Whether they’re on the manufacturing line, installing floors, managing company finances,selling products, marketing, or the CEO, there are many women leading the way in the wood flooring industry.
During the 2019 NWFA Expo, the first-ever NWFA Women’s Industry Network Award was presented to Barbara Titus of Shoega Hardwood Flooring. It was then that Hardwood Floors began planning this special issue of the magazine to recognize the women of our industry and share some of their stories.
The timing is no coincidence, as March is Women’s History Month in the United States. Additionally, March 8 is International Women’s Day, an annual day across the world designed to celebrate the social, economic, cultural, and political achievements of women.
On the pages that follow, you will read about women who are part of our great industry and find out how their careers began, what they enjoy about working in wood flooring, and the ways they are contributing to improving the trade and their communities.
Leading the Way – A Conversation with Current and Former NWFA Leadership
How did you enter the wood flooring industry?
Coates: Through my father, Jack Coates, at Golden State Flooring.
My first job was cleaning the office, then bookkeeping, and finally, sales.
Russell: In 1994, I came to Glitsa American from a Seattle-based public
affairs company. I was hired for an administrative position, and quickly
took over marketing efforts for the company. My grassroots and lobbying background helped Glitsa secure an Architectural and Industrial Maintenance (AIM)category for our main line of finishes, conversion varnishes. Glitsa provided me the opportunity to participate in NWFA, which opened the door to a greater understanding of the industry as a whole, and a finer understanding of individuals that make up the industry.
Describe your current job responsibilities.
Coates: I am president of Coates & Associates Inc., which means I wear many hats – admin, sales, and marketing.
Russell: My current title is marketing and communications director for Rudd Company Inc. I direct the communications and marketing efforts for all of Rudd Company’s brands.
What has been your experience with being a woman in the wood flooring industry?
Coates: Excellent. Sometimes it opens doors because builders, contractors, architects, etc., don’t expect a woman to be knowledgeable about wood flooring. When I introduce myself, they are almost always polite and respectful, and once they listen for a few minutes, they become engaged.
Russell: I have had a very positive experience as a woman working in the wood flooring industry. I do my best to treat everyone with respect and have received the same treatment in kind. As a person working in the
wood flooring industry, I own my job and responsibilities to those around me, and I try very hard to stay open to new ideas and new ways of doing things.
What are the most significant challenges and opportunities facing the wood flooring industry as a whole?
Coates: The greatest challenge is keeping and training excellent wood flooring contractors. There are opportunities in maintaining the skills, including sand and finish techniques that are essential to successful wood floor installations, and ensuring wood floors can provide a lifetime of value.
Russell: One of the most significant challenges to the wood flooring industry is the popularity of wood look-alike materials. There are obvious challenges to wood flooring manufacturers and suppliers, but another challenge is that those materials allow less-qualified floor layers into the wood flooring installer’s space. There are opportunities to educate the consumer on the benefits of real wood flooring from cradle to grave. Real wood flooring adds more value to your home and is better for the environment.
How can women make sure they have a seat at the table in coming up with solutions?
Coates: I think women do have a seat, and have contributed to the industry for many years. Many of these women are behind the scenes contributing to businesses owned by their husbands or family. They have been extremely influential in both the policies and financial success of business from manufacturing to distribution and installation.
Russell: Be prepared, know what you are talking about, and don’t be afraid to participate.
Is there a woman who has inspired you and why?
Coates: Jonny McSwain (also a past NWFA Board Chair) and Vicki Dryden. Two strong, confident, knowledgeable women who supported me, trained me, and advised me in my career.
Russell: Our CEO, Laurel Jamison, continues to inspire me. She has been in the coatings industry for more than 40 years and still has more passion for it than anyone I know.
Tell us about the importance of mentorship and how that evolves throughout one’s career.
Coates: Effective mentoring evolves with one’s experience and readiness to listen or hear specific advice. As a mentor, I try to remember to focus on the skills that are pertinent at that point in someone’s career; there’s no need to dwell on topics that aren’t yet relevant. I know that as my mentors shared their vast experience and knowledge with me, what was most helpful was the advice dealing with the issues I was facing at the moment. Today, I find mentoring by personal example to be incredibly helpful professionally – particularly in figuring out lifestyles and work-life balance.
Russell: I was lucky enough to start my journey
in the wood flooring industry with Bill Price, Sr. Bill was a born teacher and learner. He shared his knowledge and understanding with joy. I believe the relationship that I have with colleagues and younger staff is a direct influence of Bill’s mentorship. Business is moving so quickly, and the people that make it all go now come from everywhere, not just from the last generation. To keep the trade strong, I believe that it is our responsibility to share what we know with the people in our organizations.
What advice would you give other women considering a career in wood flooring?
Coates: If you’re new to wood flooring, get involved with your customers so you know their issues. Volunteer in the NWFA and the local community. Get yourself educated and please speak up with ideas, even criticisms.
Russell: It is a great place to establish your career with many opportunities to see the world. My advice is always to listen more than you speak. When you do speak, know what you are talking about. And, enjoy yourself; this industry is filled with great people.
RECIPIENT OF THE 2019 NWFA WOMEN’S INDUSTRY
Being a woman in a male-dominated industry can be a challenge. For Barbara Titus, Vice President, Operations & International Sales with Sheoga Hardwood Flooring & Paneling in Middlefield, Ohio, it’s just another day at the office.
“In 1991, I was looking for a challenging position and found out that Sheoga Hardwood Flooring was seeking an accountant to assist them,” says Titus. “I knew the founder of the company for many years and loved the thought of working in a rural environment close to my home.”
Initially, Titus joined the company as a forensic auditor where she helped establish a sound accounting process and audit trail. As her responsibilities evolved, she also provided accurate financials to help determine profitable product lines and paths for growth and domestic expansion.
Fast forward to today where Titus’ responsibilities include overseeing Sheoga’s international expansion as well. “I am the primary contact for our international partners,” she says, “and my responsibilities include international travel to support our distributors overseas.”
Titus has a significant role at the office as well. Within her Operations responsibilities, she oversees the office team, supports the sales team and production staff, performs cost/manufacturing process accounting and reporting functions, prepares financial statements, and promotes growth and brand recognition. “I am very hands-on,” she says.
Facing challenges is nothing new to Titus. As a young woman, she spent much of her time in and out of hospitals facing a series of life-threatening illnesses. “For many years, my primary struggle was my health,” she says. “After 36 years of personal battles with a body that would not cooperate, I have been in remission for six years. And my, what a fabulous six years it has been.”
Focusing on her faith has kept Titus grounded and motivated to pay it forward. She was the catalyst behind NWFA’s involvement with the Gary Sinise Foundation R.I.S.E. program (Restoring Independence Supporting Empowerment), which provides custom, specially adapted SMART homes for severely wounded veterans and first responders. This past December, NWFA and its members provided product, logistics, and installation services for its 42nd home, representing a total value of more than $4.56 million.
As if that weren’t enough, Titus also is involved in a project benefiting veterans closer to home. VALOR Retreat (Veterans Are Loved Owed Respected) is being built within a 197-acre private reserve located in Hocking Hills, Ohio. The retreat is designed to provide a tranquil respite for combat veterans, their families, and Gold Star families, at no cost, to recover from the ravages of conflict, to heal, and to reconnect with nature, their families, and one another. Titus is spearheading the
$2 million campaign to construct eight handicap-accessible cabins and a lodge on the property by 2021, with the retreat being fully operational by 2022.
“I have been blessed with the opportunity to help our veterans,” she explains. “The losses and sacrifices they make do not end when they return home. Many face the hardest battle when they return to civilian life. Only in the 20th century have we reached a point where our logistical and medical capabilities for survivability on the battlefield have surpassed our mind’s ability to deal with it. We must support those that have fought to defend us. They don’t ‘deserve’ our help; they have earned it.”
It’s dedication and vision like this – both in the industry and out – that earned Titus NWFA’s first Women’s Industry Network Award in 2019, and she encourages other women to step up as well. “We need strong, informed, and passionate women within this industry,” she says. “There are plenty of opportunities…for them to compete, thrive, and succeed.”
Environmental Compliance Officer
Metropolitan Hardwood Floors Inc.
Elizabeth Baldwin’s path to the wood flooring industry began in an unlikely way – while she was an English teacher in Japan.
“I was teaching business English, which is how I met Maruhon, a Japanese wood products importer and distributor,” Baldwin recalls. “After about a year, they hired me as an assistant buyer and I started traveling the world to find new products for them.”
When she eventually returned to the United States, Baldwin was committed to the international side of the wood industry, and began working with Metropolitan Hardwood Floors Inc. in sourcing. Japan had begun restricting formaldehyde emissions long before other places, so when the California Air Resources Board (CARB) applied rules and regulations to the wood industry, Metropolitan turned to her to guide them in compliance.
As Metropolitan’s Environmental Compliance Officer, Baldwin focuses on the wood and chemicals that go into the flooring, complying with rules and trade regulations, and meeting certifications and standards. You’ll find her sharing that knowledge via blogs for Hardwood Floors magazine, presentations at NWFA and International Wood Products Association (IWPA) events, at the Hardwood Federation’s annual fly-in, and as a guest speaker or instructor around the globe.
When it comes to what she enjoys most about the wood flooring industry, it all boils down to the people.
“The Metropolitan team is amazing, absolutely great to work with in every possible way. Plus there are so many incredible people all around the world – our super suppliers who have embraced the compliance culture, our customers who run their businesses safely by sorting through a myriad of contrasting compliance claims, and friendly competitors who are working so hard to do things right,” she notes.
To women who may consider a career in wood flooring, Baldwin advises: “Don’t compromise where it counts. I’m not talking about never giving up a percentage point or price or something like that. I’m talking about being willing to walk away from a profitable deal when you know something is wrong with it. I’m talking about doing the right thing always, even when people aren’t watching. I’m talking about standing up for yourself when people want to dismiss you. ‘Walk the talk.’ And don’t be afraid to ask questions.
Owner and Founder
Jamie Beckwith Collection
As the owner of an interior design company, Jamie Beckwith could not find the custom flooring pattern she needed for a client.
“I wanted to make a jigsaw puzzle floor for the client’s children’s playroom,” Beckwith explains. “I decided I would have to design and build it myself. After creating the first prototypes, I was intrigued by the concept of a wood tile hybrid. That is how my company, Jamie Beckwith Collection, was born.”
Beckwith says it has been a long and challenging road over the years. From physically staining and sanding products to marketing and sales, she has done every job in the company at one time or another. In her current role, she looks for more opportunities to grow the Jamie Beckwith Collection and creates new distribution relationships, while overseeing day-to-day operations.
“I like creating materials that are unique and diversified in our industry. I want to create products that inspire clients and designers to think outside the box, and I enjoy working with wood. I like the organic nature of it, its beauty, and the warmth it brings to interior spaces,” she adds.
She attributes the company’s success to creating products that are visually powerful and design-driven, along with a focus on quality and customer service. The wood wall and flooring tiles are designed and produced in Nashville, Tennessee, and come in a variety of patterns, wood species, and finishes. Jamie Beckwith Collection is even a past winner of the NWFA Wood Floor of the Year Award (Best Manufacturer Factory Finished in 2011).
Beckwith donates products to charitable organizations and believes in helping up-and-coming women that are trying to break into the industry. She enjoys speaking about the challenges of both the industry and being a women entrepreneur, noting that perseverance is vital.
“I would recommend that women learn their craft, educate themselves, and be flexible,” she says. “Keep your ears open to listen and learn. Once you decide on your field in the wood industry, keep focused, and remain confident in your abilities.”
Absolute Coatings Group
North Brunswick, New Jersey
When Kathleen Freeman was nine years old, she chose to go work with her father instead of helping her mother and sisters clean the house. By the time she was 13, her father had taught her how to sand and finish wood floors.
After graduating from high school, Freeman went to the Fashion Institute of Technology (F.I.T.) and majored in Fashion Design. During those years, she continued working with her father full-time and attending college part-time. Upon graduation, she began working with a fashion house in New York City.
“It wasn’t a very well-paying job, with pay of $150 per week. I had to borrow money to go to work almost every day. I decided to go back into the wood industry and work for my dad, who at that time, paid $150 per day. I’ve been in the industry ever since,” she explains.
“The wood industry has come so far with all the new and old techniques we can use, even if it’s a re-scrape and the clients want it natural. We make the room, home, or projects warm and inviting to each person that sees it and hardwood floors bring style to the projects.”
Freeman began working for Absolute Coatings Inc. in 2002, and currently handles sales, technical, and troubleshooting for the company. She has been involved with NWFA training, and was the first woman to become an NWFA Certified Installation Professional and Certified Sand & Finish Professional.
She also uses those talents as a way to raise money for her church. During an annual fundraiser, Freeman donates a sand and finish process good for up to 500 square feet. It has become such a popular auction item that she even does the floors for those who don’t ultimately win the bid – with proceeds going to the church.
Freeman says women who want to work in the industry should love working with their hands and being creative.
“A hardwood flooring contractor must have their wits about them and be able to think on their feet if a problem should arise,” she offers. “Be open to try new ideas and test them out for yourself until it’s perfected to use on a future project. Try things that scare you and work through them for knowledge and understanding to set yourself apart from those who hate doing that type of work.”
Co-Owner and Vice President
If someone on the phone asks if there is a man they can speak to, Grete Heimerdinger will smile to herself. It happens on occasion – and she smiles because after working in the industry for more than 40 years, she knows a lot about measuring moisture with handheld moisture meters.
Heimerdinger was a teacher in Germany until 1975 when she and her husband came to the United States to start Hildebrand Lumber Dry Kiln Co. At the time, each dry kiln was sold with a control system from Lignomat Germany. After acquiring Lignomat USA, she took on the role of selling moisture meters.
“I had taught physics and math in Germany, so it was easy to understand the technology behind the moisture meters, and I always enjoyed explaining the theory, the purpose, and usage,” Heimerdinger says.
The company’s start in the wood flooring industry began many
years ago after attending an NWFA Expo.
“We were the only moisture meter company at that time, and many people asked, ‘Why do I need a moisture meter?’” she recalls. “Based on this, I started to write leaflets and papers to explain the relationship between wood moisture and relative humidity. In the meantime, the industry is now more knowledgeable about the necessity to use a moisture meter when working with wood floors.”
Today, Lignomat offers pin and pinless moisture meters, moisture meters for concrete, lumber dry kiln controls, and other wireless monitoring devices for moisture and humidity conditions. Heimerdinger’s responsibilities with the company include development, research, advertising, press releases, customer service, and attending trade shows.
It all ties back into her roots in education, though. Heimerdinger still frequently writes articles about wood floors, wood moisture, relative humidity, and using a moisture meter – pin or pinless – the right way, to help inform the industry.
ATC Hardwood Flooring and Real Antique Wood
Irvington, New Jersey
Lisa Horvath was introduced to the wood flooring industry by her husband, Gary, but she quickly made her own mark.
“Together, we built ATC Hardwood Flooring to be a successful business. Twenty-seven years and still going strong! Then eight years ago, we opened Real Antique Wood, our reclaimed company that has grown into something we could have never even dreamt of,” Horvath says.
It was 2011 when Gary approached her about the problems he faced with sourcing reclaimed wood flooring. He wanted to provide customers with the history of the old wood, and Lisa encouraged the idea of opening their own reclaimed wood operation. Since that time, they have been astonished at the lives touched through their love of old wood.
The Horvaths were featured on an episode of CNBC’s Billion Dollar Buyer. They have also won NWFA’s Wood Floor of the Year award (Members’ Choice in 2015). Lisa Horvath shows her support of the industry by attending events such as product demos, grand openings, and the NWFA Expo.
Horvath’s team says she has commonly done the work of five people, and her creative and business-minded approach was necessary to turn the dream of Real Antique Wood into a reality.
One of her favorite parts about working in wood flooring is the customers. She feels lucky that they let her and her team into their homes, and that they come into their showroom to purchase reclaimed flooring and order special custom pieces. It’s not just the customers who Horvath appreciates, though.
“Last October, I was diagnosed with breast cancer,” Horvath explains. “So, my contribution to both companies took a back seat to my treatment and all that was – and is – to follow. We were so lucky to have awesome people/employees in our life. They took on all the responsibilities I was doing so I could concentrate on me! What a blessing that is.”
CEO & President
After completing a Ph.D. in polymer chemistry, a master’s degree in chemical engineering, and a Master’s in Business Administration (MBA), Kerstin Lindell began work as a lab manager and international project leader for UV technologies. Then, she spent eight years as a research and development manager for industrial wood coatings at Akzo Nobel. She joined Bona as deputy CEO in 2006 and one year later, stepped into her current role as CEO and president of Bona.
“What I appreciate about the wood flooring industry is also what drew me to Bona – the sustainable nature of the material,” Lindell explains. “Not only does a wood floor offer a beautiful aesthetic to any space, but it can also be refinished multiple times inherently lasting for decades. Unlike other flooring surfaces that are often torn out and thrown into a landfill, wood floors offer an option to renovate the surface.”
She admires the innovative nature of the wood flooring industry, noting the importance of working toward safer and better solutions for the industry. Lindell says she is proud that Bona offers sustainable solutions, and in 2019, the company celebrated its 100th anniversary.
“The wood flooring industry is ever-evolving, which offers endless opportunities for women. From science to business to marketing, this industry intersects with a wide range of skill sets and career paths,” Lindell says.
Part of Lindell’s inspiration is linked to the ways Bona contributes to the global community. To name a few, Bona plants 600 trees (one tree for every employee) annually through the Plant a Tree program. Bona is part of Hand in Hand’s Village Uplift Program in India, and they work with the STEPS research program at Lund University to develop sustainable plastics. Lindell has received leadership awards, served on multi-national boards, and is currently the Consul for the Netherlands in Southern Sweden.
“Regardless of gender, it’s important to not only follow your passion, but also to look for places where you can make a difference,” she advises. “For example, right now, the wood floor industry is in an important position to influence the betterment of sustainability in our world. How are you engaging in that dialog, and where can you create change? These are the places where we can all better our careers and at the same time, better our world.”
Kristi Maxwell Prince
Chief Financial Officer
Maxwell Hardwood Flooring
After school and during the summers, Kristi Maxwell Prince worked at her family’s business, Maxwell Hardwood Flooring. She learned every job they asked her to do there, and after finishing college, she moved to Dallas/Fort Worth, Texas, to work as an internal auditor for Lockheed Martin Corp. and RadioShack Corp.
In 2001, she returned to Arkansas and began working again at Maxwell Hardwood. Today, she oversees the financial responsibilities of Maxwell Hardwood and other family companies. This includes all financial planning, forecasting, compliance, and supervising personnel in the main office.
“Work hard, but work smart, treat people fairly, and take care of your employees, customers, and suppliers,” she advises. “These are simple principles we strive for, but when you are in the thick of business, it isn’t always easy. Maxwell Hardwood is a company of amazing individuals
who make it happen every day just doing their jobs.”
Outside of the office, Prince serves on the Monticello Economic Development Commission Board, the University of Arkansas at Monticello Foundation Fund Board, the Arkansas Forestry Association Board, the Drew Memorial Hospital Foundation Fundraising Committee, and the NWFA Education and Research Foundation Board. She is a life member of the National Association of Junior Auxiliaries and volunteers with the youth group at Pauline Baptist Church. She also takes the time to speak about business ethics, soft skills, and job pathways at high schools in her community.
As for what she enjoys most about the wood flooring industry, Prince says, “There are few industries remaining that work as ‘handshake’ deals, and for the most part, the wood flooring industry can still be done that way. It’s about the relationships with customers, suppliers, and even competitors that make it great.”
Kellie Hawkins Schaffner
President & CEO
Waterlox Coatings Corporation
From a young age, Kellie Hawkins Schaffner began helping her father and grandfather in the Waterlox office. The company was founded by her great grandfather, R.L. Hawkins in 1910, and every generation of the Hawkins family has worked there since. Schaffner has held a variety of positions at Waterlox, including quality control lab manager, national sales manager, and vice president, before being named president, and CEO in 2018.
Doing so, she says took hard work, knowledge, and friendships.
“It takes a lot of work to manage a small business,” Schaffner explains. “I am involved in pretty much every aspect of our company, but I love it. My knowledge of wood floor finishes started early on because of my family, but there is always something new, so staying current on the latest trends and continuing to read industry publications is a must.”
As president and CEO, she handles the daily operations and oversees her family’s tradition of creating wood finishing products. Schaffner also stays busy when she’s away from the office by contributing to both industry and charitable causes.
“We donate products to countless woodworking events and schools throughout the United States. We’ve been a member of the NWFA since our first show in 1988 and continue to participate in trainings and trade shows each year,” she says.
“For fundraising, The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society is near and dear to our hearts. We provide a platform to our customers, vendors, friends, and families to help and donate. We’ve been instrumental in helping to raise more than $1.5 million for leukemia and lymphoma research.”
Schaffner believes the wood flooring industry is a great industry for women and that it is family-focused, since many companies are family-owned, and have generations of family members working there. She enjoys the camaraderie of the industry and how everyone supports each other. One of her favorite parts, though, is working with wood floor artisans and helping them protect their craft with her company’s finishes.
Accent Hardwood Flooring Inc.
Durham, North Carolina
Wood flooring ran in the family for Genia Smith. However, she didn’t have any on-the-job experience when she joined her father’s company, Smith Hardwood Floors, at the age of 22.
“I got my start as a $5.00 per hour edger person in 1981,” Smith recalls. “I ran edges, a Super 8, and installed truckloads of unfinished parquet on slabs. We made our own zero clearance table saws out of plywood, a Skilsaw, and a switch.”
She worked in that role for a few years before returning to school, during which time she continued working weekends and summers. Eventually, she decided to strike out on her own and founded Accent Hardwood Flooring in Durham, North Carolina.
“I had a Super 8, edger, and a buffer that weighed about 1,000 pounds,” Smith explains. “I did all the work myself for a couple of years. I then hired my first helper, Robert Honeycutt, who is still with me today.”
More than thirty years later, she still manages the company and handles sales calls. She is a member of NWFA, and the World Floor Covering Association. In 2004, Smith was certified as one of only 20 wood flooring inspectors nationwide by NOFMA.
Giving back to the community is a central part of Smith’s company. She has led workshops on renovations for the local Historical Preservation Society. And, the company has installed flooring at no charge in Habitat for Humanity homes, senior centers, and hospice homes.
Regarding the best things about working in the industry, Smith answered, “Seeing the transformation of spaces with wood flooring, plus all of the people I have met along the way including the people that work here.”
She advises other women who may be interested in working in wood flooring or other trades to learn all they can and to not be intimidated and to learn all they can.
Lenmar, a division of Benjamin Moore & Co.
Janet Sullivan first took a job in the accounting and payroll department of Lenmar Inc., then she was asked if she wanted to try sales. Today, after more than 35 years of selling the Lenmar brand through wood flooring distributors, it’s safe to say she instead found a career.
“I leaned heavily on my customers to learn the business and to answer some of the technical questions from the contractors,” Sullivan recalls. “I went to the NOFMA school, then later all the NWFA classes, until one day I was told I could not be a student any longer –
I had to teach.”
She also attended seminars at the NWFA Expo each year, served on NWFA committees and the board, and ultimately went back to school
for chemistry, learning anything related to coatings. In her current role with Lenmar, Sullivan handles everything from sales and marketing to technical calls.
“I make sales calls on the distributors, analyze the markets, and look for future business. I prospect for the best customers to open the market for our products. I work with outside salespeople and contractors to teach them all the features and benefits of the product line. I go out on complaint calls, and work with all parties involved to see it through to a resolution,” Sullivan says.
While Lenmar sells into other industries, Sullivan truly enjoys the people in the wood flooring industry. She acknowledges it was difficult in the early days of her career, and that she really had to prove herself. Now she says the industry is a family; and that she has watched “the kids” take over family businesses.
“Today, it is a great time for women to enter into the wood flooring industry,” Sullivan explains. “I have watched over the years as many women enter into this industry, and they are now enjoying the family of wood flooring professionals with rewarding careers.”