Keys to Success From Today’s Female Industry Business Owners

Committees and Councils
Councils and Committees
According to American Express’ “The 2018 State of Women-Owned Businesses Report,” as of 2018, women own more than 12.3 million firms, employing 9.2 million people and generating $1.8 trillion in sales. One of the biggest areas of growth for women-owned businesses from 2007 to 2018: construction. So what does it take to be a female business owner in the home building industry? We asked several home building industry leaders about their experiences. These women — NAHB leaders in the Professional Women in Building Council, NAHB Remodelers Council, National Sales and Marketing Committee, and the 55+ Housing Industry Council — share how they continue to innovate and expand, and their advice for women pursuing careers in this field:
Leah Fellows Blue Gypsy Inc. Linda Mosier-Vaudt Mosier-Vaudt Consulting Sherry Pruitt Whodid It Designs and Remodeling
Karen Schroeder Mayberry Homes Betsy Sheppard Gilbert & Sheppard Group
  What inspired you to start or own a business in the residential construction industry? Sherry Pruitt: I have always loved building things since I was a child. My dad always encouraged me to use tools and try new things. As an adult, I had worked in commercial construction and facilities management for a number of years. When the opportunity presented itself, I decided that my next career steps would be in residential remodeling. I love helping homeowner make their dreams come true in the home where they live currently. Karen Schroeder: I had spent the majority of my career in the sales and marketing of new homes. After working for almost two decades for other builders, selling their products and their ideas, the option to step outside the box and create the product and buyer experience not available in the market was an opportunity we could not pass up. Between the connections we had established over the years, the knowledge we had acquired, and the passion for the industry, we believed we had no other option other than to open up our own business.   What tools or resources do you lean on to be successful? Linda Mosier-Vaudt: Resilience is one of the best resources I have leaned on. I believe that some of that is personality driven, but a good deal of it is learned. You must not be afraid to ask for help or afraid of failing at an endeavor. You can change your process or your method, but try again until you succeed. The worst-case scenario would be that you alter your process and find something else that works better. That might even lead you to a different job. Betsy Sheppard: Over the years I have relied on associating myself with the most talented people in the industry. I believe you are only as good as the people you surround yourself with. That belief has guided me to recruit talented team members to join me, vendors who deliver superior service, and clients who work hard to earn their buyers’ respect and loyalty.   Since the recession how has your business changed? How are you preparing for a general slowdown in economic activity in the future?  Karen Schroeder: The last recession was incredibly destructive to our industry. The majority of builders in my market went out of business. We did everything we could do to stay afloat. Being a family-owned business, many of our staff members were family, and the rest of them felt like family. We all took big pay cuts and pulled together. We had to change our marketing strategy and pursue the only demographic who could buy homes: the first-time home buyer. Throughout my career, I’ve seen boom markets and recessions that have completely destroyed people in the industry. One thing is always very clear to me: People need housing, whatever that may look like for them. Housing will continue to evolve, and in order to be successful in this industry, one must be flexible and willing to evolve with it. Leah Fellows: I began working as an online sales counselor during the last market slowdown in 2006 and have seen it from the top to bottom and back. By continuing to engage with builders around the country to help them keep lead nurturing at top of mind, I know that I will add value to any builder who needs that added support, even if the market slows down and especially if we find ourselves in another recession. Builders who are embracing dedicated, well-trained online sales programs, with professional support, will weather the climate, and keep producing ahead of their competitors.   Did you have to diversify your business model post-recession? Or have you diversified because of recent trends in residential construction? Sherry Pruitt: I am blessed to be a general contractor that is turnkey, using all subcontractors and not having much overhead than my own employees. This has allowed me to be as busy as incoming work requires. Business is booming in Houston, and I’ve had to increase my subs to meet the current demands. Karen Schroeder: We are doing some general contract work now — in particular, rental product for developers. We created an offsite building program, which was new for us because, in the past, we only built in our own neighborhoods. We became the largest ENERGY STAR builder in our state. And due to a shift in our marketplace, we have started developing our own land as opposed to purely working with other developers for lots. Betsy Sheppard: The need to diversify and expand our services influenced our decision to merge with another firm in January 2019. On the cusp of our 20th anniversary, we joined with a company who specializes in digital marketing and who has a keen focus for online strategies to reach older consumers. We are now truly a full-service business providing consulting, marketing and advertising for property developers and builders. To expand our services as needed, we collaborate with other firms, such as real estate sales companies, interior design firms, architects and land planners.   How have you seen the industry change during the past five years? Karen Schroeder: Baby boomers are in the middle of the 55+ housing. The echo boom is now moving into housing but from a different perspective than the traditional product. They are less inclined to put all their money into a home. Rental has increased, and features and amenities are growing at a price point that’s affordable to fit their lifestyle. We are diligently working to create and meet the needs of this shifting market. Leah Fellows: I’ve seen more builders understanding the importance of an online sales program, yet still not knowing quite how to implement it and who to hire. When you look at builder websites, they are becoming much more interactive and mobile friendly. And while there are a lot of tools, apps, and bells and whistles being thrown around, it’s still important to get down to the foundation of online sales and what needs to happen in a consistent, persistent manner in order to be successful. There is no substitute for a true understanding of what needs to happen day to day, and finding the right person to fill that role is an important key to success. Sherry Pruitt: Hurricane Harvey has had an impact on the Houston industry in good and bad ways. It has made consumers more aware that it is not always safe to hire the first person who comes along in disaster situations. The need to be able to identify quality remodelers is essential, including work on the state level to pass legislation to protect the industry and the consumer from thieves who take advantage of people in disaster situations.   What advice would you give to women entering the industry? Betsy Sheppard: Always be your authentic self. Work hard and smart, and find your seat at the table. Also, join the NAHB, their local HBA/BIA, and the Professional Women in Building Council — and be an active member! One of the greatest lessons I learned during the last recession was no matter what, you need to keep showing up and being involved in the housing industry’s activities. If you give more than you take, you will be thrilled with the benefits you gain! Linda Mosier-Vaudt: Stay strong. I have learned that you can establish yourself with anyone if you work hard enough. Yes, it’s true that you may need to know even more than a male entering this field, but my experience has taught me that the results are well worth the effort and that the network of people that you can make in our industry will be with you for a lifetime. Leah Fellows: As a woman business owner working with the building industry, I see more and more roles and responsibilities being filled by women. From working in the trades, to executives and owners of building companies and associated businesses, women are a strong life force in the industry. Often women drive the purchase process, so it’s important for women to be present in every aspect of the building business. If you are passionate about any aspect of the building industry, there is no time like the present to build your business and build your dreams. Learn more about influential women in the home building industry in the NAHB PWB Week toolkit.

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