Building a Future for Distributors and Dealers of Building Products
March 2006 Volume 45, Issue 2
Women in the Millwork Industry Share Their Secrets of Success
by Sarah Batcheler
Did You Know?
Research shows the female do-it-yourself (DIY) marketplace for home improvement is rapidly growing.
• 67 percent of women describe themselves as a DIYer.
• 57 percent of all women homeowners would rather work on their homes than on improving their careers.
• 9 out of 10 single women recently surveyed by Lowe’s feel comfortable using a power tool and 77 percent surveyed own one.
• 29 percent of female DIYers are more confident in their ability to do home improvement work “better and cheaper” than a professional.
• Nearly 50 percent of women seek assistance at a local home center or hardware store or watch television/cable home improvement before starting a home improvement project
• 17 million single women own homes today, and this will increase to more than 30 million in the United States alone by 2010.
• Women held half of management, professional and related positions in 2004, compared to 40 percent in 1983, indicating a clear trend toward more women in supervisory roles.
Sources: www.be-jane.com, Hallmark Research and the U.S. Department of Labor.
Women have joined men in upper management positions in the millwork industry. SHELTER spoke to several women who hold executive positions at companies in the millwork industry who say that, though it has not always been easy, the millwork industry offers a fulfilling career.
“I represent manufacturers in the selling of their products to distributors, dealers, architects and builders,” says Barbara Phillips, owner of Barbara Phillips Sales Co. of Clearwater, Fla., which represents manufacturers.
“I’m more of an answer center for my employees,” explains Audrey Dyer, president of EC Distribution of North Wilkesboro, N.C. “I oversee one of ECMD Inc.’s five companies. EC Distribution consists of procurement, product development, store set teams, planogram development, order entry, in-office customer service reps, and home center reps in specified service markets that supply a 100-percent vendor managed inventory program to the home center stores.”
Dyer explains that she identifies efficiencies using both technology and great people while providing high level of service to the home centers.
“The hardest part of my job is keeping the troops rallied,” she adds.
Alicia Dedman, senior manager at The Detering Co. in Houston, analyzes the business processes, manages the customer service department and custom shop and oversees daily operations.
Dian Christensen is the marketing and human resources manager at Christensen Lumber in Fremont, Neb. In her marketing role, she leads people to action based on what customers are saying.
“I never had any inclination to do this, it just fell into my lap,” says Kathy Saito, sales and marketing manager of Dorris Lumber & Moulding in Sacramento, Calif.
Saito’s uncle gave her the job as the moulding plant secretary on April 3, 1978. She says she worked in the plant doing odd jobs, such as sweeping the floors, tailing off behind cut-off saws and patching jambs.
Christensen started out the same way in her family’s business.
“The first position I held was sweeping floors, basic accounting and filing at the family millwork business,” says Christensen. The millwork side of the company is an extension of a family building material business. “I’ve been working here for almost 27 years,” she adds.
Dedman found her destiny in the classifieds. The advertisement she answered asked for someone with experience reading blueprints.
“I discovered that the position they were actually advertising for was a receptionist,” she says. “To make a long story short, that was 13 years ago and I’m still here,” says Dedman, who studied architecture in college and had only held a few part-time jobs before joining the company.
Dyer had a much different story. She ended up at ECMD by marriage, after 10 years with Lowe’s as a buyer. Lowe’s policy did not allow husband and wife to work at the corporate location together. Thus, she interviewed at ECMD for a job that she says, basically did not exist.
“ECMD took a chance with me since I knew very little about millwork. I was a buyer at Lowe’s and then became a vendor for Lowe’s, which was a difficult transition. ECMD was privately owned then and is today. ECMD is a fun place to work and learn about this industry,” Dyers says.
Phillips found her niche when a business proposal caught her interest.
“In 1972, a friend asked me if I wanted to get involved in an agency that he was starting—and I said yes. We had to start from the bottom, getting manufacturers and customers throughout the Southeast,” adds Phillips.
The Joys of the Job
Though the everyday functions of their jobs differ, it is evident that the women all have worked hard to get to where they are today; and that the road has not always been a smooth one.
Growing a company from the ground up has been the most fulfilling aspect for Dyer.
“The beauty was being able to make things happen,” says Dyer. “I struggled because there wasn’t a rule/policy book as I was accustomed to at Lowe’s. The rules appeared when I screwed up. Who knows, I may have been responsible for some of the ones that exist today, I made enough mistakes,” she adds.
Dedman shares a funny experience where her boldness surprised her coworkers.
“Several years ago, we ordered a new door machine for our pre-hung door shop to improve our working conditions and capabilities. The entire shop was giddy with anticipation, until the day the machine arrived and was put in place,” she says. “The trainer was here to show the shop guys how to use it. When asked, ‘Who wants to be the first to run the machine?’ no one stepped forward,” she continued. “The guys were actually shrinking from the prospect. In the end, I stepped forward and learned how to run the machine. The shop guys were in shock but, after that, they all stepped up to receive their training without having to be encouraged.”
Playing With the Boys
It is no surprise that the millwork industry is a male-dominated workforce. These women are respected by their colleagues in their field, but that was not always the case.
“When I came to the company, there were no ladies doing the job I was hired to do, I was accustomed to business suits and I had entered a world of blue jeans,” says Dyer. “They [men] didn’t invite me to come [into the industry] so I had to learn the rules. The guys sent me for a moulding stretcher in the DC, but I had already seen the stunt pulled on another employee. Women have to earn their stripes just as the men do. The difference was I had no allies when I was hired. And for the first six months, it was a very hard adjustment.”
“It [being a woman in this industry] raises some eyebrows,” says Christensen. “For the most part, generations have evolved and females are respected although they may not always be taken seriously. It’s not true that they don’t know as much, [as men] which was the case in the 50s and 60s,” adds Christensen.
Dyer says that it has been hard being in a male-dominated industry. However, that has really changed over the last five years.
“Assumptions were made when I went to an Association of Millwork Distributors (AMD) show for the first couple of years that I was a wife and didn’t participate. That [was] actually an advantage because I [could] listen and learn. Everyday is a challenge when dealing with millwork.”
Ironically, Dyer developed her work with AMD and now serves on its board of directors.
Dedman has had a different experience as a woman in the industry.
“There have been some instances with various individuals, but for the most part, I prefer working in a male dominated industry,” she adds. “I find men easier to work with than women. Women have a tendency to be more sensitive than men. It’s easier to communicate with men and they don’t try to read between the lines the way many women do. I’m a fairly straightforward person and try to say what I mean and mean what I say. Men tend to respect that, and women don’t always want to hear things put bluntly. I have a difficult time switching back and forth.”
Selling to Women
Females have been increasingly interested in do-it-yourself projects, and possess a large chunk of the buying power for millwork products. This shows that any company can benefit from marketing efforts focused toward women. Female millwork professionals offer insight on the subject.
“Women may value their time more than men, simply because they usually have more to juggle from a personal and professional standpoint than men,” says Dedman. “Millwork companies that can capitalize on saving time (everything from getting the material to the job on time to fixing problems quickly so that multiple phone calls are not necessary) will have an advantage,” she adds.
Since women tend to be the buyers when it comes to millwork products, millwork companies can improve their selling strategies.
“They can hire women for sales and managerial positions,” says Phillips. “Women seem to have more people skills and follow up, and if they know their products and customers the sales should increase,” she concludes.
“Men are all about the product. Women are more about fashion,” says Dyer. “Woman more than likely cannot see the application in their home or end result after a room is completed. This is my own weakness so I have applied that thought process with literature in the home center stores. It is a visual thing in selling strategies,” she adds.
“Women are more likely to look for anything that gives them information about a product (literature, overhead displays) and will touch the product last. It is not all about price. They look at the complete package,” says Dyer.
Christensen continues, “Women are touchy-feely. Their minds aren’t as mechanical—they look for the finished look and want ... [products] to appeal to their senses,” she adds.
Advice from the Experts
Anyone, male or female, can benefit from the candid advice provided by these successful women.
“Work hard, have a thick skin, don’t take yourself or anyone else too seriously,” advises Dedman. “This industry is full of good people; the kind of people that would do anything for you if it came down to that. It’s just easy to lose sight of that sometimes,” she adds.
According to Phillips, the key is to be informed and knowledgeable.
“You will find in this industry that if you know what you are talking about and follow up, you will be accepted. I was accepted and then people were coming to me for answers,” says Phillips.
“Also, have a good personality and great follow up and correspondence,” she continues.
These women never underestimate the power of hard work.
“Some of the best advice I got was from someone who said, ‘Get your rear out of bed at 5 a.m. and start calling customers,’” says Saito, whose schedule is challenged by the West Coast time in which she works.
“You have to know what you are doing. You have to be able to sell your quality, dependability and knowledge of what would be best for the customer—and follow up,” says Saito. “Ask a lot of questions, and then make sure that everyone, from beginning to end, is happy,” advises Saito.
Christensen offers her advice.
“It is a customer-driven industry-you have to please. Success is based on relationships with customers,” says Christensen.
“My advice is, if you’re interested, go for it,” she adds.
A Fulfilling Destiny
Women in millwork have experienced positive experiences because of their perseverance.
“When I go through this life I want to leave something—touch a lot of lives and make a difference in those lives. Give people opportunity, and accomplish things I didn’t think I could. ECMD has offered that opportunity,” says Dyer.
For others like Dedman, enjoyment is found in the day-to-day duties of the job.
“I really enjoy being a problem-solver, looking at problems from a different viewpoint and identifying the best solution to a customer’s problem,” says Dedman.
“The industry has been fun, ever-changing, exciting and rewarding. It is an opportunity to create lives and histories for people by helping them build homes,” says Christensen.
Saito is also happy with her career.
“Even with as many years as I’ve worked, I still get excited to get a purchase order and to keep people employed—and to keep myself employed!”
For many, the joy of the job is a direct result of people who have affected their lives.
“The legacy that’s continuing with a family business, the relationships, the people you meet and wonderful employees we have is what I find rewarding,” says Christensen.
Saito agrees. “The people I’ve met have been exceptional from nuts-and-bolts on up.”
Phillips says that she has formed many friendships as a result of her career.
“I have been able to learn from a lot of the people in our industry and been able to travel this country and meet a lot of people that I consider to this day to be my friends,” says Phillips.
84 Lumber’s Maggie Hardy Magerko Receives The Spirit of Life® Award
Maggie Hardy Magerko, president and owner of 84 Lumber, was presented The Spirit of Life award from the Hardware/Home Improvement Industry group for City of Hope at a gala reception last month. The event coincided with the 2006 International Builders’ Show and tecHOMExpo. The award is the highest philanthropic honor bestowed by the cancer research and treatment facility and recognizes outstanding business and philanthropic leadership.
“We are delighted to present this award to Maggie and to recognize the tremendous contribution she has made to both her industry and her community,” said Robert Myers, associate vice president for City of Hope. “Her addition to the group solidifies our relationship and further expands awareness of City of Hope within the home improvement and building industries.”
Proceeds from the event benefited research, treatment and education programs at City of Hope.
“I’m extremely flattered and proud to receive this prestigious award,” said Magerko. “...The tremendous strides in research and treatment of cancer by City of Hope can flourish and grow only by the continued support of the community at large.”
See Jane Build: Be Jane Inc. Gives Female DIYers a Voice
Formed in 2003, Be Jane Inc. (www.be-jane.com) is the first online community, media and product company dedicated to serving the fastest growing segment of the home improvement marketplace: women do-it-yourselfers (DIYers).
The mission of the online community is to put a public face on the women’s home improvement market and create a trusted and credible information source for the DIY community. Be Jane says it is incorporating a comprehensive website, co-branding and strategic alliances, and a strong media presence to create a product and a message that will serve the current market of more than 17 million women homeowners in the United States.
Sarah Batcheler is an assistant editor for SHELTER magazine.
© Copyright 2006 Key Communications Inc. All rights reserved. No reproduction of any type without expressed written permission.