Female retailers seize the opportunity to lead in ‘man’s world’ of flooring

Home Inside FCNews Female retailers seize the opportunity to lead in ‘man’s world’ of flooring

Jan 18/25; Volume 30/Number 15

By Jenna Lippin

The flooring industry is traditionally known as a proverbial boys’ club, but that image has been slowly but surely changing over the last couple of decades.

Females who run or own flooring retail establishments can vouch for the change, taking leadership roles, spearheading marketing campaigns and leading their sales staffs. Following are some personal stories from female retailers who are leading the way.

Cathy Buchanan

Independent Carpet One Floor & Home

Westland, Mich.

I think one major advantage as a woman in floor covering is it actually is a woman’s world. It touches the senses, touches the imagination—it is a very romantic part of a home. And who better to deal with the shopper, often a woman, but another woman? It comes down to trust and the commonality that women have with each other.

Knowing a woman is owner or manager or in a higher position in the store creates an elevated confidence level. We have little boutiques in this city, and when I find out a woman owns one I want to shop there more often. I know she is working hard, is an entrepreneur and has the American spirit. I know she works a lot of hours because I do, too. I try to balance work, family, church and my community. It’s an appreciation of what we, as women, have to deal with every day.

It’s still a struggle; it shouldn’t be, because flooring really is not a man’s world, even though it has always been run by men. My mom always owned the store, and I learned from her. A lot of progress has been made. I can see it in comparison to when we joined Carpet One in 1997 and went to convention. There weren’t a lot of women and those who were there were with their husbands as store owners/members. Now I’ve been going to convention for almost 20 years and more women are participating, are on councils and are guest speakers. It’s great to see. There are more female leaders and experts. You see women’s faces in the industry publications. It’s changing. Not very quickly, but it is happening.

Morgan Fitzgerald

CC Carpet

Dallas

When I first started working at the store a year or two ago, I wanted to make sure I earned my place, did my job no matter my gender or age. My success is driven by passion and compassion. I truly care about what I do. I will do anything to get the task done. I care about employees, customers and the community.

I grew up in the industry as my father owns CC Carpet. Following college I worked as an assistant manager at Nordstrom while helping with the family business. In college I did some marketing for CC Carpet on the side. I got a call one day that the person helping my dad with marketing had to retire suddenly; he said I would have to come now or he would find someone else. I had to make a big life decision and decided to help run the business and help it grow.

People think I don’t work because my dad owns the company. They think I’m the face of CC Carpet and don’t do anything, but that’s far from what goes on. I’m involved in all decisions. I did make a rule at the office: I don’t call him Dad. If I call him Steve, I get more respect because people don’t know I’m his daughter. When they find out later they’re surprised.

People notice my passion for what I do. I have been offered many jobs in the flooring industry but I’m staying put, making my family business the best it can be. I’ve been asked to sit in on councils. I’ve helped with a marketing campaign for a big fiber company. It’s fun for me to do different things.

Barbara Clements

Al’s Carpet, Flooring &

Design Service

Machesney Park, Ill.

Flooring is a male-dominated industry overall, but the customers are predominantly women. It’s a women’s fashion industry. The advantage of being a woman in this industry is the benefit to the customer. When a woman comes into our store, there are times it is beneficial to have the authority of a man because people have the perception that men can give more details and information, and can be more technical. But anyone can do it with the right resources. A lot of the flooring business is how customers feel and taking time to learn their tastes. I feel women have more insight for that.

We live in a town with a lot of engineers, and many times husbands send their wives into our shop and you can tell where their questions are coming from because they want technical information. You still have to consider what truly matters to that customer in front of you; you can’t just spit out information and overload her. It’s a good idea to keep certain pamphlets and websites on hand for this kind of information.

Some people are just more enthusiastic when they sell. I think women by nature have more of that in them when they deal with people. It’s like a chameleon: I have to change who I am and how I react based on the customer. Women have that intuition to read people. Didn’t your mother always know when you did something wrong?

Lauren Voit

Great Western Flooring

Naperville, Ill.

Not only am I a female in a male-dominated industry, but I was very young—just 22 years old—when I started full time in a role that wouldn’t have been given without learning from the family business and my background in sales. I had to prove to this team of individuals who work for our company that I wasn’t just being handed a job. That I wasn’t just legacy and I wasn’t entitled to all this. I worked hard. I was young, family and female; I had to work three times as hard to prove to everyone I was qualified and deserved that position—or any position. I got involved in all aspects of the business.

Now I can say I was successful in what I needed to do, earning the respect of my peers and co-workers. I run the company now. Dad just became mayor of our city in May; he’s not really working within the organization anymore.

One of the key challenges for women in the industry is the fact that we are trade. I work with a lot of commercial, new construction, custom homes, contractors, so not just retail. The trade side doesn’t see that flooring has become a fashion industry. I interact with people who have a certain stigma in mind about who should be on the job site, and sometimes that person is me, a woman. It’s a challenge, but I don’t see it as a roadblock. It is just something I need to manage.

Robin Osterhaus  

Flooring Frenzy & More

Owatonna, Minn.

When we first opened the store in 1998, I was only referred to as “George’s [Osterhaus, co-owner] wife.” Back then a lot of the reps didn’t really want to talk to me; they wanted to talk to George. But I’m the one in the store who has the buying power and can say yes or no when George is out on jobs. Over the years I’ve gained the respect from reps as I respect them. It’s a two-way street.

Warehouse and installation are primarily George’s focus. At one point I had to work with installers. It was harder because I personally never installed, so there were times the wool was being pulled over my eyes. Luckily, my right-hand man is an installer, so I ran things past him. I could see how it could be much more difficult as a woman with installers.

George encountered two women who wanted to learn the installation trade. He trained one who was really good and then she got pregnant [and stopped]. There are, in fact, women out there doing it and I say hats off to them—that’s hard work.

As more and more women come into this industry, I think it’s getting easier for everyone. Years ago people thought women only belonged in the home.

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