Women who mean business

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Retailers leverage their skills, experience and perspective 

January 22/29, 2018: Volume 33, Issue 6

By Lindsay Baillie


Despite the flooring industry being predominantly male, women in flooring are making their presence felt, many of which own or hold high-level positions in their respective stores. What’s more, while being female in a male-dominated industry is seen as a negative to some, many of these women view their gender as an advantage, especially when it comes to working with the consumer. Following are profiles of five successful women in the retail world.

PENNY CARNINO, director of operations
Grigsby’s Carpet, Tile & Rug Gallery, Tulsa, Okla.
Carnino started working in the industry at the age of 22. Before she became the director of operations she was answering phones and keeping the books. When the company grew, Carnino’s position evolved accordingly.

One of Carnino’s best practices is making sure her RSAs receive proper product training. “We encourage our salespeople to interact with reps and get as much information as they can in terms of products,” she explained. “The RSAs get the most out of PK meetings.”

While Carnino was slightly intimidated when she became director of operations, she quickly saw the benefits to being a woman in the industry. “A lot of our consumers are women, and I typically have a different opinion than men. I get to bring a female perspective to what we buy.”

Abbey Carpets Unlimited, Napa, Calif.
Clifton started her journey in the flooring industry as a public accountant. She said this position helped her later on as the owner in understanding sales tax, how to do payroll and make a profit and loss statement, etc. “While this was extremely helpful in making sure we were profitable, I had no knowledge about flooring. I questioned every rep or other store owner about product knowledge and business knowledge.”

After Clifton joined the Abbey buying group she was able to share best practices with other members. “We joined Abbey after about two years and the franchise itself greatly added to my ability to be successful. They helped with marketing, product placement and so many other aspects of running my business.”

Today Clifton has developed her own set of best practices to help her business grow. “We try awfully hard to take care of our existing customers because they’re our best advertisements and best sources for new leads. Also, I treat the customer’s problems as if it were my own home.”

Clifton attributes the growth of her company to multiple factors, including her consistent presence and participation in the business. “The growth [of the store] has been from me being alongside my employees and encouraging them. I have a great group of employees. Most have them have been with me 20 to 30 years. We are like a family. I can’t grow the business on my own. I have to have people under me who want to grow.”

DEB DeGRAAF, co-owner
DeGraaf Interiors, multiple locations in Grand Rapids, Mich.
When DeGraaf started working at her dad’s flooring business she didn’t imagine it would become a long-term career. In fact, she originally went to school for occupational therapy but found her way back to the business.

One of DeGraaf’s best practices is treating her employees as if they are family. “I believe we need to empower our employees to make decisions and not necessarily chastise them for mistakes if it’s done in learning. If they feel they are a contributing partner to the team they’ll be a bit more committed and work a little harder.”

Being a woman in the flooring industry has opened the doors for different opportunities, DeGraaf explained. “With large commercial contracting jobs, there are requirements that some of them want to work with a minority-owned business; in our area that singles us out.”

DONNA MUDD, Middletown store manager
Sam Kinnaird’s Flooring, Louisville, Ky.
Prior to working in the flooring industry, Mudd was a first grade and kindergarten teacher. “My husband, Jim, and I partnered with Sam and Pat Kinnaird to start Sam Kinnaird’s Flooring.  Jim had wanted to own his own business and Sam wanted to get back into it but not run the everyday operation. I quit my teaching position and started working at our new business.”

Internally, Mudd is responsible for advertising, buying, sales and marketing—including area rugs—and merchandising. She also manages one of the stores. Externally, Mudd was the NFA rug chair for 12 years. “Being a member of this group has been a priceless asset to our business and along the way the other members have become good friends. I was also on the WFCA board from 2008-2011; that was a very enlightening experience.”

Some of Mudd’s best practices include: weekly managers meetings, following up with customers after each installation, asking customers for 5-star Google reviews, continuing education for salespeople, and tracking how advertising is working by customer counts and digitally.

Flooring Frenzy & More, Owatonna, Minn.
Osterhaus describes her journey to the flooring sector as “interesting.” With a background in bookkeeping and customer service, she joined the industry after her husband, George—who has been an installer for 32 years—suggested the two open their own store.

“I came into the flooring business with zero experience,” Osterhaus said. “All I knew was fuzzy side up.”

Since her initial entry into flooring, Osterhaus has continued to learn about the industry. “I am very proud of myself for continuing to learn and grow with each year that passes,” Osterhaus said. “So far I have caught the curve balls and returned them to the best of my ability.”

Many of Osterhaus’ contributions to her company have involved using her bookkeeping skills to create balance, she explained. For example, she actively works to foster a positive and honest working relationship with her installers.

Osterhaus stated one of her greatest resources has been her fellow CarpetsPlus Color Tile members. “The ‘family’ mentality with our stores within CarpetsPlus Color Tile has always amazed me. Fabulous networking equals greater success.”

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