Magazine. In my interview with Lori, she tells us a little bit about how both she and her company have evolved and how tools, of all things, are bringing Canadian women to tears.

“Good is the enemy of Great”

What is a “Tool Party” and how is it different than other party a woman might host or attend?

We’ve all been to home parties. A Tomboy Tools – Tool Party is very different from the other home parties out there. Guests have the chance to try the tools, ask questions, share stories and learn a few Tomboy Tips all in a comfortable, relaxed atmosphere. Everything is done on demo boards, so there are no concerns about making mistakes. The intimidation factor that can sometimes occur is gone… so if you don’t know the name of the squared headed screw – just ask. Our guests try something they may have been afraid to and leave with a sense of empowerment, accomplish and that they can take on the projects around their homes that they have always wanted to. They can now turn the place they live into the place they love.

What were you seeing that made you think, “I’m going to start Tool Parties just for women?”

I read an article over coffee one Sunday morning in May 2002 in my local newspaper. It was a filler article from the Associated Press about a new start-up company out of Denver called Tomboy Tools. I looked over at my husband and said: “I am not the only one!”. I had a very strong reaction to this whole thing, so I sent an email to them to see what was happening in Canada. The next day the president of company called me…two months later I flew to Denver, met with the three founders and spent the weekend with them…and returned home with the rights to a company for Canada. I knew that the products were top quality, the message and method were solid and that this truly was a pioneering moment. Eighteen months later we launched Tomboy Tools Canada.

What typically happens at a Tool Party?

Fun and laughter! Our Tomboy Consultant takes you and your guests on a journey through the world of Tomboy Tools. Most of our new hostesses choose our Tool School 101 as their first party. We explore the old and the new. Old tools, old conceptions and the amazing changes that Tomboy Tools has made to make all the jobs around the house easier and faster. Our parties are every interactive and everyone gets the opportunity to try the tools first hand. Using our magnetic head hammer and starting a nail with one hand is always a crowd favorite. The stories that are shared – good ones and home repair horrors – make the evening full of laughter and sharing. You find out you are not the only one who may not have known what a Robertson tip is. Our guests leave with a sense of accomplishment and ready to take on the world – or at least their corner of it.

Some women might think, “But I married my tools. Why would a Tool Party be something for me?”

For some people it is a shift in thinking. Yes some people have handy partners and that’s great! Single women are outpacing married couples in the first time home buyer category and for the most part, women have the most influence on projects being done in homes. For many women it is discovering their inner designer diva that brings them to needing tools. They want to put up a curtain rod or a shelf, or install a closet organizer in their son’s bedroom. Our homes are a reflection of ourselves, so the creative side of home ownership appeals to many women. Many couples work together these days as well, and traditional tools are not made based on our bodies. With Tomboy Tools everything has been weighted, sized, balanced or gripped based on a woman’s physiology. Our hand size is smaller, upper body strength is less, muscle mass is less and centre of gravity is lower. By changing the design, we can increase functionality of the tool… making the jobs were are already doing around the house easier and with that ease comes the empowerment and desire to try more.

What type of projects can you work on at a party?

We offer a number of Project Parties including, “Going Green”, “Say it with Paint”, “Style with Tile” and our most popular party – “Tools School 101”, to name a few. We encourage our Tomboy Consultants to be creative with the types of parties they can offer to hostesses and parties like mosaic tiling, garden projects, and car awareness have been conducted.

What is some of the most interesting or surprising feedback you have heard from women who have attended a Tool Party?

We see women visibly excited and we constantly hear words like “finally” “it’s about time” We met a woman named Tammy at a party who wanted to try our drill. After achieving a successful result, she began to cry and we were quite confused. Tammy shared her only other experience with a drill. Years ago, as new home owner she borrowed a drill to put up some shelves. She had no experience with a drill and thought she could figure it out. No matter how long she held it to the wall nothing happened. No one had told Tammy you needed to put a bit in the end to make the holes or drill in a screw. She had not picked up a drill since that experience…until our Tool Party. She purchased a drill that night and has been enjoying it ever since.  

Other than hosting or attending a Tool Party, how else can women get involved with Tomboy Tools?

We provide a fun, flexible and REAL home based business that is unique, groundbreaking and unlike anything else available today. Becoming a Tomboy Consultant does not mean that you have to be at a contractor level with tool knowledge. In fact, the reverse is what most of our Tomboys are. Women who have a passion for their homes, design, renos or crafts who want to share their stories and help others make excellent Tomboy Consultants. We offer ongoing training and support to all Tomboy Consultants and now have several Leaders across Canada who also provide ongoing support to their teams. Tomboys earn sales commissions, as well as training and leadership bonuses for growing their teams. Our international convention in July is held in Denver and our trip to Puerto Rico this February are some of the other incentives offered to Tomboy Consultants

Tell us a little about your life before becoming CEO of Tomboy Tools Canada.

At the time that I go the rights to Tomboy Tools for Canada, I was an executive with a large payroll and HR company here in Canada and had been in that position for 5 years. I came from a senior management position at our local telecom provider where I had been for 5 years. I spent most of my adult life in the corporate world. While I was growing my executive career, I also had two sons, a husband, and a large dog! All of which, I still have.  

What was your first inkling that entrepreneurship was for you?

I don’t think I ever really thought of it that way. I was raised in an entrepreneurial home, where my parents owned a Shell station and then when I was 12, they sold the station and started a landscaping and landscape supply company. We had the office in our home (which, in the 1970’s was very rare), and I was expected to be able to answer the business phone, answer customer questions and take orders with payment. I got about 5 minutes of training. I assumed every 12 year old had to know how to do that stuff. When I was in university, I started my own off shoot business where we worked on yards, and provided bagged soil to local garden centres. Later, after my second son was born, I started my own consultant and training practice specializing in quality initiatives and customer service improvement. Even in the corporate management roles I had, I still thought of my department as my own little company. To me, the definition of entrepreneur is “willing to take full risk, responsibility and actions to achieve excellent results”.

Who has been a role model to you?

As corny as it sounds…my father. Most of how I operate as a business owner is drawn from him.

Are you involved in any philanthropic activities?

We are totally committed to giving back to the communities we serve. Since 2006, we have been involved in raising money for breast cancer related organizations. We have donated thousands of dollars to the Breast Cancer Society of Canada and this year our partnership is with Willow Breast Cancer Awareness (www.willow.org). We also have ongoing support to Habitat for Humanity in the form of product donations to build sites, as well as items used in fundraising and volunteer time from Tomboys across the country. We also support programs and initiatives through Skills Canada. Finally, we say “YES” to any charitable cause that contacts us for donations for things like silent auction items etc. It is a lot more fun to say “YES” than it is to say “NO”.

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