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Female Retailers Talk Business and International Women’s Day

Two retailers who own stores in the Washington, D.C., area shared some thoughts with Hardware Retailing about International Women’s Day, which is March 8, and what it’s like to be female retailers in the independent home improvement industry. The retailers are Gina Schaefer, who owns 11 stores, and Annie Stom, who owns two Annie’s Ace Hardware stores.

Why is it important to celebrate women in business and International Women’s Day in general?

Gina Schaefer: There are so many glass ceilings still to shatter, and parts of the globe where much progress needs to be made for women.  I believe it is up to all of us to celebrate International Women’s Day to continue to give a voice and strength, particularly to the underprivileged women and girls who have no voice.

 Annie Stom: Although I own and operate businesses in an industry that is traditionally thought of as male, there isn’t a great deal of difference in running this business compared to one in an industry that is somewhat more in line with traditional expectations of women, such as a clothing store or a hair salon.  And perhaps that is the single biggest reason to celebrate women in business, and that is to knock down assumptions about where and in what industries women can be successful.  Celebrating International Women’s Day by highlighting the amazing number of women in a wide variety of industries and leadership positions highlights what is possible, and allows young girls and women to follow whatever dreams and pathways that call to them. 

What guidance do you have for women just starting off in their careers?

Schaefer: Embrace every job. Know that even a role you may not like or that you may fail at is teaching you something. Start networking early and keep it up.

Stom: By starting in what you love as soon as you can, you will have the energy to accomplish and learn what you need to be successful.  And it probably goes without saying, success isn’t necessarily measured in how much you make but really in how connected you are to your family, friends, and community and that you love what you do and look forward to it almost every day. When you’re young, you get to try things out and make mistakes. Better to try and fail than to wonder, “What if?” 

What advice would you give your 25-year old-self?

Schaefer: I wish I had started my business sooner, but the timing was so perfect for that first store location and the year we opened that in hindsight it wouldn’t be right to say that. When I was 25 I took a year off to live in Brazil. I wouldn’t so much as give that gal advice as much as tell her, “Good for you!” It showed a passion to learn and a desire to be different.  What I probably didn’t realize until much later was the impact that trip had in opening my eyes to the world and its issues more than any other event in my life had. I guess my advice would be, “Never be afraid to try new things.”

 Stom: I would have told myself to get into the hardware industry sooner.  As a woman coming of age in the 1970s, I really bought into the notion that I had to be a professional working in an office and sporting a pantsuit.  While I learned a lot from various jobs that inform my actions today, I should have listened to my inner 4 year old who loved to tinker with an erector set and Lincoln logs.

About Kate Klein

Kate is profiles editor for Hardware Retailing magazine. She reports on news and industry events and writes about retailers' unique contributions to the independent home improvement sector. She graduated from Cedarville University in her home state of Ohio, where she earned a bachelor's degree in English and minored in creative writing. She loves being an aunt, teaching writing to kids, running, reading, farm living and, as Walt Whitman says, traveling the open road, “healthy, free, the world before me.”

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