Business

Women in Business Business owners fight the good fight in economic crisis

Louise Alexander-Way bought RV & Marine Supply at State Avenue back in 1991 and in those 17 years, she has never seen so tough an economy.

Summer and sun is when business booms, so as the frost and cloud cover emerge, things slow down. But Alexander-Way said business is down about 30 percent from what it was the same time last year.

“It’s the economy and the high gas prices that were going for a while,” she said, her voice pleasant and upbeat. “And then we have the Boeing strike right now so people are having layoffs.”

While gas prices have eased somewhat, lately hovering around $3.17 a gallon after hitting the $4 mark over the summer, Alexander-Way said any customer rebound hasn’t happened yet.

In previous years, when business was down, randomly or predictably, Alexander-Way countered by upping her advertising through various media outlets and maybe do a little more networking. “But now I just don’t have the funds for that,” she said.

She is handing out flyers at restaurants and Laundromats, as she normally does, and has gotten some response. She said those are two places RVers go. Beyond the flyers, it’s all word of mouth.

Alexander-Way has faced challenges in the past and overcame them. In particular, the road widening of State Avenue some years back. That city action inadvertently put some businesses in financial straits, including hers. Some businesses wound up going belly up.

And then there were times, when she first bought the business, that the tough times had nothing to do with the economy but her being a woman. In 1991, male customers, and even industry peers, were a bit surprised to see a woman running the show.

“I was a woman in business and of course that shocked the men at first. They thought, ‘What do you know about the business?,’” she said. She also remembers a trade meeting where all the other attendees were men. They looked at her funny, a look she’d grown accustomed to. She looked at them and said, “Well, you’ll find there will be more women in this trade eventually.”

She has since won them over. When customers come, she is the point person answering their questions. If she doesn’t know the answer, she’ll use an industry resource. And using this insight and her down-home charm, she continues to guide her company carefully into 2009.

Alexander-Way, a former licensed practical nurse for 20 years, hopes to retire from RV& Marine Supply about four years. He plans to just take it easy and do some traveling — by RV of course.

Things aren’t going so well on two fronts for one of Alexander-Way’s neighbors, Amy Joshi, who owns Marysville Tobacco Bar with her husband, Paul.

Recent problems with ligaments in her knee have disabled Amy Joshi. The situation required surgery. But uninsured, there would be no way she could pay the projected $20,000 in medical bills had doctors in Washington been given the job.

So instead, she bought a $1,500 ticket to New Delhi, India to have the surgery performed there for free. The couple are natives of India and have relatives there. Amy Joshi is with them right now recouping from the surgery.

Meanwhile, back in Marysville, Paul Joshi is manning the store along State Avenue and business is bad.

“Business is really slow and it’s not going well,” he said. “There are fewer people buying cigarettes, people are cutting down. There’s a money shortage and everyone has less money.” People are hesitating before plunking down $5.41 for a pack of Marlboro Lights. “I don’t think we can do this for very much longer. We might close down soon.”

When Amy Joshi comes back, she and Paul Joshi will do some soul searching to see if they can keep the store open or not. They have owned the store for five years. He said they’ll try to stay open through the end of the year. If things don’t pick up soon, then it’s over.

Paul Joshi used to do assembly work in Everett and he said, should the store close, he’ll start looking for a job.

But it’s not all hard times out there for women who own businesses. Nancy Wolff, the longtime owner of Shaklee Products home business is doing quite well — in spite of the Boeing strike and the flagging economy. She wasn’t sure why her business wasn’t affected, but thought it might have something to do with her selling highly consumable products. People need her homecare, health and nutrition products, they’re not bought on whims.

“I haven’t seen a downside and people are still ordering pretty much the same,” she said. Customers are spending between $100 and $150 upon each visit. The nutrition products, such as black cohosh, chamomile digestive enzymes or Echinacea continue to be top sellers.

Marysville and Arlington being Boeing bedroom communities, it’s natural that Shaklee would have customers who are Boeing employees. And the strike is a topic of conversation with them when they’re buying product. But she said, customer health is always topic No. 1.

But to that end, she does send out a newsletter to offer $5 discounts on products and that has been popular. Shaklee, a Christian, said she gives discounts when families are in need. She’s a fan of super-salesman Zig Ziglar and has a quote of his hanging on her door: “You can have anything in the world you want if you will help enough other people get what they want.” And when families are in need, she does mention that they too could be an independent Shaklee franchisee.

SHORT TAKES

Gender roles has ‘substantial effects’ on pay equity study shows.

Men who believe women should emphasize family over career earn more than men who don’t, at least according to a 25-year study. At the same time, researchers concluded that women striving for a role in the workplace equal to men’s have not made much more than women who have a less ambitious career outlook.

As part of the research, conducted by Timothy Judge and Beth Livingston of the University of Florida and reported in the Journal of Applied Psychology, nearly 13,000 people were interviewed four times between 1979 and 2004.

In each of the interviews, participants were asked about their views on gender roles in the workplace and at home.

They answered questions on whether they believe a woman’s place is in the home, whether a mother working leads to more juvenile delinquency, whether a man should be the achiever outside the home and whether women should take care of the home and family.

Participants also were asked about their worklife and income, religious upbringing, education and marital status.

What did Judge and Livingston learn?

That men who believe women should focus on their life at home rather than a career path earned an average of $8,500 more a year than those who didn’t.

Among women, those who thought a man should be more focused on career progress made an average of $1,500 less a year than the women with more egalitarian views.

“These results show that changes in gender role attitudes have substantial effects on pay equity,” Judge said.

More women in

technology

A 2007 report by the Anita Borg Institute for Women and Technology estimated tech-related industries would add about 1.5 million jobs between 2002 and 2012.

Women represent about 25 percent of entry-level technology workers, according to the Borg Institute study. That number drops precipitously at the top of the corporate ladder: About 3 percent of technology companies are headed by women, and about 5 percent have women on their executive teams.

But technology is a fast-shifting environment, and local companies are beefing up programs to add more women to the tech field — a move many say is needed, because no industry can afford to ignore 50 percent of the work force.

Fortune Magazine has come out with its list of the most powerful women in business.

The top 10 are:

1. Indra Nooyi — CEO/Chairperson of Pepsico.

2. Irene Rosenfeld — CEO/Chairperson - Kraft Foods.

3. Pat Woertz — CEO/Chairperson - Archer Daniels Midland.

4. Anne Mulcahy — CEO/Chairperson - Xerox.

5. Angela Braly — CEO/President - Wellpoint.

6. Andrea Jung — CEO/Chairperson - Avon Products.

7. Susan Arnold — President/Global Business Units - Proctor & Gamble.

8. Oprah Winfrey — Chairperson - HARPO.

9. Brenda Barnes — CEO/Chairperson - Sara Lee.

10. Ursula Burns — President - Xerox.

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