Handywoman Jo Ellen Soesbee
empowers women with DIY
By Michele Wojciechowski
AFTER WORKING FOR more than 20 years as a
secretary, Costco member Jo Ellen Soesbee of
Pasadena, Maryland, took a college class in 2002
that changed her career path and her life in ways she
never could have imagined.
Assigned to write a business plan for class,
Soesbee, now 58, crafted one about a handyman
business and included all the services she thought
clients should get but often didn’t, such as handling
small projects, cleanup after the work is completed
and basic courteousness.
A lightbulb went off. Soesbee hadn’t even touched
a hammer or a saw before then, but she and her
then-husband, Russell, used that business plan to
start her first company, Reliable Repairs, in 2004. By
2008, she had eight retired contractors working with
her, doing home repairs.
Soesbee had found her passion—home improvement—and with it a way for her to inspire and motivate other women.
A female contractor?
In 2012, after Soesbee and her husband split up,
she closed Reliable Repairs and founded ToolBox
toolboxtomgirl.com), a home improvement company. In addition to doing repair and
remodeling projects, Soesbee’s business (made up of
men and women) provides facility maintenance for
six local companies in Maryland.
While she and her company will do the smaller
jobs that larger contractors don’t want to do—like
backsplashes, painting, minor drywall repair,
replacing or fixing doorknobs, hanging shelves and
the like—ToolBox TomGirl also does major home
remodeling, including kitchens and bathrooms,
shed assembly, decks and carports.
Soesbee admits that while finding her passion
for home improvement has been great, it hasn’t been
easy. “Being a woman in construction is a challenge.
I have guys who won’t talk to me,” she says. “As
opposed to getting defensive, I often laugh it off.”
That’s exactly what she did recently when she
arrived at a client’s store to assess some plumbing
work. While she was checking it out, she received a call
from the company for whom she was providing the
service. “Jo Ellen, I want you to know what this guy at
JO ELLEN SOESBEE has
a few tips for the potential
• Read about or take
classes in home improvement, available at community colleges or hardware
stores. Soesbee’s favorite
magazines are The Family
Handyman Magazine (the
and Qualified Remodeler
• Purchase basic tools:
a hammer, pliers, level, tape
measure, stud finder, a set
of wrenches and a set of
screwdrivers. Test the hammer’s weight; women’s
hammers usually weigh
13 to 16 ounces.
• Build confidence with
easy projects like drywall
repair, changing a doorknob
or installing a backsplash.
Don’t start with floor or wall
tile—it’s much harder than
• Leave the electricity
to a professional electrician.
• Make sure you have
all the tools and supplies you
need before starting a job.
Watch You Tube videos, making sure they include all the
steps necessary to complete
• Think each job through
from the beginning to the
end before you start it.
• Know where the main
water shutoff valve is in your
home, as well as under sinks
or on toilets.
• Be safe: Wear rubber-soled shoes, use safety
glasses and get on a ladder
only if someone is
• Don’t let anyone
intimidate you or tell you
that you can’t do it. You
CONTINUED ON PAGE 42
FEBRUARY 2016 ;e Costco Connection 41
Name: Jo Ellen Soesbee
Business: ToolBox TomGirl
Number of employees:
Contact: (443) 286-6923;
Comments about Costco: “I typically use
Costco for any product I can get for the job
site or my office, because of the cost savings