My father worked in the plumbing wholesale business before I was born, and when I turned 16-years-old I became the first female ever to work in the warehouse at Norman Supply. It was important to me to make my father proud, so I worked hard learning everything about the business.
I drove a delivery truck, unloaded water heaters and cast iron tubs. Everyone I worked with was male. Fortunately for me I was raised in a family of four brothers. I knew how to survive.
When I first started waiting on the counter some of the customers would refuse to let me help them. I was a girl and even though they respected my father, they didn’t respect me… yet. This made me more determined.
Several years later, I moved to attend Brigham Young University. I couldn’t find a job in plumbing wholesale, so I went to work for a HVAC/R wholesaler. I was hired to wait on the counter and help in the warehouse. The manager, Bart, told me he had never hired a woman for the job before. I worked hard learning the new products and customers.
At the end of the school year I quit and went home for the summer. When I returned the following year I found a job at a plumbing wholesaler. However, a few days after I accepted that job my previous employer, Bart, located me and asked me to come back to work. Bart told me that the counter had never been as busy as the year I was with them. A few years later I ran into Bart again, he told me that since I quit working there he has always tried to hire a female for the counter.
A few years later I was moved into an inside sales position. My manager decided I would be a good candidate to get our branch into the HVAC business. I began my journey into radiant heat. I attended many classes and enjoyed the challenge of learning a new business. I was fortunate to have a great mentor, Rick Mayo, he took me in and taught me all about the radiant heating business.
I moved through the business in a traditional way, warehouse to counter, inside sales to outside sales, branch manager to sales manager and I earned my Bachelor’s degree along the way. As I moved into leadership roles I was often the only female. I based my leadership and salesmanship on the values taught to me by my father. Treat everyone with respect, go beyond expectations, and develop relationships of trust.
How have I survived so many years in this male dominated industry? I learned early on in my career to be strong, but not overbearing. Be personable, but not flirtatious. Be the best, but don’t tell anyone.
Be strong, but not overbearing: Most men appreciate a strong and independent women, however, they run when that strength turns into domination or a power play. As a young sales manager I had two salesmen, one was in his 50s, the other in his mid-60s. I was getting pressure from the branch managers to provide more information as to the daily activities of our sales staff. I implemented the dreaded “call report.”
I asked for a short description of their day provided to me by e-mail. The salesman close to 65 retired and the other went to work for the competition. I should have been less overbearing. I thought this was the only way I could get the information.
Looking back I could have called them each day to get their reports and type it up myself to send it onto the branch managers. I used my position of strength and perceived power thinking it would get the results I wanted, all I got was the loss of two seasoned professionals.
Be personable, but not flirtatious. This is a line that is difficult not to cross, getting to know your fellow associates and customers, building trust with them, and respecting them without turning on the female charm. There is nothing wrong with being yourself, but remember work is work. It is a place to develop teamwork, so that a common goal can be accomplished. Don’t expect to be put on a pedestal, treat both men and women the same and you will be respected and appreciated for it.
Be the best, but don’t tell anyone. No one, male or female, wants to be reminded how great you are. You will not earn a fellow associates respect by publicly out classing them. Don’t step on them to show you are better or more capable. Instead, move yourself to a new height and then help them do the same. I have found that the best way to improve yourself is by helping others.
I have enjoyed watching this industry change, to see more women enter into the business, but there still isn’t enough. I would strongly encourage any women with an interest in the construction industry to get involved. I love my job — I have learned something from everyone I have worked with. Women bring a new perspective into an old industry. Don’t shy away from it, be fearless!
Shuryce Prestwich is a certified manufacturer’s rep for Intermountain Sales, Woods Cross, Idaho. Previously she was branch manager for FNW/Lawson-Yeates, a plumbing and heating wholesaler/distributor. She graduated from Brigham Young University with a Bachelor of Science degree in physical education and teaching. Prestwich's strong suit is having lots of energy.