Feb 13, 2016
Since appearing on ABC’s hit show Shark Tank in 2013, a lot of things have changed for Orem-based Mission Belt. Except for one.
“We are still a belt company,” says Zac Holzapfel, one of the founders of Mission Belt. “We are focused on making our product better, and we carry new, higher-quality models. But we are sticking with the Mission Belt.”
The Mission Belt offers a unique, hole-free design which adjusts every ¼” through a ratcheting system. Though the design is a great selling feature, it is also a challenge because customers have to be educated on how to use the product. “People do not realize what our belt is,” Holzapfel says. “There has to be some customer education and personal experience, which is a hurdle.” The sale is made even more difficult because the belt is an accessory and usually an after-thought in any shopping process. “Accessories are usually in the corner or a cave of a store,” Holzapfel laughs. “That makes it harder. But we are making headway where none has been made in years.”
The ‘mission’ behind the belt refers to Mission Belt’s dedication to change the world one microloan at a time. With every belt sold, Mission Belt invests $1 with Kiva, a nonprofit organization that provides microloans to entrepreneurs, particularly in third-world countries.
“The mission is a big part of our business,” admits Holzapfel. “Every belt is tied to a loan. We are really happy with our ability to provide those,” says Holzapfel. To date, Mission Belt has made over 35,000 microloans.
Challenges: Managing growth is a challenge, albeit a good one to have. Before Shark Tank, Mission Belt had 18,000 units in storage. “We thought we had plenty to cover orders,” he says. But they sold out in days after the show aired. “So we had to get back to manufacturing."
“Since day one we have manufactured in China. Originally we did all our own sourcing but as we’ve grown we have used brokers to streamline processes including manufacturing, packaging, quality control, and shipping,” Holzapfel says. “Everyone wants fast, affordable, and quality production. They say that you can pick two but not all three.”
Of the three, Mission Belt is committed to continually emphasizing quality. “But it’s not something that you can turn your back on at anytime. Just because the last production was perfect, you still have to be on top of all points,” he says.
That feeling of running to catch up still has not left since the show aired. “You always feel behind,” he says. “We are always racing to stay ahead. We are far from satisfied. But we are glad we are not sitting around, wondering what to do with all these belts,” he laughs.
Opportunities: The Mission Belt is currently sold in 1,500 stores, but Holzapfel expects 2016 to be a big year for the business. Partner Daymond John has help Mission Belt receive national exposure, most recently through an appearance on Good Morning America. Mission Belt is also running tests with large retailers and seeking to expand the reach of their product through trade shows. “We have done a lot of work,” Holzapfel admits, “and we have had a lot of conversations. We are on a good track now.”
Needs: Talent is a priority for Holzapfel. “You need to get the right people and then you need to keep them happy. Your business is your people. And they must be happy and motivated or else there is a struggle.” Finding employees is difficult in a state with full employment, Holzapfel says, but he enjoys working out of Utah. “It’s a great place,” he says, “with a lot of entrepreneurship.
And the people here are interested in more than just getting rich.” Holzapfel is not content to let talent come to him. When he sees a good fit for Mission Belt, he’s willing to go after it. “Our best hires have been when we’ve gone after people,” he says. “We have people who could probably make more money elsewhere, but they want to be part of something that is changing the world for the better.”