Savvy Dealers Sponsor Networking Events for Women

Meek's Gardnerville, Nv., location enables each attendee to complete a seasonal project, such as the wooden snowmen being constructed here.

Meek's Hardware & Lumber


Early in the morning on the second day of the recent International Builders’ Show in Las Vegas, attendees passing by the Weyerhaeuser booth couldn’t help but steal glances. After all, how often do you see a cluster of 75 women crowded into a 20x50 trade show booth?
The event, called “Energize & Engage,” was designed to bring women together for networking during the show. The attendees mingled, exchanged advice and business cards, sipped their favorite coffee drink, took part in a raffle, and received a parting gift. They also heard from Cathy Slater, senior vice president of Weyerhaeuser’s OSB, ELP, and distribution divisions, who inspired guests with her favorite formula for professional success: the three key elements of performance, image, and exposure, a.k.a. PIE (from Harvey Coleman’s book Empowering Yourself, The Organizational Game). 
Perhaps more important, it provided an opportunity for networking and camaraderie in an industry where women are few and far between. 
“The whole idea of it is to connect,” says Mollie Elkman, president of Group Two Advertising, a Philadelphia-based agency specializing in marketing for homebuilders that helped to organize and co-host the event with Weyerhaeuser. 
LBM dealers can replicate this approach by reaching out to professional and consumer female customers. On the consumer side, marketing to women makes particular sense, says Elkman, because 85% of all brand  purchases are made by women (a stat that jumps to 91% when it comes to new-home purchases).
Events for Pros
Like other marketing campaigns, a women’s event should offer something of value, whether in the form of knowledge or valuable networking they can’t find anywhere else. For professionals, that might mean a mixer event, a motivational speaker, a trends workshop, or perhaps an open house/facility tour accompanied by wine and cheese. 
“The most popular events are the ones that are either educational or are social and fun,” says Margie Miller, who holds a sales and business development position at Curtis Lumber’s Ballston Spa, N.Y., location. “A recent Lunch & Learn seminar with a dynamic, inspirational speaker/author was also a big draw for our local Professional Women in Building (PWB) membership.” 
Miller often attends events held by the PWB, as well as her local National Association of Women in Construction (NAWIC) council, and holds leadership positions at both associations. 
Curtis Lumber also has hosted NAWIC and PWB morning meetings, luncheons, and dinner meetings at its corporate office, some including tours of the store, door shop, and yard operations. “Having events at one of our locations helps to build rapport with the groups’ membership and gives us an opportunity to familiarize them with what we have to offer,” Miller notes. “Getting new people into our store is huge, so being a host is something we like to do as much as we can.”
When considering giveaways at professional events, Elkman cautions against items that scream “girl,” such as pink hard hats and lipstick. “They’re not just cliché, they’re offensive. It hurts women more than helps them,” she explains.
Events for Consumers
Those rules ease up a bit when targeting homeowners, but it’s important to weigh what works in your community. Several dealers have found success with ladies nights for consumers that combine how-to sessions on home maintenance, design, and remodeling, with refreshments and giveaways. 
For many dealers, the events are about empowering women to feel comfortable with home projects and power tools—and to know that the lumberyard is a resource to them.
Meek’s Lumber & Hardware hosts women’s events, and even kids’ events, at many of its locations. “It’s a great way to be a part of the community and to network,” notes Steve Walsh, director of sales and marketing. 
At the company’s Gardnerville, Nv., store, twice-yearly ladies’ nights attract upwards of 120 attendees. Each session centers around a project to complete—such as a birdhouse in spring or a 4’ wooden Christmas tree at the fall event—and also includes a dinner buffet and raffle. Along with community building, the events help familiarize customers with what the yard offers, says assistant manager Andy Prause. Many consumers may not realize the product breadth the location carries beyond just lumber, and the events offer a unique opportunity to elevate the comfort level of non-trade shoppers.
In Boise, Id., the effort for empowerment goes even further for Judy Ahrens, a Weyerhaeuser sales representative. Ahrens participates in and helps out with Women’s Build days for Canyon County Habitat for Humanity, with groups of 50 to 60 that include her dealer clients along with their employees and customers. Typically held once or twice per project, the events operate just like any other day on a Habitat site. 
“They learn how to frame walls, hang windows, lay shingles,” says Ahrens, who also sits on the Habitat chapter’s board of directors. “It gives women information on how to build houses, how to be self-sufficient, and how to contribute some of their time to help the local community.”
Personal Efforts
Along with opportunities to engage with customers, Miller notes the importance of female LBM executives to be involved themselves. “In order to really develop a rapport with people in any association, it is important to be a consistent attendee to the meetings or devote time to a committee or a leadership position,” she says. “The list of people in the building industry and the business community that I have become familiar with, or even good friends with, has grown considerably over the years. Those connections are extremely valuable to me personally and to my employer.”
For Weyerhaeuser and Group Two, sponsoring the IBS breakfast was, of course, a form of indirect marketing—providing an outlet for a core audience group while attaching their brands to an event that the attendees appreciated and enjoyed. But it was also personal. The event organizers were all women who themselves felt both the absence of networking opportunities and formal encouragement of growing the presence and leadership of women in building.  
“You can be a top performer and project the right image for the position you want, but if no one knows about you, it won’t matter,” Slater told attendees during IBS. “As women, we can help each other go further through networking, by putting that exposure piece of the puzzle into place for one another.”
– Amy Warren is marketing communications manager for Weyerhaeuser, Federal Way, Wa. She can be reached at (253) and