My older sister had a saying when we were growing up that she used often when I made any minor adolescent achievements: “Anything you can do, I can do better.” Usually, she'd follow up the claim by proving it—whether it was winning a board game or riding a bike. But for some reason, her quip maxim never seemed to apply to things like mowing the lawn, taking out the garbage, and, as we grew older, clearing tree stumps or hauling stone off our property in rural New Jersey. So I grew up figuring the tough, gritty jobs were “the guys'” stuff.
Another seven years of painting houses through high school and college did little to convince me otherwise. The person next to me disc-sanding clapboard, heaving 40-foot ladders, and precariously hauling 5-gallon buckets of paint up and down three stories was always a man—and I'm sure my fellow workers would have just laughed had I asked whether they ever considered hiring a woman for the crew.
Unfortunately, that type of gender-biased and compartmental thinking is exactly what puts a tourniquet on the flow of qualified employees into the pro dealer industry. In surveys and in person, year after year pro dealers say one of their top challenges is finding qualified employees and increasing sales and gross margin, yet you rarely hear them talking about hiring women for sales positions.
In many ways, the home improvement business is a victim of its own “biases and old thinking” and is “missing the boat” when it comes to hiring female employees, says Sam Flory, president of Home Comfort Now, a Hartford, Conn.–based replacement contractor profiled in “There's a Lady at the Door,” an article on female sales force representation by Jim Cory in the January/February 2004 issue of REPLACEMENT CONTRACTOR, a sister publication of PROSALES. It's difficult to estimate exactly how many women sell windows, siding, roofing, or sunrooms, writes Cory, but it's doubtful any estimate would exceed 5 percent. There may be more women installing home improvement products than selling them, he adds.
That rings true in the pro dealer sector as well. “There are plenty of women on the retail side in counter positions but not many in outside sales,” says Mike Butts, director of installation services for Winona, Minn.–based United Building Centers (UBC). Butts—who traveled the nation extensively as a pro dealer sales and installation consultant prior to working at UBC—reports encountering “very few” female pro dealer sales reps. “It's unfortunate,” he says, “because we have some very capable individuals in the industry who [also] just happen to be female.” Indeed, targeting female sales recruits has been one of Home Comfort Now's “best kept secrets,” company vice president Carl Tyler tells REPLACEMENT CONTRACTOR. Customers often are “disarmed” when faced with a female salesperson, Tyler adds, and “resistance to purchasing seems to break down faster.” Other company owners who have made the gender jump and hired women echo Tyler's sentiments, telling Cory that women in sales positions tend to be more enthusiastic, more aggressive, and more fired-up.
With successful salespeople at a premium throughout the industry, now is the perfect time for dealers to capitalize on the diverse skills that women can bring to the sales table. Who knows, maybe my sister was right after all.