Women create businesses in male-dominant industries

vbridges@newsoberver.comAugust 19, 2013 

  • By the numbers Highest concentrations of women-owned firms

    53 percent: health care and social assistance

    45 percent: educational services

    44 percent: administrative support and waste management services

    Lowest concentrations of women-owned firms

    7 percent: construction

    11 percent: transportation and warehousing

    20 percent: finance and insurance

    Source: American Express Open’s State of Women-Owned Business Report.

— A recent study indicates that women-owned businesses performed just as well as men-owned firms in recent years, but still face key obstacles in building their companies and expanding their economic impact.

Between 1997 and 2013, the number of women-owned firms increased by 59 percent in the U.S. to 8.6 million, which is more than one-and-a-half times the national average, according to American Express Open’s annual “State of Women-Owned Businesses Report.”

North Carolina’s 91 percent increase in women-owned firms over that same period put it third, behind Georgia and Texas, among states with the fastest growth in female entrepreneurship.

While women-owned firms account for 29 percent of all enterprises, they only employ 6 percent of the nation’s workforce and contribute less than 4 percent of business revenues, which is about the same share they contributed in 1997, according to the report.

Some women-owned businesses purposely remain small as their owners balance work and family, while others struggle to obtain financing, contacts or resources they need to move forward, said Briles Johnson, director of Women’s Business Center of North Carolina in Durham, which provides counseling and resources to about 300 clients a year.

However, Johnson said, she is seeing more women in the Triangle going into nontraditional industries – such as construction, engineering, life sciences and manufacturing – one way women-owned business could increase their economic impact. Shop Talk is highlighting three women who have built businesses in male-dominant industries.

Getting in the door

Mikki Paradis almost never gets turned down for meetings with potential clients.

“I know that I can get in the door because it is so shocking,” said Paradis, 31, president and CEO of PDI Drywall, a Raleigh company that provides drywall and painting services. “ ‘Oh yeah, here is this blonde girl, and she is going to tell me about drywall.’ And I do.”

Paradis started the company in 2005 after her father, who spent his career in the drywall industry, suggested that she help meet the then-drywall demand in the residential construction market.

“I just said, ‘Well, what else am I going to do?,’ ” Paradis said.

Paradis used $10,000 of an inheritance and took out a line of credit on her house to buy equipment, supplies and pay herself a salary. She built a relationship with a supplier, who then recommended PDI Drywall for two projects in 2006.

Paradis hired subcontractors to do the labor, but had them teach her how to cut, hang and finish drywall, which can weigh up to 105 pounds a sheet.

Around 2010, Paradis learned about federal certifications for women-owned and other businesses and took advantage of small-business resources at the Women’s Business Center.

“I took this six-day executive management course for contractors and designers and that kind of changed my whole world,” she said.

Paradis walked away with the confidence to ask connected colleagues for introductions to companies.

Last year, Paradis hired her first employee, so she could spend more time managing the business. Since 2010, the company’s revenue increased from $100,000 to just under $1 million.

Knowing what you are talking about is key to getting over the gender barrier, she said.

“There is obviously skepticism at first,” Paradis said, “but then once people realize that you know what you are talking about, I don’t think they have a problem working with a woman.”

‘A little tougher climb’

Carrie Peele started moonlighting as a chauffeur in 1990 after using three credit cards to buy a $15,000 limousine.

“I thought, ‘This would be a great weekend project,’ ” she said.

Nearly 23 years later, Peele’s multimillion dollar company, Blue Diamond Worldwide Transportation, owns a fleet of about 40 vehicles in the Triangle and provides a range of transportation services with affiliates across the globe.

Peele posted flyers, handed out brochures and started a relentless networking campaign.

“Anybody that I felt had a connection with limousines, I tried to meet,” she said.

In 2000, Peele moved Blue Diamond and its three vehicles from Laurinburg to Raleigh.

The company now employs an office staff of seven and works with about 40 independent contractor chauffeurs. Peele said her business has thrived because she lets her team handle daily operations while she focuses on networking.

As a female, Peele said she “had a little tougher climb,” but she used persistence and attention to detail to overcome any challenges.

Now, Peele, 55, said some affiliates prefer women-owned transportation companies.

“We are going to handle customer service better. We handle complaints better. We seem to have that nurturing gene in us,” she said. “We are just taking care of people.”

Taking a stand

When Kathryn Moore found out she was being paid half as much as her male colleagues at a Durham tattoo parlor, she quit her job and founded Dogstar Tattoo.

“It (made me mad), and I went and opened a shop,” Moore said.

In 1997, Moore started Dogstar Tattoo on Durham’s Ninth Street. She moved in 2010 to a larger spot in the Golden Belt complex.

Business has been steady, Moore said, but being a female employer has been a challenge.

“In terms of shenanigans, I think that people have at least tried to get away with more because I am a woman,” she said.

Moore stays in touch with other women tattoo artists and turns to her female professional clients for business advice.

Making it in a male-dominated industry takes extra work and perseverance, but it is possible, Moore said.

“It’s believing in yourself enough to stick with the task,” she said.

Bridges: 919-829-8917

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