Opinion: The Marcuses get co-operative with Mistura

Rockcliffe resident and occasional journalist Andi Marcus - the former Andrea Cullen - has made a string of smart decisions since launching her own line of beauty products little more than two years ago.

Among the smartest, though, was her decision to pitch an all-in-one makeup kit last fall on the hit CBC television show Dragons' Den. Her self-assurance and marketing savvy led to a sudden and massive demand in orders, she says.

Then there was her decision to utilize the skills of disabled workers to package her products, through an Ottawa charitable organization. This decision in particular worked out so well, she says, that she now plans to switch most, if not all, packaging and distribution to the Ottawa charity's workshop.

But the most recent of her smart decisions - and one of the all-time smartest, in her view - was recruiting her husband, Hayden Marcus, as a full-time business colleague.

Hayden Marcus, a 30-year technology veteran - and, most recently, president and CEO of CNG Global Services - says he found he was no longer having as much fun with his work. He became more soured, he says, when the insolvent Nortel Networks Corp. failed to pay debts owed to him.

The couple's beauty products business, Mistura Beauty, has no offices. Meetings usually take place around a table at the Marcus home in Rockcliffe, and Ms. Marcus says "the epicentre" of the business is the Y's Owl Maclure Co-operative Centre on Morrison Drive, in Ottawa's west end.

The co-operative provides support - and sometimes work - for people with developmental disabilities including social withdrawal and birth defects.

Mistura's products are manufactured in the United States and products for sale in Canada are then packaged at the co-operative in Ottawa. Products for the American market are packaged in New Jersey.

But Ms. Marcus says she'd like to switch all packaging operations to Ottawa. "We are charged less in Canada. The service is much better, and of course we employ some innately dynamic people whom we have come to view as part of the Mistura team," she says.

"Many U.S. companies are averse to dealing directly with Canadian companies who ship only from Canada," she adds. "However, we sent out an email asking our resellers if this was a problem, and all that have responded were OK with it. They just want fast, easy shipping, and we are working on that.

"By keeping all of our distribution in Canada, it will ensure a more consistent and accurate inventory management system and also provide more work for people that we absolutely love working with. Y's Owl has become the epicentre of our quality control, and working with them brings us great joy."

Mistura Beauty has become an important employer of disabled people at the co-operative, which provides services for up to 300 people. "We are unique in Canada, says Y's Owl Maclure executive director Hugh Nelson, "because of the social nature of what we do, and because we are a charity, not-for-profit organization and co-operative, all in one."

During Ms. Marcus's successful appearance on Dragons' Den in September 2009, as many as 30 partly-disabled people were employed with the company at Ontario minimum wage or better, filling orders for her all-in-one beauty product.

The workers saw her smash-hit performance on the show as a triumph for their contribution, says Tracy Pilgrim-Cassidy, a vocational supervisor at the co-operative.

On the show, entrepreneur-showman Brett Wilson agreed to invest $250,000 for a 30-per-cent stake in Mistura Beauty. But he and Ms. Marcus failed to seal the deal, she says.

Most deals verbally concluded on the show are never completed, and because of this Ms. Marcus seems unconcerned. That's probably for good reason. For one thing, her evaluation of her company shot up after the TV show.

Indeed, for Ms. Marcus it made little difference whether she reached a deal with any of the Dragons. What counted, she says, was the priceless opportunity to pitch her products to millions of consumers.

As for Mr. Marcus, Mistura's latest recruit, says he's having fun working again - just as he used to in the technology realm.

"For the last few years, the technology industry has struggled. I was not really enjoying it any more. Then I'd come home from work, and work with the one I love. I thought, 'this is great. Why not do it full-time?'" He says he expects Mistura sales this year to total about $1 million.

Adds Ms. Marcus: "We are selling thousands and thousands of unit a month, and have expanded to over 500 pharmacies across Canada. We have 25 agents world-wide and are now being sold in Cyprus, Russia and Ukraine."

In this husband-and-wife team, the wife makes the sales and marketing decisions and the husband takes care of business.

And workers of the Y's Owl Maclure centre share in the success.