According to the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, careers in the trades are on the rise for women. The research notes that the number of women working in trades has increased by more than 30 percent in the last five years. With the projected job growth and financial freedom provided, the trades, especially wood flooring, are an engaging and satisfying career path.
Whether they’re selling products, marketing, working on the manufacturing line, serving as the CEO, installing floors, or managing company finances, there are many women leading the way in the wood flooring industry. Hardwood Floors magazine is honored to celebrate these women and share some of their stories.
In the descriptions that follow, you will read about women who are part of this great industry and find out how their careers began, what they enjoy about working in wood flooring, who inspires them, and the ways they are contributing to improving the trade and their communities.
With a degree in business management from Valparaiso University, and a successful career in business management across a variety of industries, including hospitality, healthcare market research, and emergency medicine, Heather Barbour could not have predicted where the next step in her career would take her. A colleague referred her to Dean Hultman to help consult in the sale of the custom hardwood flooring company he founded more than 30 years ago as he transitioned to retirement.
“I received an incredible mentorship guided by an exceptional teacher,” explains Barbour. “This profession is a complicated mix of design, construction, art, and chemistry. After three years of working with Dean and the team managing the day-to-day operations, I purchased the company, Hultman Flooring.”
That was two years ago. While she notes that Hultman was an industry expert and that he does not have easy shoes to fill, she has inherited the reputation of wood flooring expert in their community, and she takes it seriously. Barbour knows the wood flooring craft is best learned through hands-on experience. She asks a lot of questions, listens, researches, and educates. Now she is an NWFA Certified Sales Advisor, and plans to pursue a CEU presenter certification.
Barbour says it is easy to be passionate about something you believe in and finds it inspiring to work with natural materials, given all the positive attributes of wood. She enjoys working with incredible clients who allow her and the team to be artists. Women who inspire Barbour include her mother, who she says never backs down from a challenge, as well as her daughters, who she describes as brilliant, creative, and fearless.
More awareness of opportunities for women in the trades is something Barbour would like to see. “There are a lot of incredibly knowledgeable individuals in this industry who are willing to share their experiences and help you learn. Take advantage of the educational opportunities that are available. With the shortage of skilled trades workers in the labor force and women being vastly underrepresented in construction and technical positions, I highly recommend women pursue opportunities in the trades. The current need for skilled workers means more advancement opportunities as well as higher pay for women.”
Rachel Bell was working happily at an advertising agency when her husband, Richard, opened a building materials closeout warehouse in Dallas, Texas. He convinced her that if she would work half as hard for their business as she did for other people’s businesses, they surely would be successful. Fast forward 13 years, and now The BOSS (Builders Outlet Super Store) has three locations, and the flagship Dallas store has grown from a 3,000-square-foot warehouse with a staff of two to a more than 100,000-square-foot warehouse with a staff of 22.
Problem solving, removing obstacles, and maintaining a family-centric team culture are some of the responsibilities on Bell’s plate. She also oversees the sales and marketing departments, and notes that she and her husband make a great team. He is the visionary, and she says she and the team help make those new ideas a reality.
“At The BOSS, our core purpose is to provide a positive experience for our employees, customers, and vendors. All three are critical to our success – and we wouldn’t be where we are today without making all three a priority,” says Bell. “We strive to have a multi-generational team that serves a multi-generational customer. I love seeing our installers come in with their children – this is truly a family industry. The relationships we’ve built over the years with all our customers is one of the things I am most proud of.”
Bell believes you get what you give and says they try hard to give back to their community. The BOSS sponsors numerous local school events and sports teams, as well as the local county fair and agriculture programs, a passion close to Bell’s heart as that is what helped put her through college. She greatly admires her mother, who taught math for more than 25 years and, along with Bell’s father, raised four daughters. She encourages women not to be intimidated by the industry, and hopes to spread the word about what a great place it is to be.
“One long-term goal of mine is to push our trade at our local high schools. Our flooring installers work incredibly hard, but it is a great way to support a family. As our industry ages, I would like to help keep the pipeline full of young people,” says Bell.
Kathy Hysell Goering
The Wood Floor Store, Home of The Floor Doctor
As the co-owner of The Wood Floor Store, Home of The Floor Doctor, Kathy Hysell Goering oversees the showroom, and handles all payables, collectibles, scheduling, sales, plus a little bit of everything else. However, when she started working in the wood flooring industry in the early nineties, she admits she did not know much about wood floors. Goering, a graduate of the University of Florida in business/marketing, had been working in the retail business for several years, followed by working in commercial real estate.
Her husband, Tom Goering, needed someone savvy on the business side of things, so she agreed to join his company. He would be out in the field, and she would run the office. While she never thought she would end up in the wood flooring business, Goering says it has been a wonderful journey.
“I love it because there is always something to learn. I always strive to know more than anyone else to be able to provide the customer with details they don’t usually get from other stores,” explains Goering. “I grew up in the service industry, so I had a lot of experience with appreciating customer service and treating the customer how I would like to be treated. The repeat customers over the years have proven to our company how important that is.”
The Goerings extend those notions of service into their community. They have supported the Gary Sinise Foundation R.I.S.E. program (Restoring Independence Supporting Empowerment), which builds mortgage-free, custom, specially adapted smart homes for severely wounded veterans and first responders. Additionally, their company has contributed to Habitat for Humanity, Samaritan’s Purse, and their church, where they supplied, installed, and maintained flooring through the years.
Goering says she has had two important role models. Her mother, Laura Hysell, who was involved in the family business, as well as Helen Gallagher, who was her mentor in real estate. She describes both women as honorable, detailed, and supportive. Goering advises other women in the industry to keep learning, growing, and changing.
“Be honest and sincere with the customers, and you will have a great, rewarding career, knowing you provided the best advice for their ultimate choice,” she says. “Don’t let the business run you – you run the business!”
Hull Forest Products Inc.
Pomfret Center, Connecticut
Growing up in the family business, Mary Hull began helping out by sweeping floors and stacking lumber at Hull Forest Products. She later tackled corporate communications and built the company’s first website. After graduating from Brown University, Hull worked in publishing for many years before joining Hull Forest Products full-time. She describes it as all hands on deck, and her days are spent doing everything from quoting orders to coordinating material flow to communications.
“I love working in a green industry with wood, a renewable resource that is the backbone of the bioeconomy. Wood offers a unique opportunity to store carbon in the forest, in products, and in substitution. In the forest products industry, we are producing sustainable wood products the world needs. At the same time, we are supporting forests and the ecological services they provide, including clean water, clean air, and wildlife habitat,” says Hull.
Public outreach and education are important to Hull Forest Products as the company is both a sawmill and forestland management service. Hull says she wants people to know that sustainable use of forest-derived products increases the economic viability of forests, and using wood from well-managed forests helps keep those forests as forests. The company hosts sawmill tours, guided woods walks in its managed forests, and school field trips from the elementary school to college level. Hull Forest Products even received the Aldo Leopold Conservation Award for its role in helping to conserve working forests in New England.
With a clear passion for sharing wood’s sustainability story, Hull has been a guest speaker for numerous forest and architectural organizations. She volunteers for the Northeast engagement team of the Forest Landowners Association, her town’s agricultural commission, her children’s 4-H club, and at her church. Giving back is important to Hull Forest Products, as they donate flooring to nonprofits and participate in the Connecticut Professional Timber Producers Association’s Log-a-Load-for-Kids fundraiser for the children’s hospital.
“The people who work in the forest products industry are the best. From the foresters to the loggers to the truck drivers, the sawmill workers to the sales staff to the flooring installers – they are all proud to work in an industry that provides safe, sustainable, environmentally friendly wood-based solutions for the world,” notes Hull.
Hardwood Manufacturers Association
Linda Jovanovich was hired as the executive assistant to the Hardwood Manufacturers Association (HMA)’s executive vice president in 1989. She had a background in marketing and finance, and learned the industry from the ground up by reading every industry newsletter and publication that came across her desk. As her industry knowledge grew, so did her responsibilities, and she eventually assisted with meeting planning, accounting, and member communications.
Jovanovich became operations director in 2003, and earned an MBA in sustainability from the San Francisco School of Architecture. In 2009, she became the HMA’s executive vice president. Today, her duties include overseeing all the HMA’s operations and reporting to its officers and board of directors. She most enjoys the family feel of the industry, and how everyone works hard to make each other stronger in their businesses. Jovanovich says her mentor was Susan M. Regan, who served as HMA’s executive vice president until 2007, when she succumbed to a long battle with cancer.
“Susan was a perfectionist, a workhorse, and a dedicated leader. She taught me the importance of listening to our members and answering their needs as best as possible,” shares Jovanovich. “She helped me to be a critical thinker, to always pay attention to detail, and to gain confidence in myself and my own ability to lead.”
Jovanovich regularly attends industry events, presents on behalf of the Real American Hardwood Coalition and the American Hardwood Information Center, and has a team of speakers that present Continuing Education Units to architects and designers across the country about the carbon neutrality of American hardwood products, as well as thermally modified wood products. She would like to encourage others to learn more about careers in the wood industry.
“For almost 25 years, I have been blessed with an extremely rewarding career in the hardwood industry,” says Jovanovich. “There are so many opportunities available in the industry, not just with industry trade associations, but in every manufacturing aspect, whether it be harvesting the resource to primary producer or secondary manufacturer. Our industry is a well-kept secret; we need to do a much better job advertising the careers that are available in wood.”
AB Hardwood Flooring Supplies & Carmen’s Inc.
As a child in Romania, Carmen Muntean was introduced to our industry by watching her grandfather work on wood floors. He was a carpenter, and she was his helper, even when it came to finishing floors. Still, having a career in wood flooring was not exactly where Muntean expected to land.
Muntean graduated college with a Ph.D. in math and physics from the University of West in Timisoara, Romania. After teaching for one year, she wanted to do something on her own and started a company, which she ran for four years. Once she came to the U.S., Muntean managed a flooring installation company. After learning about the different types of wood flooring and supplies, she once again decided to open her own business. This time it was AB Hardwood Flooring Supplies, a full-service distributor of hardwood flooring and goods in Chicago, Illinois.
“After 20 years, one of my favorite things about working in the wood flooring industry is all the friendships I have developed over time. It’s the help and support that I received over the years from floor industry masters when I was beginning my career,” says Muntean. “I like that we can improve homes and properties by contributing to bringing beauty to people’s lives and making a difference that way. And, I enjoy the continuous innovation that is in the flooring industry.”
At AB Hardwood Flooring Supplies, Muntean today leads the team, works to get product lines into the company, acts as chief financial officer, attends trade shows, and networks. Her other business, Carmen’s Inc., distributes her product, Carmen’s One, a one-component moisture cure urethane adhesive. All of the marketing and packaging for Carmen’s Inc. products is bright pink. Muntean says it is a nod to encouraging more women to enter and feel welcome in the trade.
Last year, as Carmen’s Inc., Muntean’s team exhibited for the first time at the NWFA Wood Flooring Expo in Tampa, Florida. She says it was an unbelievable experience, and she encourages other women in wood flooring to network to help with their career growth and to take full advantage of the support they can get from organizations such as NWFA.
“Do it with passion and persistence, focus on what you want to achieve in the industry, and welcome challenges with a smile instead of being afraid of the challenges,” advises Muntean. “If you really want to achieve something, it’s all possible.”
On the Level Floor Inspections & Denver Hardwood/FDG
Lavinia Rathbun got her start by throwing boards and edging for the company she and her husband, Bryan, ran for 20 years. She is involved heavily in the wood flooring industry and has a variety of roles today.
As an owner and inspector for On the Level Floor Inspections, Rathbun provides flooring inspections and court-ready reports. She does consultations for homeowners to prevent flooring failures by guiding them through the flooring selection and installation process. Over at Denver Hardwood, she works with interior designers and architects to specify projects and guide and assist them through the selection process. She also provides continuing education for those in the building/construction industry and works on the marketing side. Rathbun has developed a precise path to success for her clients.
“I value the relationships that I have made throughout my career, and I love the problem-solving aspect of my jobs,” adds Rathbun.
Rathbun has pursued studies in interior design, marketing, business, and wood science. She is an NWFA Certified Wood Flooring Inspector, Certified Installation Professional, and Certified Sand & Finish Professional. Rathbun also has received an NWFA Craftsman degree. She is described as having excellent research skills and can help clients determine what wood flooring product is best suited for the end user. Her sleuthing skill during inspections is said to be unmatched.
Outside of work, Rathbun helps dogs in need. “I am a huge dog lover. I currently have five that all came from extreme abuse/neglect situations,” she explains. “I also make homemade dog food for dogs with special diet needs and donate it to seniors or other people who could not otherwise afford it.”
She finds Hypatia of Alexandria to be an inspiring figure because she was a trailblazer in mathematics and philosophy in an otherwise male-dominated culture. For women who may consider a career in wood flooring, Rathbun offers this advice: “As a woman working in a male-dominated industry, it can be challenging. Always keep in mind that your voice is important and should be heard.”
Valenti Flooring Inc.
Ronkonkoma, New York
If someone had told Julia Valenti 15 years ago that she would be running a hardwood flooring company in Long Island, she would not have believed them. Originally from Jackson, Mississippi, Valenti moved to New York City to attend Columbia University. After graduating with honors, her first job was as a U.S. Park Ranger at the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island, and then as a fully licensed tour guide in New York City.
Valenti was working as a successful real estate agent in Manhattan when she met her future husband, Phil Valenti, who owned a hardwood flooring company. Now, they own and operate Valenti Flooring together. In addition to handling day-to-day business, she meets with potential customers, manages projects, and runs the company’s website and social media efforts. The unique path she took into the industry is something that has served Valenti well, especially in the way she interacts with clients.
“It’s so fun transforming people’s homes. Floors make such a huge difference – there is no comparison to the warmth and beauty of an expertly crafted hardwood floor,” explains Valenti. “I find great joy in helping people with an investment that will increase the value and style level of their home. I have seen many failed floors and the stress/difficulty that can cause, so I’m always glad to provide our customers with quality craftsmanship and knowledge they can rely on.”
Valenti is inspired by her mother, whom she describes as a model of southern hospitality and grace, a mother of three, and before retiring, was a successful attorney while also volunteering in the community. She says her mother always has encouraged her to “just go for it” in all aspects of her life. To other women, Valenti would advise that wood flooring is a great trade to be a part of.
“You will learn so much as you go along, and I have learned a lot from my past mistakes,” shares Valenti. “Try to always look at the big picture instead of the profit margin of any individual job. This can be hard in the beginning, but a good reputation is the most important investment in your business. In the same breath, I would advise that maintaining a personal and professional balance in your life is critical. Don’t let anyone run you ragged – you can’t work 24/7!”