Just ahead of International Women's Day this March 8, HBSDealer had an opportunity to talk to some prominent women in the hardware industry.
The Griffin sisters -- who hold various roles at Griffin Ace Hardware in the San Diego area -- have early memories of working in the family business, as well as unique accounts of how they came to embrace their roles as adults.
They are Shannon Carney, president of the company; Stacey Jess, VP marketing; and Kelly Hollingsworth, VP merchandising.
The following interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.
What's your earliest memory of working in the family business?
Stacey: What I remember most is going into the stores and working with my sisters doing inventory, and that's back in the days when we had to handwrite all the inventory sheets. We were always assigned the nuts and bolts because no one else wanted to do it. There were hundreds and hundreds of fastener bins.
Shannon: I'm the oldest, and I remember being upstairs in the office counting cash. Every day after school I would take the bus to the hardware store. I also remember being 10 and ringing up customers at the registers downstairs.
Kelly: My clearest memory is doing the month-end statements with my mom in the office. There was this massive amount of paperwork that we'd have to file and staple and fold and mail, and it was quite a process. One of the things I should also say about having a family business is we'd be working on holidays, sun up to sun down, while our other friends were going places.
And would you say you'd rather have been out with your friends at the time?
Shannon: I think we really would have rather been out with our friends. I think the first time I had interest in wanting to pursue hardware was in high school, when I took some business class and I was trying to figure out what to present. My dad said, "Duh, you see small business in action every day."
When did you first realize you wanted to keep working in the hardware business?
Shannon: Well, what I just mentioned, and I went to college for a business degree. I didn’t know I was going to go in to the family business at that point, but my dad didn’t allow me to right after I graduated. He made me work outside the company first for a year. And then after my employer invested all this training in me, I decided to make the switch.
Kelly: I had no idea I was going into business. Even though I was a marketing major in college, it was the last thing I had in mind. And so I graduated and we opened our second location in San Diego, and we hired a store manager. When he left unexpectedly, I had to step into that role.
Stacey: I had a bit of a different experience. I went to college and graduated with a degree in journalism and an emphasis in PR, as well as a marketing minor. I worked for some ad firms and opened my own PR firm in the late 80s. Then I had kids and realized I didn’t want to work at all for a while. When my youngest started kindergarten, I realized, “Wait, I want to be doing something." There was an opportunity to help out with marketing, so I took it. I was the last one to enter the business.
What’s been the most challenging part of being a woman in a male-dominated industry?
Shannon: I think it's changed considerably. When I first started, male customers wouldn’t want to speak to a female on the floor. Today, I think that’s completely reversed. I don’t see that stereotype. About 60% of our customers are female. And even in management, we're three women leading the company, but we have male and female store managers. I personally don’t see a lot of struggle.
Kelly: I think the hardest part is when you’re a mom as well. The three of us are having families – we’re wearing those hats as well as running a business.
Stacey: I think that may have held our business back a bit. A lot of other Ace owners are males and main breadwinners for their families, and they’re able to work very long hours. And for us, family is first. It always has been -- our parents always said that. So we haven't been able to work 80 hours per week.
Shannon: I'm an empty-nester now, but thinking back to when the kids were in the house and I was on bed rest during a pregnancy for 7 months, it was very difficult.
Kelly: What we did that’s unique is we created a model of our business where we handle different areas and work it around our lives, and it’s worked very well.
Shannon: Kelly has four kids at home, so her job is more inventory and purchasing, stuff she can do out of her home. I’m an empty-nester, so I’m working with store managers and more physically in the store. Stacey is doing marketing, which can be done in and out of the store -- her kids just left home.
Do you think being a woman has helped you in any way, conversely?
Stacey: I would say one way it has helped us possibly is in relating to our customers. In our San Diego store, it’s probably 60% female customers. In Santa Ana, it's more split. But it's helped us identify more with our customers and as leaders of our business, and it’s a good example to all of our associates to treat everyone the same.
Kelly: We do big business in home décor, and that’s something all of us are passionate about. It’s a niche that not all of our competitors fill, and we’ve been able to focus on that.
Stacey: I think it’s helped us use our own interests because we all love that stuff. And it’s really helped our business.
Shannon: Absolutely. It’s one of our top two departments.
Griffin Ace Hardware is made up of two locations in San Diego and one in Santa Ana, California.