The hardware and lumber industry, by any objective measure, leans male. Walk down any aisle of any trade show, and the story is similar: What differs is only the degree to which the men outnumber the women.
A female-friendly retail environment is not a new concept, as stores have been courting the lucrative female shopper for years. Female friendly board rooms are another matter. But look closely, and you’ll see a new generation of female leaders making their mark — especially in the retail space. (As if on cue, Crate & Barrel named Neela Montgomery as new CEO, effective Aug. 1)
To some of the leaders below, there is no feeling of being part of a minority — a bad sign for glass ceilings, and a good sign for the health and diversity of the industry.
We asked the following executives: “What advice do you have for other women starting out in the hardware and building supply industry.” Here’s what we gathered:
Maggie Hardy Magerko
Owner and president of 84 Lumber
"At 84 Lumber we have a fundamental purpose we create shelter for people. Throughout our company's 60-year history, we've stayed true to our core while also challenging the norms and embracing new technology and ways of working. I¹d tell newcomers to our industry to do the same. Don¹t be afraid to change. Don¹t be afraid to challenge what¹s always been done.”
VP of business development for Kodiak Building Partners, former NLBMDA chairman from Zarsky Lumber
"Welcome to an industry that is full of smart, interesting, community-minded and good people! It can be a fascinating field and has many moving parts that are sometimes affected by national and world events.
Keep your eyes and ears open, and you will learn something every day. You will be successful if you act with a servant-leadership mentality. Don’t get 'too big for your brithches,' because your whole team (even the employee who empties your trash) your peers, your customers and your suppliers and vendors are all important parties to accomplishing your goals. Keep a sense of humor and always, always take the high road."
EVP eBusiness and pro remodeling for BMC Stock Holdings
"Embrace the industry. It is filled with so many knowledgeable and talented employees, many of whom have spent their entire careers in the building industry. There is tremendous pride in the manufacturing of the products and the services that the local operations provide. Feel comfortable asking questions to learn about the industry. Everyone is passionate about what they do and happy to share their expertise with you. They will also look to you to listen, make recommendations for improvement, and bring new ideas to the table that positively impact their business. ”
Meagan McCoy Jones
EVP/COO at McCoy’s Building Supply
"I don’t know that my advice to women in our industry would be an different than to men: Learn everything you can about the industry and the business in it. And whether it’s a meeting with a customer or prospective customers, a day in the yard, or a formal presentation, show up prepared! A well-prepared person is impossible to ignore.”
Owner and chief localist for A Few Cool Hardware Stores, and a member of the Ace Hardware Corp. board
“I have several suggestions. No. 1: I would recommend that women starting their careers in the hardware/building supply industry seek out mentors, both female and male, as soon as they can. I personally have benefited from affinity groups (Ace’s Women in Retail group, for example) and continue to enjoy that camaraderie. Ask lots of questions — always!
No. 2: Do not approach the building supply industry any differently than you would any other industry. Businesses need well rounded leaders who understand people and number management as much as product knowledge.
No. 3: Constantly challenge yourself to think outside the box — the industry has a reputation for being 'old fashioned' or 'large and faceless' — spend time out of your office/store/warehouse so that you can see what is going on in the world. Glean from other industries and don’t be afraid to try new things."
Owner of Ridgefield Supply
“I have to know what I’m talking about when it comes to grading, species, millwork, insulation and the various types of glass used in windows and doors. You have to know the product, and you have to know the manufacturers. And you also have to network with people. Success in this business is a combination of having very thick skin and being very dedicated to the company you work for. And as I always like to say: There is no crying in lumber.”
Owner of Newton’s True Value
Chair of the NRHA
“First of all I have never looked at the hardware industry as being a mans world. My perspective is probably a lot different than other people. I grew up working in our family business with my great grandma and my grandma. Women were always a part of our business. My great grandma worked 6 days a week 8 hours a day until she was 94 years old.
Educate yourself on the products and projects. Its just like anything else in this world people respect you for what your knowledge. If you want to sell plumbing parts then you better know how to install a toilet and not flood someone's bathroom.
Read as many articles as you can to stay up to date on the latest trends. Take hands-on classes so you can show people how to build things. I am a firm believer of education whether its online courses or in store training. No matter how long you have been in the business its always changing and there's always room to learn and improve. Always admit when you do not know something. Do not ever be ashamed of asking for help or advice. Someone out there has experienced what you are going through so don't try to reinvent the wheel ask and make changes that apply to you.”