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Monday, January 16, 2012

Tomboy Tools for the DIY gal

BANGOR, Maine – When it comes to finding a niche market with Maine’s handywomen, Wendi Gormely seems to have hit the nail on the head.

As Maine’s only saleswoman and independent consultant for Tomboy Tools in Maine, the Bangor native has a lot of territory to cover.

“Being the only one in Maine has its advantages and disadvantages,” said Gormely, who has been with Tomboy almost 11 months. “Disadvantages in that I’m it and I have to do all, but I also have all the potential sales and if they (Tomboy) get any leads on, I’m it as far as contacts.”

Tomboy Tools was started as an online store in 2000 by three women – Sue Wilson, Janet Rickstrew and Mary Tatum – and became a Web-based direct-selling business in 2004.

“The first time I heard of it was a couple years ago through a friend of mine, who heard about it on the Today Show,” recalled Gormely, whose day job is as an administrative assistant at Tyler Technologies. “This is right up my alley because I was looking for a part-time job and this is perfect because I can make my own hours and be my own boss. Plus I’m a single homeowner and do a lot of fix-up and maintenance things around my house all the time.”

Tomboy Tools specializes in hand and power tools designed exclusively for use by women.

“They’re lighter weight and also ergonomically designed for a woman’s smaller hand,” said Kelly Bell, Tomboy’s director of marketing and consumer relations. “They’re also about being convenient and utilizing a smart approach.”

That smart approach includes extra features such as tape measures that have fractions imprinted on them or screwdrivers with handles that can store up to 10 bits. There’s also a lifetime guarantee on hand tools and a year on power tools such as the cordless drill and mini driver.

“I had a lot of tools already because I got a lot of my stuff from my dad,” said Gormely, who gets free and discounted tools from Tomboy as a rep. “But some things, like the drill, are so damn big and heavy I can’t use them.”

And while they come in two colors – pink and blue – the trademark color and most popular seller by far is pink, but it wasn’t planned that way.

“When we first started, we used blue because they thought pink would be too cliche,” said Bell. “But we had a lot of requests from women wanting pink. The first pink tool was our 13-ounce hammer and its sales skyrocketed.”

Bell said they still sell blue in limited numbers, but pink outsells blue about 99 to 1.

“Most women tell us the best thing about the pink tools is their husbands and boyfriends don’t borrow them anymore,” Bell said with a chuckle.

The company’s 20-page tool catalog currently offers more than 50 power and hand tools made by manufacturers such as DeWalt for repair, construction, painting and gardening, and 120 products overall.

“The biggest question people ask me is how expensive are they? Their prices are comparable to anything you can get stuff for at Sam’s Club,” Gormely said. “Needle-nose pliers are $9 and our ergonomically correct paintbrushes are $7.”

National chain hardware stores such as Tru-Value and Ace are now selling the company’s basic tool kits on their shelves.

Gormely makes most of her sales through Avon-like home parties, where she visits a home to demonstrate different tools and conduct how-to clinics for small groups of women.

“I’ve been doing expos, at-home parties, set up a Facebook page and done some cold calls,” she said. “I think I’ve done two shows a month on average.”

Gormely travels all over the state, but does most of her shows and trips in Penobscot County.

Tomboy Tools has tripled its growth since being founded in 2000, according to Bell, and is now established in the U.S. and Canada.

Wilson sold her interest in the Colorado-based business a few years ago, but Tatum and Rickstrew still run the company.

“Even though we’ve been in business for 11 years, the brand awareness hasn’t gotten out there as much as we can yet. We have had a lot of media coverage, but we still seem to be slow building up our reps out there,” said Bell. “We’re the only direct-selling tool company providing hands-on education for women.”

Tomboy is also a strong supporter of women’s charities.

“Our Pink for a Purpose campaign supports the Avon Foundation for Women with 5 percent of the purchase price for every tool in our line going to the foundation,” said Bell.

The foundation supports groups such as Speak Out Against Domestic Violence and Breast Cancer Crusade.

“It’s not just sales,” said Bell. “Our whole thing about our retail initiative is drawing people back to our websites and reps and the education and empowerment and support that goes along with our tool line.”

The company’s mission statement is: “To build confidence and empower women through education, quality tools, and independent business opportunity.”

As owner of a house built in the 1950s, Gormely says she gets another benefit from her second job: a greater sense of independence.

“My dad used to have to come over to put shelves up for me. Now I do them all by myself,” Gormely said. “It’s a great feeling to be able to do things for yourself.”

For more information or to order products, call the Tomboy tools corporate office at 866-260-1893 or email Gormely at wendisworkshop@gmail.com.