The February March 2020 issue of Hardwood Floors celebrates the talented and dynamic women in our industry who have gone before us and worked amongst us. They smoothed the path, opened doors, and showed other women the way forward. I am so inspired by these women and would not be where I am today without their wisdom and guidance. Looking back on the lessons I’ve learned, and taking stock of how many influential and passionate women have inspired me never to stop growing, I hope what I do today will inspire others in the same way. While my career has gone through a series of changes, I know my journey would not have been possible with the support given to me by women in the industry.
THE VITAL ROLE OF WOMEN IN FLOOR COVERING
I’m fortunate to have a unique perspective on the power of women in flooring history, starting at a very early age. Growing up in Dalton, Georgia, I’ve witnessed generation after generation of women entrepreneurs acting as trailblazers and role models. If you’re familiar with the history of carpet, you’ll know it all started in Dalton along “Peacock Alley” with the crafting of hand-tufted chenille bedspreads, an industry started by extraordinary women like Dicksie Bradley Bandy.
During the great depression, Dicksie and her husband’s country store had given credit to their customers who had no money to pay for the goods they needed, only their possessions, what they could make or grow themselves. The country store eventually became indebted to their suppliers and although there was no way to recoup the money from their customers, Dicksie and her husband were determined to repay every dollar. Determined to find a way to raise the funds, she boarded a train to Washington, D.C., carrying a suitcase filled with hand-tufted chenille bedspreads to sell to large department stores. She came home with enough money to repay her suppliers AND with enough orders to give several families an income for their craft. That simple cottage industry grew and evolved to the point where Dalton is now known not just the “carpet capital” but as the “floor covering capital of the world”.
In this industry, not only are many of my peers women, but the majority of our customers are as well. We speak of “Ms. Consumer” as making more than 91% of the purchasing decisions for the home. With the purchasing power of women in the United States ranging from $5 trillion annually, we certainly MUST consider “her” in our business decisions, and we certainly MUST consult women on what goes into a new product launch.
WOMEN INSPIRING OTHERS
As I look back on my career path, I am grateful to the incredible women who so generously opened doors and encouraged me to go further and do do better. One such women was Evelyn Myers. In 2001 I had moved back to my hometown of Dalton from Carrollton, Georgia where I’d practiced interior design for 12 years. Although I was known in Dalton as Emily Kiker, I was not known by most as Emily Morrow, the interior designer. I did however know Mrs. Myers through my own mother and in some of our exchanges, she shared some of her upcoming “design-related” endeavors. It was that same year, 2001, Evelyn Myers invited me to be a guest designer in her “Judd House Designer Showhouse”, which would provide valuable networking opportunities with our local community, other designers and architects. If not for her invitation, I might not have had the change to meet the many contacts who later became my colleagues and bosses at Shaw Industries.
LESSONS IN RESILIENCE AND PAYING DUES
Looking back, some of my early jobs were excruciating. One example was working for a family-owned women’s wear manufacturer whose owners would inadvertently exhale their cigarette smoke into my eyes causing me to leave work many days in tears. At the same time, they also gave me the chance to work with fabrics, color-ways, and the people that would be selling the apparel across the U.S. That experience was priceless. Soon I found myself training sales persons about the designs and colors of the coming collections.
Along the way, I learned about perseverance, resilience and the importance of hard work – even when it it seemed at the time like I was being pulled in the wrong direction. Balancing competing priorities had been modeled by my mother, a fantastic entrepreneur in her own right. As I began my own journey into motherhood as an interior designer, I carried with me the power of the examples and lessons that only magnified in importance over time.
While I loved the work I was doing, after the arrival of my firstborn William, I was inspired to take a huge leap. The result was that my own interior design business was born. It was the culmination of all that I had learned and experienced up until then – and just when I thought I had it all “balanced” along comes Mary. Juggling motherhood to two small children with an interior design business taught me how to put first things first. My first design business operated in the West Georgia area for nearly 12 years, doing both commercial and residential design projects.
Those years allowed me the experience of putting family first. It’s a lesson I’ve tried to live by since. I learned to be a mother first and foremost, and I had the flexibility and freedom to schedule design appointments around the schedules of babysitters, mothers’ mornings out, and my children’s own evolving schedules.
ANSWERING THE OPPORTUNITY
The women in my life have taught me so many powerful lessons that I try to pass on to those who I have had the good fortune of knowing. One of the most important things I was taught is that like doors, opportunities can open and close quickly. Recognizing the opportunities requires a certain kind of “sixth sense” to know when to take them. Unfortunately, too often opportunities can seem daunting and present themselves as “risk”.
This lesson became a huge blessing as I faced a professional crossroads in 2002. Having just become a single mother, and after operating my own interior design business for many years, I was encouraged to move into the corporate world to provide the benefits my children and I would need. While there was some risk involved (would I be able to work the corporate hours? What if my kids needed me? How could I juggle my children’s activities with my travel schedule?…and much more) it was a leap that I was well-prepared to take for my family.
So when asked if I could direct a large group of corporate professionals and juggle continually changing business priorities, I actually laughed out loud. That had become second nature to me. For years, at any given time, I had teams of painters, carpenters, flooring installers or other tradespeople going in and out of the businesses and homes of my clients, on time and budget, all while being a mother of two. Speaking of juggling priorities, one very important project, a medical arts building was being installed the very day I was in labor with the birth of my daughter. Needless to say, both “projects” demanded my attention that day but in the end, my family was only thing that truly mattered.
THE IMPORTANCE OF FAMILY
I hope that my experience demonstrates to other women – and men – in the industry that you can prioritize family and still have an enriching and successful career. That is perhaps the most important lesson of all, and one I hope to be remembered for, the same way I remember all of the incredible wisdom and support that was shared with me.
I encourage all of us to prioritize family and to allow everything else to fall into place. Following my own advice, I opted to leave a life of constant travel while working for a massive company, to instead revel in family. I chose to instead take a moment to savor my time being a new wife, a mother, and an empty nester.
When the time was right, I again took another risk, following my instinct, and formed a new enterprise, one that would eventually become relevant to husband’s own company. Who encouraged me to take that step? It was the same woman who inspired me nearly thirty years prior, my mother.