Aug. 3/10; Volume 30/Number 4
By Jenna Lippin
Allie Finkell may not yet have the extended history other women in flooring have earned, but she has certainly made a name for herself in the time she has been officially part of the industry.
What makes some of the time unofficial? Well, having a dad who is an industry leg-end—Don Finkell of Anderson Hardwood fame and now owner of American OEM—and being a fourth-generation in hard surface flooring (her great- grandfather started Anderson Hardwood), Allie Finkell has dabbled in flooring at various points in her life before holding esteemed positions at some of the largest manufacturers.
“It really started when I was 11 years old,” Finkell said. “I filled online sample requests for Anderson Hardwood out of our house. Because of that I knew every one of our products as well as anyone else.”
While she considers herself to have been “in and out of the business” over the years, Finkell made quite an impression early on. In fact, she was still in high school when her father asked her and her sister for their opinions about a new display system. Finkell wasn’t hesitant about offering input, and that proved to be quite helpful for Anderson.
“The three of us always talked about business. It made me feel like I had a valuable opinion, so it gave me a lot of confidence. At the time Anderson had started making higher-designed products so they started making samples bigger. But they needed a display system that would work with these very heavy panels. I told my dad I wouldn’t want to hold something that weighs 15 pounds and thought about when I would flip through posters at a music store. That’s how we developed the first wing rack, based on how women like to browse while shopping.”
As a female who actively shops, it seemed logical for Finkell to assist in marketing. There was no need for her to figure out how people shop as she represents the target consumer. “Considering most retail store consumers are women, it makes sense that a woman could design an effective display solution for her own demographic.”
Despite the knack for marketing flooring, Finkell cooked up other plans while earning her college degree at Furman University in Greenville, S.C. She developed a liking for economics and delved deeper into the subject and beyond as the years progressed. “I did some research the summer before senior year in the economics department and it was good experience, but I knew I didn’t want to get my master’s degree in it. I took one marketing class—the only one the school had—and I fell in love with it. It became my dream to go to New York and work in advertising.”
When it came time to graduate, Finkell moved to New York and started working in marketing and sales for an unrelated industry. But she was soon brought back into flooring. Shifts at Anderson left open a Northeastern sales manager position, which she applied for and captured. “I traveled a lot. I worked in the territory for a year and a half and eventually I moved back to the Anderson corporate office after Shaw bought the company.”
The new ownership helped open Finkell to the commercial side of the industry, with which she fell in love. In time Shaw started looking for someone to manage hard surface commercial products/marketing, and she “threw her hat in the ring.” Upon getting the job, she moved to Chattanooga to work for Shaw out of its Dalton offices.
During Finkell’s time at Shaw the company partnered with LG Hausys’ vinyl division. With her growing knowledge in hard surface, she began focusing on vinyl. “It was obvious that the commercial hard surface market was becoming largely focused on vinyl, so I got involved in the development of this program for Shaw. I designed samples, training tools, and in time we started designing our own products in-house with OEM vendors in Asia. It was incredibly exciting, and I got really into vinyl.”
By October 2013 Finkell made the move from Shaw to Mohawk Group. Though her time with Mohawk was brief, it proved to be fruitful from both a business and personal standpoint. “We launched 130 SKUs in nine months; it was wild. I was energized by the opportunity to build a vinyl program again. We all worked so hard and were so proud of what we created. I didn’t have the intention of leaving so soon, but with new opportunities you don’t always get to control the timing. Working there developed me further and gave me great confidence. I knew I was being recognized for my work and not my last name. When I switched to vinyl and commercial I had no family ties and no experience.”
Finkell and her teams at both Shaw and Mohawk won multiple awards for their vinyl collection launches.
The next move came this spring, joining her father’s new hardwood company American OEM. There she holds the title of vice president of administration. “I told Mohawk if it hadn’t been my dad and a family business I would’ve stayed there. But my father’s company is growing and some of the areas where they need additional manpower is where I am experienced, namely product management. In a new business there are always areas that will need extra attention and improvement; I will go into each area and address what may need to change.”
Though she has come back to her roots, Finkell feels accomplished in establishing herself outside of her familial connection, gaining experience and proving herself independently. In doing so, she has mostly had nothing but support, but she has run into some challenges as a young woman.
“Sure, I’ve had to grit my teeth in some instances,” she said, “but I try not to worry what those people think about me because I know that over time they will see what value I bring to an organization based on my skills and passion for the business. I just keep my head down, do what I have to do and know the quality of my work will speak for itself. Like all women in a male-dominated industry, I’ve had some stereo-typical encounters. But if you’re really good at what you do, you don’t have to say anything; respect will come as you prove yourself. That goes for man or woman, young or old, family business or not. I am grateful to work in an industry and for companies that have provided me with great opportunities to develop and have recognized my hard work in such a rewarding way.”
When asked what she would tell young, professional women who are seeking to es-tablish a career, Finkell advises being open to all opportunities. “Sometimes people assume that women won’t want a certain type of job. It goes into that ‘lean in’ philosophy. Be present and be eager. Find people with experience you can learn from and ask questions. The most successful moments in my career have been when I wouldn’t try to do something alone and relied on mentors to help guide me. If I would have let not knowing about vinyl stop me, I would have missed some of the most exciting and rewarding times in my career.”