In another thread, "MrToolBelt" described how he built his business, in part, by catering to the local 'gay and lesbian' community. This got me thinking....
MTB was on to something ... he realised that there were folks who wanted electric work done ... by someone who didn't care if the guy wore a dress or the lady had a girlfriend.
That, in turn, suggests another common theme: Lady customers are simply sick of every tradesman thinking he's Romeo. The lady wants her breaker to stop tripping ... she didn't call you for your bright conversation. Yet, I see guys drift off track all the time.
There are markets out there. The trick is to identify them - then earn their acceptance.
If you're going to have several people on the payroll, you might be able to cater to several markets. For example, if you're lucky enough to have a lady sparky - you can use her to build up the 'female' customer base. Another guy with a knack for alarm work may get you an opening in that area. Etc.
I have a 'lady' apprentice. One,if not The, most reliable employee I have ever had. Honest, prompt, hardworking. Loyal. After going thru 40 men, she has shined above the rest. Can't bend 1" conduit with a hand bender though - but I've seen some mighty big bone piles from men that think they can too. Haven't considered the customer base angle but now you've got me thinking.
I hired a female helper years back that learned how to house wire faster than anybody else I ever taught. She also stood above the rest. But she left the company and the trade once the babies started. Not mine for the curious, she was quite well married and all proper.
It took me a long time to get the bad taste out of my mouth about females in the trades. The first one that I 'worked with' spent all of her time complaining that there weren't enough women hired by the company and literally NONE of her time actually doing any work. Since every team that we sent out had at least 2 people on it, it took quite a while to convince the front office that she wasn't doing anything but costing us time, money and slowing the crew down. Now that I've gotten over that; women can easily be the best workers for a job...unless they get sabotaged by being assigned to the wrong jobs.
While I might not make many friends with my stance, here's my two cent's worth on the subject:
I am a firm believer in a woman's ability to do a much better job with organizational skills. I re-hired a woman who was a former employee in a similar environment. She got the job managed very well and everyone got along just fine. She cracked the whip and her crew of twelve danced to her tune and never said a word except "yes, mam". She ran that project like a battleship; never any material or manpower shortages whatsoever. We even got the job completed a few days early.
The problem is that when the project was complete, I felt compelled to keep her employed and allowed her to work much smaller projects. These projects didn't allow the overhead of true project managers. She needed to be out there running cable with the crew. She did it and did it well, but she was still in charge.
What started to affect our progress was that she was a single mother and had constant issues with her son which were causing her to miss work. Not necessarily health-related issues, just simple "school project", "field trips" or "teacher conferences". This required that we afforded a huge amound of flexibility with her hours. We did the best that we could, but when we finally had to say "no, you can't leave in the middle of the day to attend your kid's school play", she got mad and quit. She then tried to sue us on the basis of sexual bias. She then tried to collect unemployment from the state, which was denied due to the fact that she quit.
I understand the stress of being a single parent, especially a single mother (I happily married one with two kids 20 years ago), but the fast-paced world of construction offers no sympathy for a call from the school nurse.
The women working for me within the office do an awesome job. I am able to offer them much more flexibility with their duties and short-notice time off. We just can't tell a project manager of a high-rise construction project that we can't attend a progress meeting due to a school play. There's really no offense intended, but the show cannot stop for another show without delay penalties.
It just couldn't work in my situation because my company's overhead wouldn't allow me to hire duplicate project managers to cover these situations. I am not going to throw single parent women under the bus here either. Many of the guys who ARE showing up to do the job are the fathers who created these single mothers. Just like with women's ability to manage projects well, they also have the abilty to run the responsibility of the household duties. Someone has to take care of the kids.
Now that I have cooled-off, maybe this will be a message to those of us who are contractors to understand that women 'can' do the job, they are just forced into not being able to 'do' the job. We see plenty of male people in office environments who are afforded the same time-off flexibility as women.
In all fairness to women in the field, the problems ya'll have had would apply to any single parent, male or female. And as far as "taking off to go see a play", while family is definitely important, if your priorities put the school play before the construction project, then you should realise you don't have any business being a project manager.
To get back more to the original post: It seems like any successful business ends up getting that way because they provide a service that trumps their competition. Be it catering to an un-tapped clientelle, or providing superior work, or lower prices.
But how often does someone find an untapped niche like the guy who built his business on the gay community? I think he just happened to be in the right place at the right time, and that's a pretty rare example. I haven't heard of many sparkies turning down work because of the customers sexuality or any other reasons. It's all the same green money at the end of the day.