It must have been about a year ago that my friend Ashlie Butler called me, asking what I knew about this group for women in the industry for which she was being recruited. I admittedly didn’t know much about it. She told me Liz Calandrino, whose column appears regularly in this newspaper, was involved. I asked about the purpose of the group and Ashlie initially mentioned discussions around product, brands, selling, etc. I wasn’t overly impressed at first. Sounded generic with the only differentiator being that membership was restricted to X chromosomes.
Then she mentioned another one of the topics was issues women have to deal with when they own businesses with their husbands and then go through a divorce. Then the light bulb atop my head illuminated. I thought to myself, this is not only different but needed—a group where women could come together and share thoughts, ideas and advice on topics pertaining exclusively to women. I endorsed it 100%.
Fast forward to today—Women of the Flooring Business (WOFB), which officially launched in 2019, has more than 2,000 members and we feature their guest columns regularly in FCNews. The leaders of this group are: Calandrino; Rachel Berlin, an interior designer and sales manager in Wisconsin; and Michelle Winters, former owner of a retail store in Texas.
Winters talked to me about the challenges she faced some time ago as a woman entering an industry totally outside her wheelhouse. Research is readily available on how to open a pet store or book store, but not a retail flooring business. She assembled her own advisory board by looking at who was successful and started forging relationships with them. That furthered her growth. Then she wanted to share everything There are two entry points to becoming a member of WOFB: through the website (womenflooring.com) or through the Facebook group. Winters said there is so much high-value content contained in the Facebook group that WOFB created a website as a place to organize it all. Facebook is for the discussion, and 1,300 people are active there with a little over 700 enrolled from the website.
Most of the group’s members are store owners or managers. It’s mostly retail but they also have people in support roles such as manufacturer reps. It’s valuable to have a diverse group at the table because that’s how they all figure things out. “There is a lot of intelligence when you put a bunch of high-achieving women together,” she told me recently.
It’s no secret that the flooring industry has a reputation for being a good ol’ boys club. The WOFB group is helping to break that glass ceiling. To that end, one of the topics that comes up is how to gain respect from men—something that repeatedly surfaces at various levels. For example, “How do I win a bid in a room full of men?” When the group picks apart what’s going on, they find many women have experienced similar scenarios. “When we reaffirm her value, her worth, it empowers her to overcome,” Winters said.
Topics that get discussed range from general, such as marketing trends and hiring, to people comparing notes on particular issues unique to women. It could be a difficult situation with their boss or team members, etc. “We figure it out together and give them next steps to deal with issues they are facing,” Winters said.
The Facebook part is what Winters refers to as a “sacred area. It’s the only place where we can talk about those vulnerabilities.” That’s where I believe this group has incredible value. Where else can women talk about divorce, having a baby at the height of their busy season, sobriety and even experiencing post-partum depression and running a store at the same time. People who share their issues actually fuel the group because it draws a set of people who have gone through those issues, and those people create their own relationships and form their own support groups based on the connections they’ve made around those topics.
Winters has big plans for her group moving forward. They started working on in-person events pre-COVID-19 on everything from gatherings for professional development to local meetings to retreats for like-minded people; those efforts are about to resume. “When high-achieving women connect, especially in person, there is an incredible power,” she said. “That’s when people make quantum leaps.”
At the end of the day, WOFB believes there should be no woman in the flooring business who feels she doesn’t have an answer to something or access to answers. “We want every woman to know we exist,” Winters said. “There is coaching available, there is networking available. Any woman can be as successful as she wants to be.”she figured out—things unique not only to being a flooring retailer but also specific to being a woman in the flooring industry.