There have been many CE Pro discussions over the years surrounding the paucity of women within our ranks. Be it vendors, distributors, retailers or installers, sadly the ratio of genders’ needle hasn’t moved much over the years in our business and I’m at a loss as to why that is. Our subscription and web data tells us that an astounding 97 percent of our overall readership is male.
It’s really quite ironic that if a custom installer ever worked with an interior designer on any home project, the odds are 10 to 1 that the designer was a woman. And while our trade organization has a big old “D” smack dab in the middle of its name, virtually no women are doing any “D” let alone “I” (CEDIA, guys, CEDIA).
Have you ever actively tried to hire a woman for a design and/or sales position? If not, why not? And if you’ve ruled it out entirely for your own reasons, not only are you a philistine, you’re a philistine who could be leaving a substantial chunk of potential income on the table.
Look at the Data on Women Homeowners
Recently the National Association of Realtors (NAR) published the 2016 edition of their Profile of Home Buyers and Sellers. The NAR claims the Profile is America’s “longest-running series of national housing data evaluating the demographics, preferences, motivations, plans and experiences of recent home buyers and sellers.” The survey began in 1981 and includes only owner-occupants while excluding investors or vacation home buyers.
According to the NAR, there are two key takeaways in this latest study.
The first is great news for the CE community as the reports shows a three year high in first time buyers at 35 percent of total home sales. Moreover, a whopping 61 percent of those sales were to—wait for it—Millennials. You know, that enigmatic demographic group many of you have been screaming at to get off your lawns.
The second takeaway represents a great yet often unspoken, if not ignored, opportunity. In 2016, home sales to single women jumped to 17 percent of the total, a five year high.
According to Lawrence Yun, NAR chief economist, “Despite having a much lower income ($55,300) than single male buyers ($69,600), female buyers made up over double the amount of single men (7 percent). Single women for years have indicated a strong desire to own a home of their own. With job growth holding steady and credit conditions becoming somewhat less stringent than in past years, the willingness and opportunity to buy is becoming more feasible for many single women.”
Let’s put this in perspective for a moment. As mentioned earlier, if the single woman home buyer hired a designer, there’s a 90 percent chance the designer is a woman. Moreover, the odds are better than 7 out of 10 that her real estate agent was a woman and a better than 50-50 shot that the closing attorney was female.
Short of your own misogyny, what challenges do you see in your business that are greater than those in interior design, real estate sales (tougher job than you likely think) or law? For that matter, toss in medicine, as the percentage of female doctors is rising near the level of their attorney counterparts.
From my vantage point — absolutely nothing.
Now I’m not saying it’s essential to have women sales/design associates on staff to attract like-gender clients. But using other industries as a template, it certainly can’t hurt.
Bring Female Employees On Board
You’re going to need to recruit. Start by networking with peers from outside the area (ah, yet another benefit of joining a buying group). Attend trainings and open houses sponsored by direct vendors and distributors. Take a road trip if necessary and go to them. Don’t wait for them to come to you.
Next construct a help-wanted ad carefully trying to subtly appeal to anyone in real estate, automotive or retail sales. Use phrases like “Will train all strong sales candidates from other fields” and “Equal Opportunity Employer” in bold type. Hopefully you’ll get some female applicants perhaps along with a fresh crop of qualified men.
Become what some refer to as an “opportunistic employer,” which means you’re hiring the right candidate whether or not you have a specific immediate need. Not only will this practice make your business life less stressful but also able to handle the disruption of a departing employee without skipping a beat.
Just where to advertise any job posting is more challenging to ascertain. Well, you could start here. EH Media is revamping its “Help Wanted” space to give you more bang for your buck.
Of course there are also Internet boards like Indeed.com (which some surveys rank as number one) as well as others including Monster, LinkedIn, Glassdoor, Career Builder and Dice, the latter leans towards tech. New to the field is Zip Recruiters which has been advertising everywhere but bus station toilet stalls trying to spread the word they are free to try out. Free is good, no?
Let’s hope all this effort pans out and you’ve hired some potential rockstars of both genders.
Now — Diversify Your Customer Base
Remember that stat I mentioned earlier? That 17 percent of all homes sales in 2016 were by single women? Making those single women your clients is going to require as much, if not more, effort than your endeavors to put a woman on your sales team.
This is going to require a slightly different marketing approach.
We’ll begin with your social media presence. (Doesn’t every article like this regardless of which trade or genre begin with “social media” in one form or another?)
If you’re not, at the very least, on Facebook, I truly wonder how you’re still in business. Heck, if Facebook were a Jewish teenager boy, you’d have attended his Bar Mitzvah last winter. I mean the movie is almost seven years old!
This is about keeping Facebook and your other social media sights fresh. You should add something new every week. A recent project, what you learned at a training or open house you just attended or—at the very least—a press release on a new product that has some appeal to the public at large are just a few ideas.
Talk Security and Convenience
Start emphasizing security and convenience, the universal topics that have interest and appeal to nearly everyone. That said, they might appear to a woman as a better investment than, say, a man cave or even a she shed.
Writing, ironically enough, for Home Theater Review.com, Adrienne Maxwell states that “Women put a high value on practicality and convenience. I would think that home automation would be an easier sell [than home theater], as it screams practicality.”
Join Local Groups
How about becoming a bit more social yourself? Join a couple of local civic and/or business organizations like the Chamber of Commerce, B’nai B’rith, Kiwanis or Rotary for example. Attend the meetings and network, network, network.
These groups, as well as numerous other civic and/or fraternal organizations, are no longer “good old boys clubs.” If you have school age kids, volunteer to coach, referee or even run the snack bar for the local sports teams. At the very least, go to the games.
Attend Home Shows
When your area’s Home Show opens up (usually late winter between the Boat Show and Flower Show) grab yourself a couple of discount tickets and go with a trusted associate. Walk the floor separately with discerning eyes. How many general contractors; more importantly, how many designers? Have any of your competitors sprung for a booth? Is anyone outside of our space touting Smart Home and IoT? Are they presenting it better or worse than you or just different?
Gather up business cards and sales sheets with a plan to follow up with a phone call (not an email or text) about a week to 10 days later. Start with the women who impressed you the most. Have an elevator pitch ready, deliver it confidently and see what develops.
Upgrade Your Space
Back at your shop, never lose sight that your workplace represents a goodly part of what is your overall brand. If it looks more like a mid century mom-and-pop neighborhood TV store rather than a modern design studio, that will reflect directly on you.
If the shelves are half empty and dusty, if there are wires dangling anywhere, if the floor plants you bought for your grand opening are dead and crinkly, if your wall décor is all sports memorabilia or posters of B movies last available on beta—you desperately need a refresh.
Remember what your Momma taught you, you only get one chance to make a first impression.
Keep Female Clients in Mind
Now don’t do a 180 and turn your place into a nail spa. There are touches you can do to appeal to everyone. Nonetheless you should additionally ask some women whose opinions you value for suggestions. You might consider going large and hiring a designer.
According to Bestmark, a national mystery shopping service that boasts a half million shoppers and a Fortune 500 client list, here are a couple of common things male store owners do that would almost assuredly backfire.
First off, “Don't fill the store with fragrance. Unless you're planning on carrying an exclusive line of candles and perfumes, it's best to leave the overpowering scents to the florists.” Amen to that; it gives me headaches. In addition, Bestmark warns “Avoid pink. Pastel is not a marketing tool for women. It is fuel for ridicule and sarcasm.” Who knew?
Focus on Design
No doubt you can think of products that were made or broken due to their design. Always be cognizant of that when making product choices.
For example, the Nest thermostat would have had a lot less success had it been rectangular with an LED readout in the corner. With our business this probably applies more to freestanding loudspeakers than any other category with electronics a distant second. If any client expresses dislike of any product’s design, move on regardless of its intrinsic quality. That’s retail 101.
Truth be told, most all of this is pretty much basic retail. If you make the effort to diversify your staff and your clients you should reap some significant increases to both your top and bottom lines. Get started soon before your competition does. Look! There he goes. And he’s wearing a pink polo.