Photo: David Thomas
Second Acts: Canadian Entrepreneur Maggie Fox, 50, Shares Her Tips for Success
BY Dick Snyder | January 2nd, 2023
All Maggie Fox wanted to do was bring the world’s best hand-made scissors to the suffering masses. You know who you are: You’ve got more than a dozen scissors that were made on the cheap from poor-quality materials. They squeak, they pinch, they fall apart and they most assuredly do not do what they are meant to do — and that is to cut.
“Cheap scissors tear,” says Fox, importer of the finest scissors made by the finest craftspeople in Italy, Germany, Spain and the United Kingdom. “They do not cut. And that is the frustration we’ve all had to endure in the global race to produce goods at the cheapest possible price.”
Fox is an entrepreneur with an eye for opportunity. When she decided to start a new business — for she has successfully wielded her marketing magic in a variety of industries over the past decades — she wanted to do something unique and impactful.
She noodled some ideas. And then, a lightbulb moment: Common household scissors, she decided, are a particular pain point for — oh — all of us. We may enjoy high-quality professional chefs’ knives in our kitchens and restaurant-rated stoves and ovens, but our scissors are (pardon my French) absolute garbage.
She did some research and, earlier this year, visited some of the best centuries-old artisan scissor makers in Europe. Many are family-run operations with fewer than 12 employees.
“Nobody knows high-quality scissors exist,” she says. Odd, considering that the world’s best scissor makers used to be the world’s best sword makers until the art of hand-to-hand combat was no longer valued. These same craftspeople — or their descendants, anyway — are making hand-assembled, hot-forged European steel scissors today, just like they did a century or three ago.
Fox realized that the craft of fine scissor making is on the brink of extinction — and she launched her company, Ciselier, to help prevent such an outcome. She focuses her marketing on the sharing of stories from these “storied” craftspeople. She wants the world to know who and where are the people who make these wonderful instruments.
Fox’s Insights on Learning From Past Successes and Investing in the Future
Tip #1: Determine the size of the market
“Kitchen knives are a billion-dollar market in North America,” says Fox.
Tip #2: Find your niche
“I started with Google: ‘Where do you buy luxury scissors? Where do you buy high-quality scissors?’ And there was almost no content. I found cheap brands. Then I slowly found makers, and ordered samples. When there’s no content [online] — as a digital marketer — that is your sweet spot. Because you want to be findable and when you start creating that content, you are it. And Google loves you.”
Tip #3: Tell real stories about real people
“This is about making relationships with people who have the same values and sense of craft and artisanship — about ensuring people a living wage. And buying products they only have to buy once, which means a smaller carbon footprint. So we’re telling stories.”
Tip #4: Stick to your vision
“I’m the customer so whatever I like is what the customer will like. Sticking close to the brand vision and being a pain in the ass because I know it has to be of the highest quality … you can’t be afraid to inconvenience people to get to the vision.”
Tip #5: Business is personal
“By visiting these makers in Europe, we made them realize we were serious. You can’t underestimate how old these businesses are and how they operate under that traditional face-to-face model. Face-to-face is everything.”
Tip #6: Cash is queen
“I paid my suppliers within hours of ordering, so they understood we were reliable and serious. Then I realized that NOT paying them could bankrupt them.”
Tip #7: You live, you learn
“There’s the power and knowledge of having worked for 30 years and having a network. I worked in marketing, so I invested in photography and graphic design — because this is a marketing business. The visuals, graphics, design, copy — this is what sets us apart and we had to embody the quality that we were presenting to the market.”
Tip #8: Leverage that network
“Knowing how to work the systems — couriers, software support, international banking, packaging and logistics. But also knowing what I don’t know, and who to call to find out. ”
Tip #9: You will always have doubts
“It’s a wild swing between ‘this is the best idea ever and we’ll be massively successful’ or ‘oh my god we’re never going to sell anything and everyone’s getting scissors for Christmas.’ And questions like: ‘How much do I invest in order to meet the demand or end up with a warehouse of scissors?’”
Tip #10: Understand and appreciate your customer
“Some of our customers love beautiful things but are not comfortable with e-commerce. So we make sure our customer service is instantly available, easy to understand and empathetic. We have products for lefties — honestly, people just don’t know about them, and so we sell out of them fast. And for people with arthritis or issues with their hands, we have scissors in different weights — smaller and lighter.”
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