'Shark Tank' boost ratchets up sales of Utah belts
The Provo-based Mission Belt Co., which makes a distinctive no-holes version of the fashion accessory, has seen sales jump after it was featured on ABC's "Shark Tank."
And that's been good news as well for the international micro-lending organization Kiva, which gets a cut of the profits to help it support entrepreneurship in developing countries. But more about that later.
Mission belts, unlike traditional varieties, have a ratchet buckle to keep them tight.
Company co-founder Nate Holzapfel describes the belt as a giant zip-tie for your pants. He says the beauty of it is that the belt gives the perfect fit, and it'll wear for a long time because it doesn't have holes that eventually become deformed.
"Our belts are so cool that we haven't had to do any directing marketing," said Holzapfel. "Everything came from word-of-mouth. One person would buy one, and two or three people would want one, too. It's contagious."
The belt impressed fashion mogul Daymond John during a late-April episode of "Shark Tank," the reality TV series that features business pitches from aspiring entrepreneurs to a panel of potential investors. John, co-founder of the FUBU clothing brand, agreed to invest $50,000 in Mission for a 37.5 percent ownership stake.
The national television exposure the show is the most-watched program on Friday nights in the 18-49-year old demographic increased sales at least tenfold, said Holzapfel.
Sales are up more than $1 million since Mission's founding in June 2012.
One of the first local retailers to stock its belt was the Riverside Country Club in Provo.
Head pro Robert McArthur said Holzapfel came by one day to show him some belts. That same afternoon a member, affiliated with the Mr. Mac clothing store in Orem was also in the shop, so McArthur introduced the two.
Today, all Mr. Mac stores stock the belts, as does CTR Clothing, which caters to missionaries for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. However, about 70 percent of company sales still come from the Internet.
"The nice thing is that the belt doesn't have any holes," said McArthur. "It adjusts every eighth of an inch so you can relax it back when you need to. It was one of the first of the adjustable belts that came on the market, and they've sold well here."
Mission belts are made of genuine leather and come in more than a dozen belt-and-buckle color combinations. The belts, priced from $35 to $40, are unisex and can be comfortably worn by men, women and children, said Holzapfel, 34, who calls himself the company's Belt Evangelist.
Brother Zac, 34, is dubbed the Belt Sensei, handling logistics and product management, while their partner, Jeff Jensen, 33, is the Belt Guru, overseeing operations and information technology.
The three men are from Newport Beach, Calif., home to Mission's headquarters. The company's operations and warehouse are in Provo.
In 1993, the Holzapfels moved to Provo after their father, Richard, was hired at Brigham Young University. The elder Holzapfel is a professor in the' Religious Education Department, with an emphasis on the LDS Church and Jewish and ancient histories.
Style and practicality aside, Zac Holzapfel said his father was a major influence in the company's focus on social consciousness. Mission donates $1 for every belt sold, representing 20 percent of its profits, to Kiva. The fund supports economic development and entrepreneurship, mostly in developing countries.
"My dad is a politically active person who is well aware of issues and struggles around the world," he said. "He taught us to be aware of other places. He was 100 percent a major factor in the way we put together our business model."
Nate Holzapfel said he and his family have been given so much, "we wanted to give something back."
Mission Belt Co.
Product • No-holes belt with ratchet buckle
Founded • June 2012 in Provo
Sales • $1 million
Employees • 12
Retailers • Mr. Mac, CTR Clothing stores
To order online • http://www.missionbelt.com