Qualified Remodeler’s female editors interviewed several successful female remodelers to learn whether they manage their businesses, sell jobs and complete projects differently than their male counterparts. To read the full article and learn about the individual women who were interviewed, click here. The following are additional comments made by these inspiring women:
Are there challenges you face as a woman in the remodeling industry?
Harrell: We are so branded in this area now that I think we have taken something that might’ve been a liability and made it an asset. For instance, our tagline is, “We never forget it’s your home.” Most couples we work with are straight and there’s a wife who has to deal with us being at the house. They want to know they and the children are going to be safe. Knowing that there is a woman at the helm running a tight ship makes them feel more comfortable.
Schwab: I have worked with several woman-owned trades companies, as well as woman-owned home building and remodeling companies. Professionals are professionals regardless of gender. When I first joined the local HBA after 15 years in the industry as a business owner, there were a number of women-owned remodeling firms. We were a support group for one another and I have deep friendships with those still in the industry. Personally, I do not focus on being female in the industry; I never have. My goal is for our company to meet our expectations and be the best company we can be.
Davis: I am involved in our local chapter of NARI. We used to have a subset committee that was about women in remodeling. I think when we were first realizing it was a very atypical field to be involved in, we did gather and talk about what our issues were and how to overcome them. We stopped having the meetings because it stopped being relevant.
Hsu: I’ve had to earn respect, but I don’t think that’s a bad thing. As long as I know my stuff, which I think is important regardless of my gender, it turns out fine. I don’t know if that’s age or gender or a combination of the two. I’m much more confident today than when I started in this industry and I hope that continues to grow. I feel like now with clients even 30 years my senior I don’t have to work as hard and part of that is probably how I carry myself now.
Can you share a story from your experience in construction where you were treated differently because you are a woman?
Harrell: The first subcontractor I hired when I came to California showed up at a job in Los Altos and he got out of the car and asked, “Where’s the contractor?” and I said, “That’s me.” He started laughing. I said, “If you want to get paid, you’ll stop laughing.” He stopped laughing.
Another time, I was at a home and the tiler showed up; it was the first time I’d used that tiler. My lead carpenter was a woman and the client’s wife was there. The tiler came in and asked for the contractor. I said, “That’s me.” He looked quizzical. Then he asked, “Where’s the carpenter?” and Beth said, “That’s me.” Then he asked, “Where’s the client?” and the wife said, “That’s me.” He said, “Boy, the world is really changing.”
Hsu: When I started in architecture I was working on a restaurant in Beverly Hills and I went to the jobsite with a male colleague to meet with the contractor who was about 65 years old. The contractor kept talking to my colleague, addressing all his questions to him. As far as seniority, my colleague and I were the same; we both were a couple years out of school. My colleague had no idea about the background of this project so I’d answer the questions. It was this funny triangle where the contractor would look at my colleague and ask a question and as though I was his interpreter I’d answer the question. We did that for about 10 minutes before the contractor started talking to me.
What is your favorite part about what you do?
Shirey: Going out and meeting people. I still love to do that.
Harrell: My favorite part about my job is growing the organization and its culture, and I’m not talking about making the business bigger. I’m talking about creating a universe that is different than any other universe that’s out there. We have an ESOP and are 26 percent employee-owned. My goal is to have us be 100 percent employee-owned during the next five years. If I get hit by a bus I want to know this company is going on without me. I love creating an organization that is really performing at its peak, emotionally, spiritually, financially, organizationally. We constantly do little tweaks that improve our game each day and collectively make a huge impact. I think it’s the teacher in me; I love for people to reach beyond what they thought their potential ever was.
Hutter: I love the design portion, construction documents, even getting the permit, haggling with the examiners and when you start to see everything coming to be. We just got a call from homeowners who were having dinner in their newly remodeled home. They called us during dinner to say how much they loved it. You spend a year working on a project with someone and they love it so much they have to call and tell you that. That part’s great, too.
Hsu: I like the people—the ones I work with and the ones I meet. Everyone has a story and something interesting about them. I really enjoy the process we go through to reveal that story.
Florio: I love seeing a project go from concept, to drawings to coming to life. The whole process of helping a client improve their environment is very rewarding. Often their lives are changed in the process. While in school I had the opportunity to be mentored by a well-respected remodeler and now I have the opportunity to mentor students. It has been really fun to be able to go from being mentored to mentoring. Mentoring allows students to be exposed to the inner workings of remodeling while helping them to move into the industry.
Davis: I love inspiring our staff to manage and produce projects for our clients. I also am completely inspired by working with clients to make this creation in their home that has enriched their lives. Every single project, I don't care if it's a utility room or this amazing full-house remodel, impacts people and it makes their lives better and to me that's inspiring.
Walters: I'm blessed in many ways. One is both my daughters work for me so I get to see them every day. Up until recently it was a blessing to be able to bring my dog to work. There are very few places you can do that. In the day-to-day routine of it, my favorite part is actually making phone calls to the customers and hearing the positive feedback. It is so rare I hear anything negative and I also hear so much appreciation for the call.
What is the best advice you’ve received?
Shirey: My first day of junior high my sister said, “You never get a second chance to make a first impression.” My loafers weren’t polished or some little thing. That has really stuck with me and serves me personally and professionally today.
Hutter: There was one guy I worked for who would always say, “Make sure the client is smiling when they sign your check.”
Harrell: The man who taught me about construction, my mentor, told me, “If you ever think you’re doing so well you’re going to buy your own personal airplane you should know the next year your company is going to go down like a rock in the water.” What he was trying to tell me is construction is cyclical; you have to be prepared for the good and bad times.
Hsu: Dress for the job you want, not the one you have. It may sound flippant but presenting myself in a professional manner has garnered a mental shift in my clients. They are used to working in the white-collar world so presenting myself in a similar manner puts them at ease and takes a blue-collar field like construction back to a familiar realm. Dirty boots don't cut if for our white-glove clientele.
Florio: Follow your dreams and look for a way to achieve those dreams. Don't look at life as “I can't do this” but “how can I do this?” As I pursued my dream to work in remodeling and design, I didn’t listen to naysayers who said I should be home raising my family. It's been quite a fun journey as a project designer and look forward to what lies ahead for me.
Walters: My dad told me if you live your life doing the very best you know you can do and you're able to look yourself in the mirror at night and know you were honest and lived your life the way the golden rule states, then you don't have to worry about what anyone else thinks. I try to offer that up to my daughters. The older you get as a woman the more you realize that's true because you become more confident and you don't care if you've maybe insulted someone because they were too sensitive. You're not walking on eggshells because you know you're not meaning anything hateful; you're just saying it how it is. As a younger person, a woman is sensitive to hurting other people's feelings and being liked. As you get older you know people will like you because you’re honest and true. You feel empowered after a while. I read countless articles about once how women start recreating themselves when they hit 45 or older; they become more in charge. You become more confident and more self-assured of your capabilities and not willing to let someone walk on you. As a younger female a lot of times people let others walk on them.
Davis: Don’t take things personally. This is an emotional business we’re in and sometimes people may do or say things they don’t really mean. I remove myself just enough where I’m not being hurt by it. Find out what’s most important to you. What’s your mission? What do you believe in? Let that be the foundation of what it is you do. Stay true to that.