March is women’s history month! This month we wanted to take the time to highlight just some of the amazing women who are pushing the flooring industry to new heights, and encourage women who are new to the industry. We asked a few leading women in flooring about their experiences to help shed light on their accomplishments and give advice to others in the industry.
How To Get Into The Flooring History
Many women get into the flooring industry with an interest in construction or interior design. Like any industry it’s not unusual to start in a role like sales before moving into management positions. Taking a leap of faith when starting with a new company, or new industry is a must, and can be a life changing experience.
“I got into the floor industry when I was about to be laid off from my job as a retail apparel buyer for a major department store in Louisiana in 1992. My husband at the time and I were about to sell a house and needed to add carpet before the sale. After visiting with an acquaintance’s small showroom and choosing the carpet, I told my husband that would be a nice place to work! I love design and took a few interior design classes in college. To sum it all up we talked, negotiated, and here I am 28 years later. I purchased the company with a partner in 2001 and bought my partner out in 2011. April of 2020 will be my 28th year anniversary.”
Melane Landry, Signature Southern Accents
“I’ve always had an interest in interior design, (my mom is an incredible interior designer), and I started working for the family business when I moved home after college. I started out doing showroom displays at several furniture stores, and from there I began to work with clients one-on-one. I started to pick out materials for clients at a local flooring company called The Floor Shoppe, and was given the opportunity to buy the business from the owner who was retiring. Instead of the expected three-year turnover, six months later I bought the store! Sometimes the best things are unexpected and sometimes the best thing to do is just figure it out.” – Hillary Dishman, The Floor Shoppe
“After spending nearly eight years in property management I knew I did not want to leave the industry but I was looking for a different position. I met with the president of the company I am with now, and we both decided my skill set would be a good fit. I did not know anything about flooring but did everything I could to learn as much as possible as quickly as possible! I started in accounting and after an unexpected staffing change I was able to learn how to run the warehouse while still attending to my clerical duties. After trial and error, I am able to do anything in our company that needs to be completed other than installing a floor. It makes it very handy to be able to step in and assist my team anywhere from cutting and staging materials, receiving, estimating to order entry or bookkeeping.” – Jennifer Firth, Buy Rite Carpet
“My history and experience in flooring began over 5 years ago and consists of many different areas. While working in retail flooring, I focused on centralized purchasing, subcontractor payroll, accounts receivable and accounts payable. I later led recruiting efforts for multiple locations and hired over 40 flooring staff members in 3 months. The valuable experience I gained in the retail sector helped me transition to the tech side of flooring. I joined the RollMaster software team about 3 years ago, where I started as a remote support agent. I now primarily focus on creating webinars, training videos and knowledge-based articles while continuing to work closely with customers.” -Kelli Gratner, RollMaster
Women Are An Asset In Flooring Businesses
In a male-dominated industry like flooring, it can feel like there are few positions that are championed by women. But, with many women being the ultimate decision maker for flooring choices in the home, having women on staff can be an asset to the business.
“The majority of our customers (retail side) are female so I think having women salespersons are a tremendous asset! I think there is a certain comfort level that women have with other women. They tend to look to us for design and guidance in what we would put in our own houses.” – Kim Wahl, Reliable Floors
“I don’t feel my gender is an asset. I believe that listening to what my customer wants and doing my very best to guide them in their selections is the asset. My husband has this ability also so it’s not gender related.” – Jan Thornton, The Tile Shop
“I just think it is positive to have multiple points of view. I definitely am empathetic and believe I am strong in seeing clearly what needs to be done to deal with any unfortunate and possibly difficult situations with customers and employees.” –Jolie Winkler, Lynden Evergreen Flooring
Working In A Male-Dominated Industry
The flooring industry has more men working in it than women. Being taken seriously in the flooring business isn’t gender specific. Making sure you know your stuff, and proving that knowledge helps to ensure a smooth career in flooring.
“Starting in a male-dominated industry was intimidating for me at first, installers especially wanted to find a weakness in me. I immediately researched and spent time with as many people as I could to gain knowledge about products, materials, and installation so I was able to prove I was more than capable of doing my job.” –Jennifer Firth
“I have faced issues by being a woman in this industry! There are times when I have been completely blown off by a male contractor customer or subcontractor. I’ve been a little shocked at times and joke about it because it is so blatantly obvious.” –Jolie Winkler
“Early on it was a bit of a struggle to be taken seriously, but I saw it as a challenge. I learned quickly how to advocate for myself and rise above some of the nonsense. At the end of the day, I got the job done and earned the respect of those I worked for and with, doing my best to treat others the way I wanted to be treated.” – Kelly Oechslin, RollMaster
“I’ve been very fortunate over the years to be treated fairly and with respect by sales and company representatives alike. There has been the occasional customer who asked a question and after I answered asked to speak with a man. Those have been few and far between.” – Jan Thornton
“When it comes to installation issues, I have learned over the past 12 years or so how to get my feet wet and understand this part of the industry. Overall, I can handle most males who try to be aggressive and take advantage.” – Cindy Dickson, Carpet One
Advice for women looking to get into the flooring industry
All of the women we spoke to had great advice for women just getting started in the flooring industry! Gaining as much knowledge as possible early on in your career makes for a smoother transition, and staying passionate is key.
“There are so many opportunities within floorcovering from sales and design to logistics and managing. Learn about products (inside and out) and installation techniques. Get to know the people in the industry, find a mentor and reach out to them for their experience. Find where you excel and be the best you can be!” – Jennifer Firth
“I think it is a great industry for women to get into. It is very rewarding to help customers create the homes they envision, from selection to installation. If you have any design background, or some construction knowledge it helps.” – Kim Wahl
“My advice to any woman getting in the flooring industry is to be honest and treat clients, employees, and subcontractors with respect. Also, always take care of issues that come up with clients…word of mouth has by far been my best advertising!” – Melane Landry
“For women looking to get into the flooring industry I would say educate yourself. Know your products from what they are made of to the appropriate applications to the installation of them. Many vendors offer training seminars that are free and some you have to pay a fee for. Take advantage of this because you can never know it all. I am 60 years old and thankful that I learn something new daily.” – Jan Thornton
“Like most other industries, the flooring business is rapidly changing and evolving. This means there’s plenty of opportunity whether it be in retail, distribution, manufacturing, or technology. However, there is also a learning curve to this industry, so laying a solid foundation by working in or learning about the retail side of the business, can provide a leg up for future growth and success throughout your career.” – Kelly Oechslin
“Being female in a male-dominated industry is refreshing and rewarding. Keep your mind open to learning new things and absorb as much information as possible. Look to those who have years of experience, ask them questions and educate yourself on flooring products and industry trends. Most importantly, be positive and stay the course. Flooring is a unique business and women with the desire to succeed will do precisely that!” – Kelli Gratner
“There are so many places to shine for women or anyone with difficult skill sets in the flooring industry! Speaking specifically about our shop – We have both men and women sales people who excel in different areas because of their aesthetic and personality. Bookkeeping, sales analysis (which I personally LOVE), merchandising/showroom design (I LOVE also and find it so relaxing and such a nice break), and more! We have three children – including a daughter. And really if the kids would like to work in the family business – there are so many places I think they could expand on or start a new aspect of the business based on their interests.” – Jolie Winkler← Blog