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Women who mean business

January 21/28, 2019: Volume 34, Issue 17

By Lindsay Baillie

For a significantly long time, the flooring industry has been known as a male-dominated sector. However, the scales are slowly shifting as more women assume various roles in manufacturing, distribution and specialty retail. This, several dealers say, is a positive for the industry as a whole, considering most flooring consumers are women.

In addition to strengthening relationships with consumers, women in the flooring industry are working to improve their stores’ day-to-day business practices. Following are the profiles of four successful women in the specialty retail world.

 

Kate Butcher, retail and builder sales
CarpetsPlus Color Tile, Bloomington, Ind.
Butcher started her flooring career in 1995, when a friend who worked for a builder mentioned that an affiliated flooring store needed someone to price the store and answer phones. After taking the job, Butcher’s role quickly evolved into a sales position.

“It was a small satellite store and I was there alone a lot, so I started with pricing and then quickly worked into helping customers,” Butcher explained. “I was kind of thrown in to learn as I go.”

Today, Butcher handles retail and builder sales. She is also heavily involved with the company’s local building association—something she believes has helped create lasting relationships with customers. “Being in the business for a long time, I have a lot of repeat customers, and knowing the people’s names, remembering them when they come in, that’s definitely helped a lot—especially getting through the recession,” Butcher said. “A lot of my builders, and the people I knew back when I first started, saw me as the young one who was there to help as backup. I got to know them then and kept those relationships once the older salespeople retired.”

One challenge Butcher currently faces is the lack of installers. “It’s kind of a dying breed. Most of our installers are over 45 years old, some of them are over 60. Replenishing that workforce is going to be a huge challenge in the years to come.”

In terms of best practices, Butcher explained being a good listener, taking notes and knowing product is top on her list. “We are a full-service store, so we install flooring as well. I try to learn about the various installation jobs and talk to the installers a lot. I ask them what they liked about an installation, what we can do differently, etc.”

Catherine Buchanan, owner
Independence Carpet One, Westland, Mich.
Buchanan, like many other individuals in the industry, found herself around flooring at a young age. Her parents started Independence Floor Covering as silent partners in 1967 with her uncle and the Astemborski family when she was just a toddler. After building a carpet manufacturing plant in Quebec, Canada, the family decided to move to Toronto, Canada, where her father invested in a padding manufacturing plant. The family later moved back to Michigan and took over the Westland-based flooring store.

Buchanan didn’t take an interest in the business until after the family moved back from Canada. “It was an after-school thing—working in the office or creating signs for the showroom, then measures and eventually on the sales floor as an interior designer after four years of college,” she explained. “I’ve been working with my family ever since.”

Shortly after the family developed a new store location in 1989, Sandy Mishkin, Alan Greenberg and Howard Brodsky approached them to talk about Carpet One. After attending convention, they immediately dived into all aspects of Carpet One. “We became Five Diamond Installation Excellence [certified] in six months and took on every program and initiative they provided,” she said. “We won a Wally Hileman Award within two years.”

Buchanan is just as decorated as her store. “I was asked to sit on the advisory council; I was also a member of the product and training councils. Now, I am a RNG coordinator for Michigan,” she said. She also earned the Alan Greenberg Award in 2014 and won the Carpet One Spirit Award for community-driven programs in 2018.

One of the greatest challenges Buchanan faces, she said, is finding a knowledgeable workforce. “The training today is minimal for plumbers, electricians, builders and, yes, installers. We need more support from the mills, but I have aligned and invested our store with Robert Varden, [vice president of] CFI, to train an installer for our future.”

Elisabeth Stubbs, owner
Enhance Floors &More, Marietta, Ga.
Stubbs’ flooring career started with a carpet cleaning company. Her husband, Don Stubbs, had worked in disaster response with a nationwide organization and decided he wanted his own company. After a few years, more clients were ready to replace their carpets, so the Stubbs began dabbling in carpet sales and installation. After a few years, they realized they enjoyed flooring sales more than cleaning and got out of the carpet cleaning business.

“My husband and I founded Enhance Floors and More in 1985,” Stubbs recalled. “I manage the Design Center and am responsible for the marketing and administrative aspects. Don handles the in-home sales and installation side. Even though I have a college degree in business management, I have learned a great deal from our partnership with Mohawk—we are a ColorCenter Elite dealer—and their training programs.”

Stubbs has been on a variety of nationwide advisory boards, including Mohawk’s National Advisory Board and a Wilsonart Advisory Panel.

As a woman in a male-dominated industry, Stubbs explained there is a need for more women in executive and sales roles. “I am always amazed at the small number of women in flooring,” she said. “I will never forget sitting at a seminar a few years ago when a male executive was going on about purchasing and showroom design from a woman’s point of view. I didn’t agree with a lot of what was being said. I wanted to shout, ‘Here’s one right here! Why don’t you ask me what I think?’”

One thing Enhance Floors and More does differently than some stores is it prices everything by the square foot and includes basic installation in the pricing. The store also posts its prices on the displays so there is trust in the pricing.

Lauren Voit, president
Great Western Flooring, Naperville, Ill.
Voit’s parents started a tile company the year she was born. She was rocked in a baby seat under the desk at their first showroom, “dusted samples” as a kid and worked any odd job as she grew up.

“On my first summer break from college, I asked my dad for a job and, in a ploy to keep me busy, he told me I could clear out the front office area of our warehouse, see what reps would give me displays and whatever I sold he’d compensate me for,” Voit explained. “So, I scrapped it together and started selling. The store was so successful that we opened a Design Center across the street years later and still work with key builder accounts that I acquired that summer.”

Voit came into the business full-time after getting a degree in business and entrepreneurship from University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. She began in sales, which grew to sales manager, general manager, vice president and president.

“I came into the business in 2006, when times were good but quickly took a dive,” Voit recalled. “I watched as our team strategized on hard and critical decisions. I learned a lot about how to be savvy, how to keep focus and how to be humble during the recession. I also brought the perspective that the industry was changing, and the new consumer would be design focused and demanding. I felt if we grew in the direction where we could service the clients with more exclusive products that were expertly curated and pulled together to fit their budgets, we would offer something people couldn’t get elsewhere.”

All of Great Western Flooring’s best practices are rooted in being true to its values, Voit explained. “We are authentic, accountable, growth driven, design focused and low pressure. We serve the communities that support our business.”