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Women who mean business

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.”

 JANICE CLIFTON, owner
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.

ROBIN OSTERHAUS, co-owner
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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Women in Flooring: Block—DriTac’s driving force, relationship builder

May 22/29, 2017: Volume 31, Issue 25

By Lindsay Baillie

 

Screen Shot 2017-05-30 at 10.28.03 AMMyrna Block, executive vice president, DriTac, has been described by others as outgoing, positive, intuitive, a visionary, an entrepreneur—all of which are exemplified in her passion and hard work in the flooring industry and her community. Whether she is helping fellow flooring members or supporting local charities, Block thrives in developing quality relationships with those around her.

In 1987, Block and her husband, Yale, current president of DriTac, started working together and bought a small adhesives company called Basic Adhesives. From there, the couple purchased four other modest-sized adhesive manufacturing companies—one of which was a company known for its only flooring product, DriTac 6200. DriTac has grown exponentially over the past 27 years and now has a portfolio exceeding 30 environmentally friendly products.

As a team, Block and her husband have split company responsibilities. She is in charge of DriTac’s sales, marketing and customer service departments, while her husband oversees finance, manufacturing and R&D. Block noted that this division is specific to their areas of expertise. “Yale is a biochemical engineer from MIT with an extensive background in manufacturing; I was a high school chemistry and biology teacher with a successful background in sales.”

Yale Block attributes much of the company’s success in the flooring industry to his wife. “Myrna has been the driving force for DriTac. We had actually been a basic adhesive company selling to all different companies, and she guided us to focus on the flooring industry.”

More importantly, Block never loses sight of the importance of serving the customer. “She always wants to do the right thing regardless of the effort it takes or the course,” he added. “We pride ourselves in our ability to react to a customer’s needs quicker than our competitors, whether it’s warranties for certain projects, test adhesives, etc.”

As owners, Myrna and Yale Block have adopted an “open door” policy by making themselves available to customers and internal staff. One way of doing this is by including their cell phones on their business cards and encouraging customers to contact them during the day, night and even weekends. “I believe there are very few owners in the flooring industry that are as accessible as Yale and me,” Block said.

This level of accessibility speaks directly to DriTac’s fundamental values. As the person in charge of sales, marketing and customer service, Block makes sure all of her employees are honest, innate at building strong relationships, smart and have a great work ethic. “People buy from people, and forming strong bonds plays a major role for us,” she explained. “We are committed to our customers and take responsibility for our products. We stand behind the problem-solving solutions we produce that help our customers sleep better at night.”

Solid partnerships
Block and DriTac’s dedication to providing partners with solutions has helped create lasting partnerships with various dealers and distributors. Bob Eady, president of T&L Distributing, described his company’s relationship with Block as being open and honest. “She has, at times, gone above and beyond to help us in some uncomfortable situations, and she asks that we return that same cooperation to her and DriTac. That sounds pretty simple but I can assure you there are plenty of suppliers that ignore uncomfortable issues rather than face them. It’s great to have a partner like Myrna.”

Bruce Zwicker, the recently retired CEO of Haines, also noted Block’s devotion to her business partners. One example he cited involved DriTac keeping inventory of fast-moving SKUs available in the warehouse for immediate shipment to Haines. This helped keep the pipeline supplied and benefited Haines.

“Myrna sets the pace and the tone for sales, marketing and customer service—always aiming higher,” Zwicker said. “This means DriTac is always bringing new things to its customers. She is a strong leader and understands the value of forming long-lasting partnerships. Myrna is deservedly proud of the long-term customer relationships—15 years with Haines. She is all about trust, her personal credibility and is always going to do the right thing, even if it means negatively affecting the bottom line in the short term.”

In addition to standing behind DriTac’s products and building relationships, Block has helped the company grow by taking risks and hiring proactive people. Chuck Hall, senior vice president of sales at DriTac, sees Block as the sales driver of the company. “She has been instrumental in assisting our sales team in recruiting new partners and establishing great relationships with our customers. Myrna empowers her senior managers to manage their teams, make sound decisions and implement initiatives to be successful.”

Hall also praised Block’s approach to business—one that is calculated and well thought-out. “Myrna takes a long-term perspective of our business. Decisions on investments are made today that might not benefit us for years to come.”

Block’s ability to look ahead coincides with DriTac’s drive to produce environmentally friendly adhesives to help minimize the company’s overall carbon footprint. “We strive to have the most technologically advanced adhesives and installation solutions available in the marketplace,” she explained. “We continually introduce new products and have demonstrated a strong commitment to providing sound- and moisture-control system adhesives that offer time and cost efficiency.”

Legacy of innovation
Under Block’s leadership, DriTac has looked to help revolutionize flooring installations with the development and promotion of two key adhesive products. In the 1990s, DriTac 6200 helped to steer the industry away from chlorinated solvents to a more user-friendly, water-based adhesive solution that could install multiple flooring types that included wood, rubber and vinyl. Again in 2008, DriTac’s team developed DriTac 1001 All-In-One, the first urethane-based, four-in-one sound and moisture control system adhesive, which helped to transform hardwood flooring installations, making them more time and cost efficient.

DriTac’s dedication to innovation and product development is also reflected in its commitment to building its workforce. DriTac recently hired additional people to help fortify its internal staff and assist in obtaining the company’s goals. “We are always focused on developing next-generation, problem-solving solutions that positively change the way flooring is installed,” Block said. “We will continue to keep our commitments to our customers and stand behind the products we produce.”

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Women in Flooring: Ann Wicander—Fifth-generation success in cork, underlayments

January 16/23, 2017: Volume 31, Number 16

By Lindsay Baillie

Screen Shot 2017-01-16 at 12.33.13 PMAnn Wicander, president of WE Cork, represents the fifth generation of her family to be involved in the cork industry. Wicander’s journey began with her father, who headed the branch of the family’s cork company in Switzerland, where Wicander was born. “We were there for 11 years, during which time my father gave my older brothers and me lots of opportunity to earn extra money by gluing samples on brochures,” Wicander recalled. “He would pay us by piece and quality.”

Wicander recalled the turbulent fourth generation of the family business—a time when her father sold his shares of Wicanders to remaining family members and started a competitive business. The original family business was later sold out of the family to a large Portuguese manufacturer. A few years later Wicander and her family moved to the United States and established what is now called WE Cork. During that time, Wicander would occasionally accompany her father to trade shows.

“After University, he asked if I would be interested in going to California and exploring the sound control market for our new WECU Soundless products, which were doing extremely well in the new condo market that had sprouted during the late ’70s, early ’80s in Florida,” Wicander said. “His package included $50/day for food, hotel and car; compensation was 100% commission.

“After eight weeks, two sales, much rejection and virtually no income, I took a position as a sales rep for a veterinary pharmaceutical distributor in Connecticut,” she added. “Three years later, in 1990, my father offered me another opportunity, and I, a bit wiser, negotiated for a more industry-competitive package.”

From her early start gluing samples to exploring the sound control market, Wicander’s journey to becoming president of WE Cork was marked by many ups and downs in the economy, market conditions and with respect to personnel. She initially started in sales and rose to the position of marketing manager before her father split the sales territories. She was elevated to the position of president of the Western division in 1995, although she technically ran both divisions despite her new title. In 1998 Wicander took the reins as president of the entire company.

As president, Wicander has helped WE Cork expand within the flooring industry. With a shifted focus toward the flooring division, she has headed numerous product launches. “When I first entered the industry, the majority of our business was underlayment and other products outside of the flooring industry. I have since been very focused on the flooring segment and have incorporated new technologies in developing our collections. Our Serenity collection is a perfect example; the high-definition print technology—which has for years given ceramic tile new life—offers our customers the comfort, quiet, warm and sustainable solution which cork has always offered, under the cloak of wood and custom visuals which appeal to the mainstream.”

Wicander was clear that her shift in focus toward the flooring segment has not stopped WE Cork from working with underlayment. “[It] is still a big part of our business. We’re still looking for new applications for our products. We have an LVT underlayment named Silently, which grew out of the LVT market and has been fantastic for us. In recognizing where the market is going, I see what it needs and I’d like to think I’m pretty quick to address those needs.”

To that end, WE Cork is meticulous when introducing new products. “We put a lot of work into making sure our products are ready for the market,” Wicander said, referring to the consequences associated with product misfires. “Bad news travels much faster than good news.”

Traits for success

Wicander describes herself as an “on-the-ground” type of person. Throughout her day-to-day she is most happy talking to people, going to trade shows and traveling. Luckily for her, no two workdays are the same.

“If I am at the office, my day may entail corresponding with customers about products and programs, discussing marketing updates and changes with our design team, receiving updates and requests from salespeople and, of course, reviewing the financials,” she explained. “Much of my time is spent on the road calling on prospective customers, providing support to our distributors, traveling to Europe where the new technologies and designs are incorporated as well as going to trade shows.”

With all the work that Wicander does, it can be hard to find downtime. While achieving the right work-life balance can be challenging, she strives to keep it all in perspective. “This is a challenge for us all, but I do subscribe to the belief that you should work hard and play hard. My big release is fox hunting on horseback. I also go eventing, which is similar to a triathlon on a horse. I have friends who help keep my horses fit, and then I ride whenever I can.”

As a woman in a male-dominated industry, Wicander said she hasn’t felt much adversity and believes her formative years have had a significant impact on her current position. “I was the third child with two older brothers and a neighborhood that was primarily all boys,” she recalled. “Furthermore, my parents treated my younger sister and I the same as my brothers; we all had to do the dishes and we all had to help stack wood. The expectations were the same, regardless of gender. This would prepare me for the future in a male-dominated industry. I never saw any roadblocks, only opportunities.”

Wicander hopes a shift will bring more women into similar positions like hers. “There certainly has been a larger influence by women in the design and marketing segment; there now just needs to be more representation on the managerial side. This will come in time.”

Her advice to other women in the industry is straightforward. “Make sure you are prepared for your meetings; know your product or service; honor your word and promises; and be persistent.”

This advice is not only self-practiced but has been shared with others at WE Cork. “She taught me a lot in business—how to work with salespeople, distributors and how to keep the business going,” said Diane Farrell, office manager. “She really knows what she’s doing.”

It’s that same work ethic and laser focus on professionalism that Wicander plans to employ to propel the company forward. “My plan is to continue in the path I am following now,” she said. “Adapt new technologies to help cork increase its footprint and continue to educate the distributor, dealer, architect and designer about the unmatched virtues of WE Cork products. As we in the cork industry currently represent a small speck in the flooring industry, my work will never end.”

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Women in Flooring: Flavia Baggio- Extinguishes the fire, positions IndusParquet for the future

 August 8/15, 2016; Volume 31, Number 4

By Steven Feldman

Flavia Baggio

It is rare to find multi-million dollar companies in this country run by 29 year olds, once you get past the Mark Zuckerbergs of the world. It is even more rare when that 29-year-old is a woman. And when that 29-year-old woman has only been in this country for seven years, well….

Flavia Baggio has been running IndusParquet’s North American operations since 2009. She has made a huge difference, not only for her company but also in her efforts of promoting the beauty and value of Brazilian hardwood to U.S. distributors and retailers. And that has been the easy part.

Baggio’s path has been anything but easy. In fact, when she landed on these shores seven years ago her immediate task at hand was daunting. Basically, she was charged with cleaning up a big mess—a mess that for some companies would have led to the sounding of their death knell.

A bit of history. Up until that time, IndusParquet’s presence in the U.S. was as the primary hardwood flooring supplier to a major Brazilian hardwood flooring importer. With the onset of the economic crisis that began in 2007, sales of upper-end exotics struggled and resulted in financial troubles for IndusParquet’s customer. “We tried to accommodate them to keep the business and keep supply without disruption, but we were not successful,” Baggio said. “We had to have inventory. They decided to change their business model and we took over. So we basically went from being the major supplier to a large wood flooring company to establishing our own brand within a month.”

To say it wasn’t easy would be a gross understatement.

“I came here to solve the financial problem, but we couldn’t come up with a resolution,” she said. “We abruptly split ways, and we did not have proper inventory at the time. We had to get inventory. We didn’t have a computer system. We didn’t have employees. And we had to get everything done within a month. This was the damage control phase where we put out the fire.”

It took about six months before she could put her extinguisher away. “Fast forward, next we had to go through the stabilization phase. That is where we had to rethink everything.”

Baggio’s résumé would suggest she was less equipped to reinvent a company than to handle the financial end of things. But she had the one critical trait: intelligence. She had graduated from FGV in Sao Paolo with a Bachelor’s degree in Business Administration. She also lived in Italy for a period of time, where she attended Univerita Bocconi, one of the best business schools in Europe. That education paid dividends. She sought a career in the financial markets, and in applying for her first job with UBS, she beat out 300 people for the one position.

Stabilization simply meant trying to keep the business in the U.S. throughout that turbulent first year. “We had a major lawsuit,” Baggio said. “Distributors back then thought we were partnering up with our former customer to go direct and bypass them. That obviously was not the case.”

One of Flavia Baggio’s main objectives in rebuilding the IndusParquet brand was to reposition it as a design-driven company.
One of Baggio’s main objectives was
to reposition the company as design-driven.

That wasn’t all. The company had to start from scratch with the IndusParquet brand as opposed to the former client’s established brand, which had been known for 20-plus years. “It was the same products but a new brand,” Baggio said. “Thankfully, together with our distributors, we were able to convince the dealers to trust us. They knew the products and our quality.”

Long story short: Today the business is doing greater volume than ever before, up 50% in 2015 from 2014.

A lot of that has to do with what Baggio refers to as her “down to earth” philosophy. “Let’s do what we have to do at the right time and not exceed the budget to achieve that goal.” That, along with execution of the game plan. “We created the structure of the company in a very short period of time. And now that we have settled down with the team we have in place, we can determine our next steps.”

According to Jason Strong, vice president of sales, IndusParquet North America, that has been Flavia’s biggest contribution. “Executing fast when we needed fast and now taking the time to see the future,” he said. “She showed amazing calmness and resolve in the most difficult situations.”

With damage control as phase 1 and stabilization as phase 2, Baggio and IndusParquet are now embarking on phase 3: a rebranding, or revamping of the IndusParquet product line where the new fashions of Brazilian hardwood flooring are brought to market, a bit of a departure from where the company built its reputation: as a manufacturer of exotic hardwood. “As a team we decided to take the company in a little different direction,” she said. “After we had to restructure, settle and organize, we had to rethink the entire business model and really digest and identify our opportunities and competitive advantages.”

To that end, IndusParquet will be a design-driven company. “We are launching a new program with Brazilian flare and design,” she said. “This is creation with implementation and execution. Getting the right program, the right display, the right samples, the right inventory at the right price point and at the right time. That is what we will convey to the customers.”

The line is launching with 12 new, low-gloss SKUs in the popular brown and gray tones and employing just two species: Copaiba and Peroba. “Copaiba is full of veins; lots of character,” she said. “Peroba is a more uniform species and 30% harder than oak.” About 80% of the boards are 8 feet in length and 7½ inches wide. “The line responds to the trends of today’s American consumer at a price point that for the first time makes this type of product affordable to the masses.”

Her success has not been without challenges. “People notice me more because of my accent. Sometimes in a good way, sometimes in a bad way. The good way is that people may pay more attention to me; the bad way being you have to adapt to the culture quickly so people can respect the differences within their own culture.”

As an attractive woman on the south side of 30, earning the respect of a male-dominated industry can also be a challenge for some. But not Baggio. “I sought to gain respect simply by being myself and fighting for my own principles and values that were learned from my family. If you have strong ethics and do the right thing you have respect. And if you come from another country and do the right thing, people respect you even more because you come from a different culture.”

Baggio has proven herself as a leader and mentor in the short time she has been in the U.S. She has been a board member of both the National Wood Flooring Association and North American Association of Floor Covering Distributors from 2013-15. She will also be doing some speaking in the coming months.

What advice would she give a younger woman starting out in this industry? “Follow your beliefs, principles and values. Be persistent and never give up. With all the challenges and difficulties I sometimes face, I love it. I never want to settle into a comfortable position. The more challenging the more interesting. My advice is to throw yourself to the challenges.”

The challenge right now is running and growing IndusParquet. “My dad taught me to be humble and have my feet on the ground,” she said. “The most important thing is that businesses need to be successful in order to be eternal. Nothing is worth it if you don’t make money. Just as important, allowing floor covering dealers to make money with your product.”

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Women in Flooring: Jeanne Matson- Hard work, independence are hallmarks of her success

May 9/16, 2016; Volume 30, Number 23

By Jenna Lippin

Screen Shot 2016-05-17 at 11.11.48 AMJeanne Matson, president and CEO of Starnet Worldwide Commercial Flooring Partnership, credits her father’s wisdom as inspiration for becoming an independent leader. Though he was born in 1906, he had a more modern, progressive view of women in the workplace. “His mother and sister didn’t work and my mother didn’t work, but he used to tell me and my sister when we were young, ‘Never depend on a man. Get educated and become self-sufficient,’” Matson reflected. “This didn’t mean we couldn’t get married and have children, but he wanted us to be financially independent. This inspired me to pursue a career and make that a priority in my life.”

After graduating college with a degree in English, Matson worked as a secretary for a trucking company. Without any opportunity for advancement in the organization, she decided to leave and join The Drackett Company, a division of Bristol-Myers Squibb, a consumer product company based in Cincinnati. She progressed from human resources to sales training and, ultimately, landed in brand marketing. Matson decided to take her next step in the Big Apple.

In New York City, Matson worked in brand marketing for Clairol and over a period of 26 years with the company, ascended to the position of general manager for Clairol Professional. After Procter & Gamble acquired Clairol in 2001, Matson stayed with Clairol for six and a half years. Ready to leave the demanding world of corporate America, Matson’s next move led her to a career in the commercial contract flooring arena.

“I came to Starnet in 2007 with no flooring experience; however, I knew how to manage P&L, lead a team of people and work in a multi-functional environment in a leadership role,” she said. “I worked with customers and end users with salons and professional hairstylists at Clairol. Even though this was a very different group from Starnet members, they are all entrepreneurs. I enjoyed learning a new industry, of course; I worked in hair color for so many years so it was nice to do something different.”

Matson succeeded Lori Dowling, who served as Starnet’s president and CEO for nine years. During her first year with the organization, she analyzed its programs, spending plan and overall mission—to equally support members and Preferred Vendor Partners. Previously, “we were promoting Starnet only. After a strategic dialogue with the Board of Directors and other members-at-large, we agreed that Starnet should be the endorser for both the members and Preferred Vendors to ultimately help their businesses increase revenue and profitability. We are dedicated to helping our members and Preferred Vendor Partners to work together more effectively.”

Another significant change Matson instituted at Starnet was to move away from a small staff supported by outside agencies and instead implement a larger internal team dedicated to better meet members’ needs. “We’ve doubled the size of our staff over the past eight years, but have saved considerable money for Starnet by doing the work more efficiently and effectively. Each staff member has an individual role to play and we work very well as a team and we support each other.”

 

Creating opportunities

Screen Shot 2016-05-17 at 11.11.53 AMAs far as being a woman in the traditionally male-dominated world of flooring, Matson said she hasn’t faced much adversity in her current role given the fact that another woman previously led the organization. “There are female business owners, executives and leaders at Starnet. In fact, our current chairman of the board of directors is a female owner, Cheryl Acierno from Acierno & Company in Denver. I have never felt any difference as a woman in this group. There’s a respect for experience and what an individual brings to the organization; being a female doesn’t change that.”

However, in the early days of her career in a more corporate environment, Matson was often the lone female in the group. “There were occasional jokes and comments about women, but I didn’t let it bother me. I didn’t appreciate it, but I’m not very sensitive. I’m just not easily threatened by people. I have learned not to take it personally.”

Matson does, in fact, believe there are advantages to being a woman in a leadership role, particularly because she feels females have a much more consensus-building approach. “We are also great multi-taskers,” she explained. “I was attracted to brand management because you never know what crisis might hit on a given day. You are always juggling. My job at Starnet is the same. The ability to juggle and multi-task is important in these types of roles.”

Her advice to other professional women—and men—is to be willing to work hard and learn new things. She also suggests avoiding the phrase, “That’s not my job.” “So much of what we do in a multi-faceted work environment involves pitching in and doing what you have to in order to get things done, regardless of your job description. That willingness has truly helped me in my success.”

Matson cites a book that particularly resonated with her, “Why Good Girls Don’t Get Ahead…But Gutsy Girls Do” by Kate White, which encourages women to create their own journeys, not sit back and let things happen to them or keep quiet to avoid a difficult situation. “Every move I’ve made in my career has come because I’ve pushed my own opportunities,” Matson said. “I haven’t waited for anyone to open the door for me. Several times at Clairol, I had to take the initiative to ask for a new position in the company. I would say, ‘I want that job, that’s what I need for my career,’ and I pushed myself to get it. If you don’t, you’re left in the wake. ‘Good girls’ who sit in their offices and accept whatever comes their way—who don’t push or stand up for themselves—miss out. I’ve had to speak up and take advantage of opportunities in some intense circumstances.”

For example, while on maternity leave during her employment with Clairol, she found out her division was up for sale and, as a senior member of the team, Matson would be “sold” to the new owner with the business. Plus, Clairol had a new president who joined the company while she was on leave. Two weeks later, she returned to work and made an appointment with Clairol’s new president for a face-to-face meeting despite the fact she had never met him. During the meeting, Matson, who had been with the company for about 17 years, simply walked into the boss’ office and said, “‘I need only five minutes.’ I explained my history with Clairol and how committed I have been to the organization. It would be difficult to find another employee with my experience and loyalty. I told him I wanted to stay with the company and would be happy to do any range of jobs.”

The company president didn’t know Matson at all, but the next morning he called and asked her if she was willing to move to a new position within the company. She said yes and moved.

“If I had not done that I would have been long gone, sold from Clairol and who knows where I’d be today?”

 

Making it ‘work’

Just as her dad told her, Matson worked hard to remain independent in her career while she was married and raising her children. Female friends saw her as a role model, she said, as a working mother who “made it work.” But advancement came at a price. “I gave up a lot of my own free time because I worked very long hours,” she said. “But I also always followed some personal ‘rules’ when it came to my children. I never traveled on birthdays, I was home for holidays and I included them as much as I could. Today both of them are successful people.”

Reflecting upon her accomplishments, Matson said she is most proud of entering the business world without any preparation yet continued to strive for and achieve success and respect. “At this point I’m very sure of what I’m doing. I feel like I have the reservoir of experience and skills to face almost anything. I have also ended up doing work I love. For me, the focus was not on financial return. My goal is always to do the best job in my current role. From there, everything else followed.”

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Women in Flooring: Dana Teague- Balancing roles leads to success

Jan 18/25; Volume 30/Number 15

By Jenna Lippin

Screen Shot 2016-01-18 at 2.32.09 PMSurfaces—combined with StonExpo|Marmomacc Americas and Tile Expo to comprise The International Surface Event (TISE)—has made some major strides since its inception in 1989, most notably in recent years as the industry has picked up from the Great Recession. That being said, the expansion of TISE would not be possible without its leadership team, which includes Dana Teague, vice president, design group, Informa Exhibitions US.

Teague said she has had more fun over the past year than she has in her entire professional career, which includes 20-plus years in trade shows. “Yes, I’m busier, but the work and the challenges are professionally and personally fulfilling. Informa is a large international company—with 6,500 employees in over 20 countries operating more than 150 exhibitions—but it is agile and puts a strong emphasis on people and culture.”

Formerly Hanley Wood Exhibitions, Informa acquired the organization in late 2014. According to Teague, one of the most significant positives coming out of this change of hands is going from being owned by private equity to being publicly traded on the London Stock Exchange. “With that comes a different mindset when it comes to growth,” she noted. “Another advantage is the instant global reach we now have. We have gone from being a mostly domestic show organizer to a global show organizer.”

For Surfaces, Teague has a team of 12, led by Amie Gilmore, show director. This past year Dwell on Design designjunction and the Sample Sale were added to Teague’s portfolio with a team of eight. “These teams are cohesive, hard working and love to have fun,” Teague said. “It makes the time spent in the office energizing and enjoyable.”

She credits the more recent steps of her impressive journey to mentors at Hanley Wood/ Informa, including Galen Poss, former president of Hanley Wood; Michael Green, former executive vice president; and Rick McConnell, president, Informa U.S. Construction & Real Estate. She started with Hanley Wood in 2000 managing the International Autobody Congress & Exposition. Five years later she moved on to Surfaces and StonExpo. “I started at the collision repair show,” she recalled. “It wasn’t an ideal fit, but it was great. You have to learn the products and immerse yourself in the industry. Moving to Surfaces and StonExpo in 2005 was a whole new learning experience.”

In the time since Teague started at the show, the industry—along with the entire country—endured a draining downturn. But the bounce back and consistent growth of the flooring business in recent years since has kept things at Surfaces upbeat. “Trade shows mirror what’s going on in the industry,” she explained. “As the industry has grown 2%, 3%, 4% every year that’s what the show has done as well. We launched the co-location of Surfaces and StonExpo in 2011 as they were both struggling. It was one of those actions you take to make sure both events stay successful. There was crossover with attendees; it seemed like a very natural fit.”

Wearing different hats

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In the midst of developing her career and working toward the prominent position she holds today, Teague had to balance her professional responsibilities with being a mother to her son and daughter. While this seems like the norm today, it is no easy feat. “Work-life balance for a working mother isn’t always easy, and being a single working mother makes life a little more hectic. Then add in a career where you are on the road a fair amount of time—life can become extremely complicated. Luckily, I had a great support system of family and friends around me. Without them I’m not sure I could have continued at such a hectic pace.”

Despite her busy schedule in her roles as both mother and business professional, Teague has always stayed focused by prioritizing and keeping work and fun in a reasonable balance. “You make it work. There are so many working mothers today. For a lot of us, we work because we want to work. I quite honestly don’t know what I would have done with myself [if I didn’t work], even when my kids were small. I have gotten great satisfaction from raising my children, but I have also gotten great satisfaction from my career. We look for satisfaction in all areas of our lives. I think my children were better off with me working. I was more whole, so I could pass onto them my work ethic and the fact I was a happier individual.”

During her time spent in leadership roles, Teague learned when it does or doesn’t matter that she is often the lone female amongst male colleagues. More often than not she feels her gender hasn’t presented any issues. “I can’t say that I’ve really faced many challenges simply due to my gender. Any challenges I’ve faced were most likely due to my own insecurities and lack of confidence as a woman. Some women in business think they need to act like a man. Women tend to be more nurturing and emotional by nature and that’s OK. Be yourself and have confidence in who you are.”

The challenges that have come up for Teague in terms of being a woman were in some countries where she has travelled for international events. “As business becomes more global, there can be roadblocks for women in certain cultures. You may not always be able to overcome the challenges but an understanding and acceptance of the differences is the best way to deal with them. You have to prove yourself to gain respect.”

Teague is most proud of her ability to adapt to different situations and unexpected changes over the years. She worked through several acquisitions while with Hanley Wood and managed events for various industries. “Regardless of what has come my way, I’ve been able to easily adapt and succeed. Today I can say I have such great people that I work for and with. They have been key in my success and my ability to just work hard and do my job. I remain energized about things.”

For ambitious women seeking to capture a position like Teague’s, she suggests believing in oneself. With hard work and confidence—and without a fear of failure—any goal can be achieved. “There is a saying, ‘Behind every successful woman is herself.’ Don’t depend on others; you are in charge of your own success and destiny. Take failures as learning experiences and move forward.”

For working mothers like herself, she implores them not to feel guilty. “Your kids will turn out just fine despite the hours you spend away from them. You just have to make the time you spend with them count. Turn off your phone and computer. Be fully present with your family; minimize the multitasking. Your kids grow up fast.”

What’s next?

Teague’s goals for Informa continue to focus on innovation to help keep shows fresh and exciting. She plans to slow down with her team to “examine each aspect of the shows to determine what is working, what isn’t and what may need to be tweaked.”

Acquisitions may be in the works as well. “We are continually looking for new events to acquire or partner with, both domestically and internationally,” she said.

Growth is something recognizable for Teague and TISE colleagues. Preliminary numbers for this year’s event are up across the board, including housing at 23% ahead of this time last year with a 9% larger show floor. “It’s a year of celebration,” Teague said. “The industry is doing well, and the show is doing well.”

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Women in Flooring: Lisa Browning- Adding value to industry giants

September 14/21; Volume 30/Number 7

By Jenna Lippin

Screen Shot 2015-09-21 at 1.16.33 PMGrowing up just outside of Dalton in Walker County, it may have been inevitable that Lisa Browning—now executive director of the National Floorcovering Alliance (NFA)—would end up in the flooring industry. However, what was not predicted was Browning’s work with some of the biggest names in flooring, from Carpets of Dalton to Carpet One to Abbey, establishing family-like relationships with industry legends.

It started in 1982 when Browning took a position in the claims department for Interloom (which was acquired by Beaulieu), where she gained product knowledge on the manufacturing side of wool and polypropylene carpet. After being promoted to credit and claims manager there, in 1987 she moved on to Carpets of Dalton, working for Lamar and Jerry Hennon in the accounting department. At the time, Carpets of Dalton had an all-male sales force, but eventually the team realized it needed a female’s perspective.

“One day one of the salesmen came to me and said his customer—a female—wanted another woman’s opinion to help her with her carpet selection,” Browning recalled. “The customer had fabric swatches and a pillow from her sofa, so I selected carpet samples from the showroom that I thought coordinated well. After narrowing it down based on her [preferences], she made her selection. This continued for several weeks with customers before Jerry asked me to go into sales.”

From there Browning was trained on carpet construction and fiber types before selling on the showroom floor. She also worked as an assistant to the hard surface buyer at Carpets of Dalton to gain additional knowledge on wood, vinyl and ceramic.

In 1991 Browning’s then husband was transferred to the Dallas-Fort Worth area for his job; once there, he called Manny Llerena [with Color Tile at the time] in downtown Fort Worth as an assistant carpet buyer was needed there. Browning went to interview with Larry Nagle, who was president of Color Tile.

“I was very nervous,” she said. “Larry handed me an 18 x 27 carpet sample with no labels. He asked me the face weight; I told him it was around 60 ounces. He asked me the cost and I told him $8.00 to $9.00 depending on if it was branded or unbranded nylon. I knew I was close. Larry did not say a word and asked me to go wait in Manny’s office. A few minutes later he told me I had the job.”

During her time at Color Tile, Browning became involved in private labeling and merchandising, traveling with Llerena, Nagle and Charlie Dilks—chief product officer of CCA Global Partners who was then in charge of Color Tile Canada—to Dalton to meet with manufacturer executives, including Randy Merritt of Shaw, Jeff Lorberbaum of Mohawk, Carl Bouckaert of Beaulieu, and many more prominent industry figures.

Nagle helped Browning expand her knowledge in product construction and cost, and after five years with Color Tile she moved on to Carpet One in Atlanta after getting divorced. “I was hired by Sandy Mishkin [president of CCA Global Partners] to be the hard surface buyer for Carpet One. During my time there I travelled to Wilsonart, Armstrong and Mannington and learned that side of the business. Merchandising and private labeling was more difficult with hard surface. The manufacturer’s brand was important.”

Browning’s next career move came sort of unexpectedly in 1997 when she met Abbey Carpet executive team members Phil Gutierrez, chairman and CEO, and Steve Silverman, president and COO, at a World Carpets show in Florida. “We talked about the industry, hard surface, some suppliers. The neScreen Shot 2015-09-21 at 1.19.14 PMxt week I got back to work and they called and asked if I wanted to come meet with them. I wasn’t looking to make a change—I was happy with what I was doing—but I was going down to Coverings in Orlando so I said I would come a day early and meet with them. While I was there they offered me a job, and I accepted that night.”

As the hard surface buyer for Abbey, Browning said she faced a challenge because the group did not private label hard surface, meaning members found more difficulty in offering consumers something they wouldn’t be able to find elsewhere. “I went to the manufacturers and developed the ‘No questions asked 60-day replacement guarantee’ in which Abbey would replace any product a consumer didn’t like with product of equal value from the same manufacturer. We developed marketing for dealers to use in their showrooms and it was a huge success.” She was soon promoted to vice president of merchandising and member service, working closely with Gutierrez and Silverman on all aspects of product, merchandising and customer service.

Browning developed a personal relationship with Abbey leadership, as well. After remarrying and living in Florida without any other family, Gutierrez and Silverman “spent a lot of time with my family and me. Phil took us on trips to places that I would never have been able to go to. They treated us like their family.”

Despite her successful run with Abbey, Browning decided to take a break from work in October 2006 when her son was finished with school. While she did, in fact, plan on going back to work, she wanted “to try something new.” An opportunity quickly came thanks to Tom Hadinger of Hadinger Flooring in Naples, Fla. “When Tom heard that I was no longer working for Abbey, he asked if I would be interested in going to work for the NFA. At the time I knew nothing about it, and I wasn’t sure I wanted to get back into flooring after being out of it for only about a month. After speaking with Sam Roberts [owner of Roberts Carpet & Fine Floors in Houston], then NFA president, and flying to Atlanta to meet with the NFA’s board of directors, I accepted the position in December.”

The NFA was and is still run by members, with its officers elected for two-year terms. As the group grew, responsibilities took up more of members’ and elected officials’ time, which is why they decided to create the executive director position held by Browning. “I remember Sam telling me to take the job and we will figure it out together. His term as president was scheduled to end but he agreed to stay on an additional year to work with me in the new position.”

Browning said the best part of her job is working with NFA members, witnessing first-hand the passion they have about their businesses and their willingness to share with each other. Her responsibilities include “all aspects of a one-person office,” working closely with vendors that she has known since starting her career in floor covering and negotiating vendor agreements, product, display programs and promotions. “I am also the accounting department…the meeting planner [and]…the communications department.”

Clearly Browning has established deep roots in the flooring industry, despite its reputation as the proverbial “boys’ club.” While she agreed the flooring world is still dominated by men, it has progressed since her entrée in 1982. At all the companies for which she has worked—with the exception of the NFA—Browning said she was “the only female in the room during meetings, and it was very intimidating being this country girl from Dalton. In the beginning I would sit there and not comment unless I was asked a question. Larry and Manny started asking my opinion more and more, and as time went on I gained confidence and felt more comfortable just being myself and sharing in the conversations.”

She noted that retailers and manufacturers alike have now realized that as a style, color, design and lifestyle business, there is a need for more females in the flooring industry. While that need is evident now, she knows her success came because of those who took a chance on her—before an increasing female presence. “From starting out in sales at Carpets of Dalton to Larry Nagle taking a risk when he had someone else in mind for the position. I have been very fortunate that every time I landed a job, my bosses really taught me. Everybody wants to be successful, but I was always more worried about adding value to wherever I’m working. I don’t want to be easily replaced.”

What words of wisdom does Browning offer professional women making names for themselves today? “Don’t be overly sensitive. Have a thick skin. Do not stay silent; be active in meetings and speak your [mind] when you have the knowledge. Be confident but not cocky.”

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Women in Flooring: Allie Finkell- Establishing a meaningful career without the family name

Aug. 3/10; Volume 30/Number 4

By Jenna Lippin

Screen Shot 2015-08-13 at 10.58.50 AM Allie Finkell may not yet have the extended history other women in flooring have earned, but she has certainly made a name for herself in the time she has been officially part of the industry.

What makes some of the time unofficial? Well, having a dad who is an industry leg-end—Don Finkell of Anderson Hardwood fame and now owner of American OEM—and being a fourth-generation in hard surface flooring (her great- grandfather started Anderson Hardwood), Allie Finkell has dabbled in flooring at various points in her life before holding esteemed positions at some of the largest manufacturers.

“It really started when I was 11 years old,” Finkell said. “I filled online sample requests for Anderson Hardwood out of our house. Because of that I knew every one of our products as well as anyone else.”

While she considers herself to have been “in and out of the business” over the years, Finkell made quite an impression early on. In fact, she was still in high school when her father asked her and her sister for their opinions about a new display system. Finkell wasn’t hesitant about offering input, and that proved to be quite helpful for Anderson.

“The three of us always talked about business. It made me feel like I had a valuable opinion, so it gave me a lot of confidence. At the time Anderson had started making higher-designed products so they started making samples bigger. But they needed a display system that would work with these very heavy panels. I told my dad I wouldn’t want to hold something that weighs 15 pounds and thought about when I would flip through posters at a music store. That’s how we developed the first wing rack, based on how women like to browse while shopping.”

As a female who actively shops, it seemed logical for Finkell to assist in marketing. There was no need for her to figure out how people shop as she represents the target consumer. “Considering most retail store consumers are women, it makes sense that a woman could design an effective display solution for her own demographic.”

Screen Shot 2015-08-13 at 10.59.11 AMDespite the knack for marketing flooring, Finkell cooked up other plans while earning her college degree at Furman University in Greenville, S.C. She developed a liking for economics and delved deeper into the subject and beyond as the years progressed. “I did some research the summer before senior year in the economics department and it was good experience, but I knew I didn’t want to get my master’s degree in it. I took one marketing class—the only one the school had—and I fell in love with it. It became my dream to go to New York and work in advertising.”

When it came time to graduate, Finkell moved to New York and started working in marketing and sales for an unrelated industry. But she was soon brought back into flooring. Shifts at Anderson left open a Northeastern sales manager position, which she applied for and captured. “I traveled a lot. I worked in the territory for a year and a half and eventually I moved back to the Anderson corporate office after Shaw bought the company.”

The new ownership helped open Finkell to the commercial side of the industry, with which she fell in love. In time Shaw started looking for someone to manage hard surface commercial products/marketing, and she “threw her hat in the ring.” Upon getting the job, she moved to Chattanooga to work for Shaw out of its Dalton offices.

During Finkell’s time at Shaw the company partnered with LG Hausys’ vScreen Shot 2015-08-13 at 10.58.34 AMinyl division. With her growing knowledge in hard surface, she began focusing on vinyl. “It was obvious that the commercial hard surface market was becoming largely focused on vinyl, so I got involved in the development of this program for Shaw. I designed samples, training tools, and in time we started designing our own products in-house with OEM vendors in Asia. It was incredibly exciting, and I got really into vinyl.”

By October 2013 Finkell made the move from Shaw to Mohawk Group. Though her time with Mohawk was brief, it proved to be fruitful from both a business and personal standpoint. “We launched 130 SKUs in nine months; it was wild. I was energized by the opportunity to build a vinyl program again. We all worked so hard and were so proud of what we created. I didn’t have the intention of leaving so soon, but with new opportunities you don’t always get to control the timing. Working there developed me further and gave me great confidence. I knew I was being recognized for my work and not my last name. When I switched to vinyl and commercial I had no family ties and no experience.”

Finkell and her teams at both Shaw and Mohawk won multiple awards for their vinyl collection launches.

The next move came this spring, joining her father’s new hardwood company American OEM. There she holds the title of vice president of administration. “I told Mohawk if it hadn’t been my dad and a family business I would’ve stayed there. But my father’s company is growing and some of the areas where they need additional manpower is where I am experienced, namely product management. In a new business there are always areas that will need extra attention and improvement; I will go into each area and address what may need to change.”

Though she has come back to her roots, Finkell feels accomplished in establishing herself outside of her familial connection, gaining experience and proving herself independently. In doing so, she has mostly had nothing but support, but she has run into some challenges as a young woman.

Screen Shot 2015-08-13 at 10.58.26 AM“Sure, I’ve had to grit my teeth in some instances,” she said, “but I try not to worry what those people think about me because I know that over time they will see what value I bring to an organization based on my skills and passion for the business. I just keep my head down, do what I have to do and know the quality of my work will speak for itself. Like all women in a male-dominated industry, I’ve had some stereo-typical encounters. But if you’re really good at what you do, you don’t have to say anything; respect will come as you prove yourself. That goes for man or woman, young or old, family business or not. I am grateful to work in an industry and for companies that have provided me with great opportunities to develop and have recognized my hard work in such a rewarding way.”

When asked what she would tell young, professional women who are seeking to es-tablish a career, Finkell advises being open to all opportunities. “Sometimes people assume that women won’t want a certain type of job. It goes into that ‘lean in’ philosophy. Be present and be eager. Find people with experience you can learn from and ask questions. The most successful moments in my career have been when I wouldn’t try to do something alone and relied on mentors to help guide me. If I would have let not knowing about vinyl stop me, I would have missed some of the most exciting and rewarding times in my career.”

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Women in Flooring- Laurie Bray: Confidence, passion, support leads to first female-owned mill

April 13/20, 2015; Volume 29/Number 1

By Jenna Lippin

“Sometimes things don’Screen Shot 2015-05-29 at 5.50.21 PMt go as planned,” Laurie Bray, marketing manager at Godfrey Hirst USA, said while reflecting on her career.

While most people move from the ground up in their professional lives, Bray flipped the process upside down in a more literal sense. Starting on the contract side of the interior design business, her career began selling ceiling tile and evolved from there. “I walk into a room and I know something about the ceiling, furniture and floors.”

Bray worked her way up while working in the commercial design field in New York, which provided “exposure to [design] sophistication and forward thinking that changed my life immensely as I may not have been exposed to those things in other parts of the country.”

Family life progressed for Bray as well, and she was married and pregnant early in her career, which led to a sabbatical. But she wasn’t out of the game for too long—she soon went back to work and entered the world of carpet in Atlanta, where she moved after leaving New York. Bray was approached by Charleston Carpets, then owned by Mannington, to work in sales. “I thought, ‘Carpet. OK.’ But I fell in love with carpet. This is where I belong. I really enjoy the process of selling, the creation of designs and creativity involved in marketing. I wasn’t involved with all that per se at that time, but being involved on the selling side was exciting for me.”

After taking time off again for her second pregnancy, Bray decided to stay away from the intense, fast-paced contract side of the business. She had a connection at Wools of New Zealand, who mentioned the company Helios. “I went and interviewed and at that time it was pretty much the premiere wool carpet manufacturer in terms of tufted carpet,” she recalled. “There weren’t a lot of wool carpet manufacturers and they were really making a mark in this country with their products. They hired me as a salesperson and I worked in marketing and product development. I remember knocking on wood saying, ‘OK this is it—I love working on the residential side and I love wool.’ It has a wonderful story, so it is easy to talk about and to sell.”

After Bray found her niche, Horizon Carpet—then the umbrella company for Helios—was sold to Mohawk. Instead of making the move with the company, she set her sights on something much bigger: starting her very own carpet mill.

The confidence for such an undertaking came, in part, from Bray’s husband, who helped in the founding of Veranda magazine. “I married a man who was entrepreneurial and felt I could [start a mill]. I also had the support of people in the industry who felt I could do it. Surrounding myself with a strong support system was critical. I went forward with it and it was wonderful.”

The company was Atelier, of which Bray handled all facets, including marketing, manufacturing, sales and selection of staff. “It really gave me a unique perspective in all aspects of the flooring industry.”Screen Shot 2015-05-29 at 5.52.24 PM

Created in the mid 1990s, Bray ran Atelier, which manufactured wool carpet, for five years before she sold it to Stanton Carpet in 2000. When asked what she is most proud of in her 30-year career in the industry, Bray proudly stated, “Starting Atelier. At that point there were really no other women running a carpet company. That was an achievement. I enjoyed every aspect—starting the company, seeing it grow, creativity, making decisions that would influence its direction. It placed me in a world within our industry that was different from where I had been before. The creative aspect of my life is what is really important.”

Despite her passion for running her own mill, Bray came to a crossroads when she had to consider her family’s future while trying to balance her home life and work. Her husband’s magazine was sold to Hearst, and he was travelling to New York every week. In the interest of her daughters’ stability at home she decided to take a step back and sell Atelier to avoid travel and relocations. “I kind of slowed down a little bit for a while and spent more time with my daughters, focusing on my family. I was travelling a lot, working with people all over the country—I decided it was a good time to stop and concentrate on my daughters.”

After her respite Bray started consulting and was soon approached by a former colleague to help with Godfrey Hirst’s marketing in the United States. The company started to make an impact in the U.S. as one of the largest wool manufacturers in the world and needed a boost from a marketing expert. “They had nothing in place so it was really starting from Ground Zero, which was an exciting opportunity for me. I was able to help establish an identity [for Godfrey Hirst] and formulated a marketing plan for them in North America. I have been given the responsibility to market Godfrey Hirst’s ever expanding product offering, both in wool and synthetics. The challenge has been very fulfilling and the opportunities very rewarding. It isn’t every job where you can be developing a POP one day and having tea with the Prince of Wales for the Campaign for Wool the next.”

With exceptional professional success and an esteemed ability to balance work and family, it is difficult to imagine that Bray faced any challenges during her career. While she did not have to confront any extreme circumstances, she said, she did have to work hard to make executives realize the floor covering industry is, in fact, female driven.

“It has taken them a while to come around and admit we know what we’re talking about,” Bray said. “All women [in the industry] say, ‘We are the consumer,’ and it’s true. When you walk into a floor covering store, it’s the woman making the decision. Certainly men are part of the process, but by and large the demographics show women are making the buying decisions. In my career I’ve had to convince management across the board that women are the industry standard. But they are coming around and understanding that women make the buying decisions.”

What has helped Bray in her achievements—which includes opening others’ eyes to flooring being female-centric—is a strong support system and “sticking to [her] guns.” She said she has always had support from men in the industry, which has helped her progress despite being in the minority.

She suggests other women be prepared and knowledgeable about a topic/project/initiative for which they have a particular passion. “If you know what you’re talking about and not just grabbing things out of the air, if you have facts and figures, people will respond to that—especially men.”

Bray also recommends professional women be aware of outside influences, whether good or bad. “Things around you will affect your job and work, and you may not realize it. People you surround yourself with will influence you. This can be a good thing, like being exposed to different industries. You can take away something from an outside industry and use it for your own. You cannot have tunnel vision and stay within your neck of the woods, so to speak. Look to the left, look to the right and pay attention to all aspects of the working world. Take bits and pieces from different experiences, jobs and learning opportunities.”

The confidence and comfort Bray exudes in the “boys’ club” that is the flooring industry comes from her childhood, she said. “The first five to seven years of my life I was one of the only girls in the neighborhood where I grew up in New Jersey. It prepared me to feel comfortable in a male-dominated industry, and gave me the confidence to move forward with my goals. I’m certainly not intimated by anybody.

“I’ve never felt disadvantaged as a woman,” Bray continued. “I may have had to work a little harder and prove myself a little more, but I never heard anyone say they weren’t going to listen to me because I’m a woman.”

 

 

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Heidi Cronin Mandell: Fifth-generation leader jumps in ‘head first’

May 25/June 1, 2015; Volume 29/Number 4

By Jenna Lippin

Screen Shot 2015-05-29 at 3.51.41 PMDespite having grown up in the flooring industry, Heidi Cronin Mandell did not have plans to join the family business, The Cronin Company, which her father took over in 1964. She helped at the Portland, Ore.-based distributor during summers while she was in high school and college, but when the time came to choose a career path she had something much different in mind.

“I didn’t take one business class,” she said. “I got my degree in criminology [from Southern Oregon University]. I wanted to go into probation and parole. That was one thing in college that caught my interest—figuring out why people do what they do.” Before graduating, Mandell worked in parole for a local county, which raised some concerns about her safety as a female working in law enforcement. It was, perhaps, an early sign of how being a woman with goals that are traditionally achieved by men can be difficult.

“You have to have a certain mentality to deal with that [kind of work]. At the time my husband-to-be and my father didn’t agree with my career choice. My dad wanted to open up a branch [for Cronin] in Medford, Ore., about 15 minutes away from where I was living at the time.”

The rest is history, as they say, as Mandell’s father encouraged her to head the Medford location. After getting married right out of college, Mandell also found herself in a commitment to the Cronin Medford branch for five years. With that, she took the reigns there but left for Portland at the end of her term due to her husband’s job relocation. Upon her move she had to work her way back up from a position in purchasing.

“I did my due diligence,” she said. “Working in a small branch you take on all duties. I had many roles, including truck driver, warehouse person, manager, accountant and HR. My dad pretty much threw me to the wolves. I had to just figure it out. I made mistakes along the way, but that’s how you learn.”

In 2003, after five years of purchasing and filling other roles in Portland, Mandell was approached about becoming vice president of operations for the company; 10 years later she was made president. “Ever since I moved to Portland they asked if I was going to carry on the family business, and finally I said yes. My dad is very respected in the industry, so I knew I had huge shoes to fill. But instead of filling the shoes I said I would make a name for myself and not try to be him, just me with the values he instilled. I knew I had to develop relationships with vendors and customers.”

Unfortunately Mandell was seeking to forge those relationships during difficult economic times. But she didn’t let resistance from the company stop her; she made trips to trade shows, sat in on vendor meetings and introduced herself to customers on her own, without asking for permission. She soon became well known among her peers.

Screen Shot 2015-05-29 at 3.51.48 PM “In this industry there has been a changing of the guards, with the younger generations moving up. I’m the Gen Xer moving up. Instead of watching it happen with others I decided I’m going to lead, be involved with changes. I get frustrated waiting for things to happen.”

Taking on that leadership role included joining the National Association of Floor Covering Distributors (NAFCD). Mandell nominated herself for the board after George Roth, former president of the association, told her to join NAFCD leadership and get more involved. “At first I felt my kids were too young and I wouldn’t be able to devote more of my time to [NAFCD],” she recalled. “But when I became president of Cronin I thought it would be a good time to get on the board. People at my company disagreed with my decision to join NAFCD leadership, but I saw the value of being involved. It’s how I learn and grow. My dad showed me the value of NAFCD. Plus, I’m a rebel. When people tell me I can’t or shouldn’t do something I like to prove otherwise. It’s my nature to take over and push boundaries.”

With that strong-willed mentality Mandell joked about “taking over the floor covering world one day. I say it because I want to make a difference. I want to improve and help the industry grow.” While she considers herself to have a fun personality, she is willing to do whatever it takes to get the job done. “I once told my dad I couldn’t get everything done and he said, ‘Tough; just do it.’ So I figured I had to put on my big girl pants and do the job. I respect my dad for raising me like that. I’ll butt heads with him, and other management, but we are a team, and we all work together for what is best for the company.”

While her father has always had the confidence in her to lead the way, not all men have felt the same about Mandell as she worked her way up. In fact, the first customer she ever called on told her she “couldn’t handle” his account as a woman. “I looked at him and said, ‘We’ll see about that.’ Of course it just motivated me to prove him wrong. I’ve been faced with things like that. The politics within the company sometimes makes me think if I were a male, things would be looked at differently. I take it all on as a challenge or a test. I don’t see it as a negative.”

Mandell has met every challenge with success, being able to balance both business and family life despite people’s doubts and misconceptions. Like many successful women she has been able to wear multiple hats. “A woman who has ambition and is strong and confident and goes for what she wants is looked at as deserting her family and choosing a career over being home with her kids. If a man does the same thing he is given kudos. I don’t regret being a working mom. I just couldn’t be a stay-at-home mom; I would get bored. I don’t want to hover around my children. I’ve allowed them to grow into strong, beautiful, independent young women.”

With two daughters, Mandell is instilling the same beliefs and ideals her father has put forth. “I have one daughter graduating high school and one going into high school. They’ve grown up to learn you’ve got to work hard for what you want.”

Being raised in the floor covering industry, Mandell sees specific opportunities for women in the field as females are the decision makers when it comes to purchasing flooring. “I think we have a great advantage because we are the prime market. We see it, know it and understand it. There are some great women in this industry. It has been a very male-dominated field but women are proving themselves and showing they can handle it. There is plenty of room for more women in flooring. I like to see it. I like to be involved in promoting it.”

In addition to being on the NAFCD board, Mandell is also a member of the board of directors of the Flooring Association Northwest and Powerhold (Floor Covering Distributor Alliance). “When I jump in, I jump in head first instead of feet first. I’m on these boards because I love the industry and I’ve met great people. I want to make a difference.”

When asked what advice she would give to other professional women working hard to make a name for themselves, she suggests being patient. “You have to work your way up. A lot of the younger generation, both males and females, have a sense of entitlement. You must have patience to work your way up. Learning will help you be able to deal with stress and whatever is thrown at you. Laugh at yourself. Jump on opportunities. But No. 1 is doing what you love. If you don’t like it, don’t work it. Find something you really want and go for it.”