My sons and their wives were traveling in China, to meet with key suppliers for their business, Slidebelts, when the Shark Tank episode aired in which Mission Belt founders, Zac Holzapfel and his brother, Nate Holzapfel claimed to have invented the “belt without holes.”
Cousin Nate Holzapfel was on national television – telling quite a “big fish story” about the origins of this new belt technology. The news swept through our family faster than a speeding text message. “Who does that?” was the question of the day.
It was as if the builders of the continental railroad, working from the West Coast and the East Coast, building towards the center of the country, learned that a third party, after laying a few hundred miles of track in the flat lands of Utah, had just hammered the golden spike at Promontory Point, and proclaimed, “not only was the Continental Railroad my idea, I actually invented the trains.“
Of course, using “spin” on a story is common today. But, I know for a fact, that my sons and their cousins were taught that honesty is an essential virtue — that seeking greater light and truth is a primary purpose of man and woman as we sojourn here upon the earth in this mortal sphere. That is a fundamental teaching of Mormonism. And yes, we are all Mormons.
After Shark Tank, I got this email from a close friend, who is an Evangelical Christian living among Mormons in Gilbert, Arizona:
“I don’t get the family thing…I know that this stuff happens no matter what religion, what ethnicity…it’s part of a fallen world. I just figured that ‘you guys’ would somehow be immune to this sort of backstabbing and infighting … what do I know anyway?”
Ok, so we have family members, cousins, who literally copied my son’s SlideBelt business (Erik Blaire Slide Belts, started in 2007). And took that information to start the Mission Belt Co. They kept their company a closely guarded secret — through marriages and family gatherings — and then emerged on national television claiming they were the inventors, and the originators of the whole concept — when in reality, the belt without holes has a long history, even before my son brought the design back from Moldova, where he served a mission for the LDS church.
Sure, my son knew about his competition that emerged about 2012 — but he did not know it was his cousins. Every time Brig made a change on his website and on Amazon, they were quick to follow, even using the term “slidebelt” within their website. When SlideBelts introduced color leather belts, the competition followed. We had tried to find out who this mysterious mission belt copy cat was — but that was pretty much hidden on their website.
So who does that? People who quote the Godfather, I suppose: “Its’ not personal, it’s just business.”
What should they have done? Simple. They should have told my son, that they liked the business model, but wanted to do their own thing. And then they could have made a deal — a family-friendly deal — which would have been something like, giving Brig 10% for his contribution; or a 1.5% gross royalty for all his work, for taking the initial risk, and because he shared his idea and contacts and updated designs with Zac and Nate. But instead, they chose to go on Shark Tank with their “mission belt.” Now that is quite an honorable mission.
Aside from the family connections, the business ethics are probably ok. Competition is the American way, although, the Internet has changed everything. My wife’s father franchised a restaurant business in the 1960’s that developed into a large enterprise based in the Intermountain West – JB’s Big Boy Restaurants. He started with one store in Provo, Utah and eventually built 150 stores from Phoenix to Boise. But early on, if every time he built a restaurant, his cousins built the same Big Boy restaurant across the street, it would have been much more difficult to expand. (In a franchise you cannot legally do that, as you get a franchise for a state.)
The internet has changed that. Someone who sells the same product is putting their store right next door to your store. Wherever you go, they are right there, building next door — taking half the business. Which is fine in the sense that it’s not possible to keep out all the competition.
But this was family and they lied and kept it a secret. Brig had selected the product, and proved the market – He took the risk. He even shared his contacts and startup trail with his cousin, Zac, who told him he had a goldmine there. And after several years and upon hearing the success, his cousins copied that success model and built their own store — right next door, so to speak. To quote the infamous fictional capitalist character from the movie, “There Will be Blood,” when he drops his straw into his competitor’s milkshake, “I’m drinking your milkshake!”
To be clear, my son’s business is doing fine. “A rising tide lifts all boats.” After all, the SlideBelt is a better product, and it’s an improvement over the Mission Belt design, which is actually the copy of a much older buckle design that is worn all over Europe. That was the original design my son had pitched at a 2008 BYU Business Plan Competition. (Daily Universe, January, 23, 2008, pg. 12)
You may read my son’s story at SlideBelts.com, which shows the genesis of the belt from 2007 to the present.
Within our immediate family, we’re surprised and shocked. “Facts are stubborn things and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passion, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence.” (John Adams) And since the competition decided to get out there on national TV, and people have asked us about their claims — it seems appropriate to state some facts.
In the final analysis, in this world, we all fall. The question is, how far, and when you turn it around. Another fundamental teaching of Mormonism is to forgive others, and hope for a merciful judgment for our own failings. No one’s perfect.
I never understood their choice of logo but I had an interesting comment left about the mission belt logo –in fact, if you’re going to wear the mission belt, make sure you are a Nazi aficionado, cuz that’s their logo. The Nazi Jagdgeschwader 3 —