At the B.C. Home and Garden Show, Lori Mitchell takes the fear of power drills in hand
Lori Mitchell has become an expert at helping women confront one of their deepest fears: the terror of the common toolbox.
Mitchell—who’ll be speaking each day at this year’s B.C. Home and Garden Show (at B.C. Place until Sunday [February 26])—is CEO of Canada’s Tomboy Tools, which hosts home “tool parties” for DIY–eager females around the country. And the key, Mitchell says, is helping them to get comfortable with cordless drills and Allen wrenches—to tap their inner, well, handyperson.
“Women are most scared of power tools, but that’s the one where you put the impact driver in their hand and they’re the most empowered,” says the straight-talking exec over the phone from her headquarters in Winnipeg. “Even if you just want to put up a towel rack, you need to have a tool. We let them know it’s not rocket science. If you make a mistake, there’s patch compound.”
Mitchell, a former human-resources executive, launched the Canadian wing of the Denver-based Tomboy Tools in 2004. When she had read about the start-up company one day in the newspaper, it was like a perfectly installed light fixture going off in her head: there might be more women out there like her, who loved decorating and DIY projects. In her case, she had a husband who travelled a lot and wasn’t necessarily around to paint walls and hang curtain rods. “I even hate to say that, because the last time I checked it’s the 21st century,” she says of her travelling spouse. “But I wasn’t looking for projects to fix stuff. I wanted to be an interior decorator and that was what was motivating me—and you need tools for that. So was I handy? Yeah, but I wasn’t running over to my friend’s house to fix a toilet for them.”
What Mitchell didn’t realize then was that her timing couldn’t have been better for bringing Tomboy here.
“Times are changing. I hesitate to use the word generational, but I know girls that are 23, 25 years old, they buy their own condo and they don’t think twice about painting a wall. They don’t see it as a ‘male’ job,” she says. “Now you see more and more women that want to be part of a project. If they [a couple] are putting in a rec room downstairs, you see the wife more involved, not just in the planning but execution of that. But with 99 percent of the people I talk to, they just want to unleash their inner designer diva. They don’t want to knock out walls and renovate.”
Along with hosting home parties, where women can try out their new skills on demo boards, Tomboy Tools also sells equipment that has been ergonomically designed for women, including a pretty pink-and-black eight-volt impact drill ($130). It turns out that the fact that most power drills are not made for your physique might actually have something to do with your inability to operate them properly.
“Most tools are designed for a six-foot, 180-pound frame as the ergonomic indicator,” Mitchell says. “Our upper-body strength is not there. I don’t care if you’re a big girl: you can’t hold a drill over your head for more than five minutes max. The weight of the tool starts to weigh on you. And that’s why people don’t do it!”
Using ample doses of humour at the Home Show—Mitchell is also a part-time standup comedian—she’ll introduce audiences to the 10 basic tools you need to do decorating projects in your home. She’ll show you some easy garage-sale-find refurbishing projects, and she’ll talk you through essential jobs—like hanging a picture frame, a small bit of business that can cause huge headaches if you don’t know what you’re doing.
“You better have a level—there’s nothing worse than a wonky piece of artwork,” she asserts. “I have quite a bit of fun with this part of it: most people who are novices will open up the hardware and will throw out the little plastic anchors because they think they’re garbage. And as far as tools, if it’s a light piece, a finishing nail and a hammer are fine, but if it’s anything with weight, you need a drill.”
Mitchell also stresses safety at all her talks. She always recommends rubber-grip gloves, to give women extra hold when they grab those tools, as well as safety glasses.
“They can be simple to use but people never do it. It’s like they never think of it when they’re using spray paint or sanding paper,” she says about goggles. “But I always say it’s like when seatbelts became a law—because back then, it was the biggest deal to put it on when you got in the car, but now it’s a habit and you do it every time.”
More than anything else, though, Mitchell wants to allay fears and show the fun side of tool time. As it turns out, her love of comedy is the perfect mix with her home-reno talks on the Home Show main stage.
“Who knew that I would be able to blend both worlds?” she says. “I mean, when you’re in a comedy club at 11 at night and everybody’s drunk, you better be fun-n-ny! At least on a Sunday afternoon at B.C. Place for the Home Show, no one will be heckling me. Or at least I hope!”