Standing in the parking lot of my company, watching a technician yelling at me because he did not want to communicate with “a woman owner,” made my blood boil.
Can’t I make good decisions about what, where, how and why the business is successful?
I fired him.
I own a profitable business. We clean carpet in commercial buildings and my technicians are trained to do their job efficiently and effectively.
I find it difficult to understand why a woman business owner is treated differently and considered “not qualified” to own and manage a cleaning business.
Experience has taught me that this is often the case. I hate being “talked down to” at a meeting. Or, worse yet, when talking about a cleaning product or system, the salesperson asks when my husband can meet with him. Then I always hand him my business card and ask, if he is interested in doing business, to call me.
Business owners, facility, property and office managers at times may only be comfortable talking about cleaning carpet, types of equipment, the best truckmounts, vans and repairs with guys.
It is easy to be ignored at industry conferences and training sessions.
When I asked a question at an industry conference, the response I received from the instructor was “I don’t know who you are.” Did it matter? After the session I talked with him so he wouldn’t make this mistake a second time.
Living a dream
I love what I do. Working and owning a business in this industry has been a “dream come true.”
Instead of becoming discouraged when faced with these narrow-focused beliefs about women in the industry, I have worked at being the best cleaning company in our area.
Experience and knowledge are great ways to do just that. Institute of Inspection, Cleaning and Restoration Certification (IICRC) in commercial carpet maintenance for me, our technicians and the company has provided a good technical basis.
Touring the carpet mills in Dalton, GA, with a consultant who works at the mills and has a good network of experts to ask questions was a good way to spend a few days.
Expanding my understanding of what building engineers do and how they relate to the work my company does has worked in my favor.
The technical aspect of carpet maintenance cannot be overstated, and it changes. Then there is the business management itself, accounts payable, accounts receivables, payroll, sales, operations and human resources.
There are always changes to keep up with and stay on track in regards to governmental regulations.
What has helped me the most, though, is my close network of other business owners. When we get together, the subject of business success and challenge always comes up.
The sharing of experiences during these meetings has taught me a lot. Business is business. Sure, I may have a different management style or my problem solving techniques may differ from a man, but the management gets done and the challenges are solved. Our bottom line profit is great and our employees are happy.
There are ways for women in the industry to get the job done. The following are some real-life examples.
One of our major accounts brought in an independent inspector without first discussing it with us.
The contact had said we were doing a good job and was satisfied with the cleaning results. I was not happy when our technicians called while working at the building and told me that an inspector was there asking many questions, taking photos and video taping as they were cleaning the carpet the entire night.
This slowed down our technicians and created a diversion while they were working. I called our contact and his boss and asked for a meeting the next day.
When I walked into the conference room with both men and sat at the table, both began talking without looking at me and continued to do so until I interrupted and asked a few pointed questions. These two men were uncomfortable with me, and were not quite sure what to do.
I fully expected to be a considered an equal partner in this business relationship and stated that several times in the meeting, while having an agenda to discuss and being sure all questions were answered.
This resulted in a successful meeting, and we have a terrific business relationship to this day.
Our office and warehouse is located in an area called “North Hyde Park.” I am a member of a business organization that promotes and represents this area to the city. Most members are men.
I have worked to fit in and promote representation of our business. After a few false starts and less than interested comments, an opportunity presented itself.
When the organization was looking for a CPA who would donate experience and time to file organizational LLC paperwork, I found a successful way to contribute. I have a good working relationship with a trustworthy person and invited this person to attend and offer services at the next meeting.
At the meeting, many members had questions that were answered quickly and efficiently by the CPA. Now, I am in! The proving ground took more time than I had anticipated, but it was worth the contacts.
We have a few accounts where the facility managers are men that know what they want as far as schedules, floor plans and cleaning systems. But they look to my salesperson, who is a woman, to do the work for them with outlining this information and putting it on paper, keeping it current.
At first this was annoying, but now we see it as a way to going beyond and above the service, adding value and keep the account. A competing company may not be so accommodating.
At networking events when I talk about our services, reactions stem from “You are working in a man’s world” to “Why did you pick such a male-dominated industry?”
I continue to educate people on the advantages of working in this service industry. The best way to overcome these questions is to know without a doubt that we deliver great service, understand the competition, keep abreast of market changes and be sure to deliver that message to the masses.
I cannot pick up a carpet cleaning extractor, nor can I operate a floor machine. I cannot pull hoses up two floors of a building to do truckmount cleaning. I am not that strong. The best way to solve this is to hire people who can.
Training technicians has become more critical for me than it would for a man who owns a business, as he could step in and do the cleaning himself when necessary. I do not have that luxury.
This has caused me to lean heavy on employee training and employee retention. Our employees stay.
Marleen Geyen has 30 years of experience in the commercial cleaning industry, and owns a successful business in Tampa, FL. She has membership privileges in HR Tampa, IFMA, BOMA, the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce, South Tampa Chamber of Commerce, eWomen Network, Women Business Enterprise National Council and more. She can be reached via e-mail at: [email protected].