Where are the women?
BY ELLEN ROHR
I love tradespeople. But mostly I know tradesmen. Why are there so few women in the ranks? I’ve been on a crusade to let women know what great opportunities there are in the PHC industry. That’s why I am delighted to introduce you to Mary Jean Anderson and her daughter Kelly Anderson, of Anderson Plumbing, Heating and Air, in San Diego. We had a little telephone chat about their business and opportunities in the PHC world. Here’s what I learned.
Woman-owned and operated
Mary Jean started her career as a nurse. Then she married a plumber, Walt Anderson, and, as so often happens, she became the bookkeeper at her husband’s company. As so rarely happens, she and Walt continued to work together, even after they were divorced. When Walt retired, Mary Jean bought the company, which was doing about $4 million in sales. Then she went on a shopping spree and grew the company quickly through acquisitions.
Our company became a ‘hodgepodge’ of trucks of all different colors, shapes and names. We brought in a branding expert to help us create a unified look and powerful marketing position.”
You can’t miss one of Anderson’s trucks now. Mary Jean’s smiling face adorns each one … and they are pink! Their unique selling proposition: Nobody WOWS clients like we do.
Anderson added heating and air conditioning divisions to the company’s plumbing services and is now tracking $11 million in residential and light commercial sales for 2012. Impressive; even more impressive, Mary Jean has grown a decidedly drama-free family business.
“Even when Walt and I got divorced, we could rise above our differences and work together,” Mary Jean recalled. “We are committed to family, and we wanted to create a company where we could offer opportunities and support each other’s dreams.”
The Andersons’ daughter Kelly grew up helping in the office. According to Kelly, she wasn’t at all interested in the PHC business. “I was focused. I knew I wanted to be in journalism and went to San Francisco State University. I set my sights on a career in sports journalism. However, I missed San Diego. To pursue a sports broadcaster career, I realized I would have to get experience in a smaller broadcast market, so the draw of home won me over. My husband, Fabio Fusco, and I moved back. We have a daughter now. And I have a great career at Anderson Plumbing, Heating and Air.”
Kelly rejoined the Anderson team. She earned her field stripes as an outside salesperson, selling re-piping and pipe-lining projects. Now she is the office manager and has been replaced in the field … by two women salespeople. Lest you think that Kelly is lightening her load with these moves, she also was just elected president of the San Diego Chapter of the PHCC. She is only the second woman to hold the office and, at 28, the youngest. Her dad, Walt, is especially proud of Kelly’s election, since he served as PHCC president in 1991.
Mary Jean remarried; her husband, Bryan Rominger, is the HVAC manager. Her son, Kyle Anderson, is the plumbing manager. Mary Jean is the marketing manager.
“How do you hold this together? How do you avoid power struggles and kooky family issues?” I pried.
Mary Jean said, “We have a strong family bond. It is important to all of us that we put family first. We also have a general manager. Debbie Williams is not a family member, but she has been with the company a long time. She shares our values. This works because then the rest of us are on the same tier of the organizational chart. This keeps us grounded, and Debbie helps us stay focused.”
As we were wrapping up our call, I asked, “By the way, what does it mean to WOW your clients?”
Kelly steered me to their YouTube clip, at www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y2DyG3Uz4C4.
Nice! It looks like their team had a blast putting the video together, and it shows the Andersons’ commitment to WOW service. Yet I noticed that there are no women technicians in the video.
“We have one. Her customers, both men and women, love her. Katy Frausto knows the trade and is a terrific communicator. We are recruiting moms and college students. We are looking to hire more women,” bragged Mary Jean.
The Anderson team is celebrating and promoting women in the trades. What can we do, individually and as an industry, to recruit women for technician and sales positions? Some suggest we don’t bother trying. There are no legal or physical boundaries for women. If you want the job, you could take a shot. However, when women still earn only 77 percent of what men earn, I can’t help but feel that we should try to even up the odds.
Sarah Jane Glynn, a policy analyst at the Center for American Progress, offers some sobering facts about the wage gap. Even right after graduation, women with college degrees earn less than men holding the same positions. Women earn less than men within all racial and ethnic groups. Women are more likely to work in “pink collar” jobs (like teaching, cleaning, waitressing and nursing) than higher paying “blue collar” jobs.
Maybe it’s a marketing challenge. If women knew how great it is to be a PHC technician, perhaps they would flock to the field (unless men resent them for being there). Could sexism be a core issue? Would your team accept a woman as an equal? You might want to open up this conversation at your shop. Discover whether your team is harboring antiquated ideas of what women should do and should steer clear of. What about your own prejudices?
I’ll keep spreading the word. Here is to more and more women claiming opportunity, honor and prosperity in the PHC world, as technicians, sales pros and owners. And thanks to Anderson Plumbing. Mary Jean, Kelly, you are turning “blue collars” PINK!
P.S. I just checked my voicemail messages. There is a message from a business owner who wants to talk to me about updating her company business plan. How about that?
Check out my free Six Step Biz Planning video series. It can help you put a rockin’ biz plan together and get focused, get going and get really profitable. Click and learn anytime at www.BizPlanVideoSeries.com Reach me at 877/629-7647 or contact@BareBonesBiz.com.