Danielle Laird, national accounts manager for Bradford White, absolutely loves the industry and the company she works for. After developing relationships and exposure to the manufacturer and wholesale channels through her time with Affiliated Distributors (AD) and US Supply, Laird began her journey with Bradford White as marketing manager in 2016.
Through her four and a half years with the manufacturer, Laird has held three roles — so far. After three years as marketing manager, Laird became the first woman within the company to land an outside sales role in 2019. Not too long after, in December 2020, she was promoted to national accounts manager. Laird says she is so thankful to have found Bradford White, and the company does a great job of attracting both women and the next generation.
“Bradford White is incredibly supportive of and active in industry organizations,” she says. “When I first started with the company, they set me up with a mentor — Michelle Lewnes-Dadas of rep agency Preferred Sales — and she’s become one of my best friends. Bradford White is really great about setting up these mentorships and that’s really beneficial for people coming into the industry.”
Laird also notes that Louise Prader, senior director, product management at Bradford White organizes lunches and meetings for women within the company, helping connect and support women in this predominantly male industry. While these relationships have been extremely important to her growth and professional development, Laird recognizes there have been numerous male mentors who have encouraged and guided her on this path.
“Bradford White has supported me and given me the tools to become a trailblazer, allowing me to pave my own way,” Laird says. “They’ve allowed me to make a name for myself as a part of Bradford White, and I’m incredibly grateful for that.”
Commitment to wholesale-distribution
As national accounts manager, Laird works closely with key national wholesale customers to implement a national sales strategy. Laird also works diligently with contractor buying groups nation-wide.
“We’re committed to wholesale-distribution and empowering our contractors to buy that way,” she explains. “My goal is to continue strengthening the value of the wholesale channel; that’s the core of who we are at Bradford White.”
Bradford White water heaters and boilers are manufactured in one of the company’s three U.S. manufacturing plants: Middleville, Michigan, Rochester, New Hampshire or Niles, Michigan.
Laird notes that no matter how many times she’s given a plant tour, it still humbles her to see the process from the point of purchasing steel to water heaters being boxed and readied for distribution to Bradford White customers around the world.
Freshly painted water heater jackets at the ready to cover tanks and create finished product.
“Seeing this process gives me such a sense of pride knowing I work for a company that’s American-based and the people building our products truly care. My favorite part of the plant tour is talking to the people in our plant, not necessary about manufacturing, but about their families and how their days are going,” she says.
As the supply chain continues to face disruption and challenges, Laird notes that communication between distributors and manufacturers is key.
“Things have happened this past year that none of us can change; and we have to work together to manage these difficult situations,” she says. As Bob Carnevale used to say, “Teamwork makes the dreamwork.”
“It’s not just Bradford White working with a distributor — it’s Bradford White working together as a team, communicating and always being aware of what’s going on in the industry. That’s how we work together to get through unprecedented times,” Laird adds.
Manufacturers’ reps have also faced a set of challenges over the past year, having to adjust business and sales practices. Laird says these changes have been a true growth opportunity for the industry.
“Reps have done a tremendous job stepping up with YouTube channels, virtual training, podcasts and other strategies to remain in front of their wholesale and contractor customers,” she says. “Additionally, our contractor buying groups lined up monthly catch-up meetings this year, which has been extremely beneficial as market changes occur rapidly. All of the challenges we’ve faced are forcing the industry to stay on top of things and dig deeper into what we’re doing and why we do it.”
ASA’s Women in Industry event, ELEVATE, in Savannah, Georgia. Left to Right: Louise Prader (Bradford White), Emily DeCosta (AD), Stephanie McAllister (AD), Laura Mustee Hendricks (Mustee & Son’s), Michelle Lewnes-Dadas (Preferred Sales), Tobi Gibson (TM Sales) and Danielle Laird (Bradford White).
Keep growing, keep learning
So, what’s driven Laird to grow quickly and effectively throughout the industry and within Bradford White? Laird says patience, coupled with drive, is key.
“I’m a competitive person and am always trying to do better,” she says. “But my peers both inside and outside Bradford White have always told me to be patient and enjoy the ride. Work hard, always keep learning, keep listening and you’ll continue to grow.”
In an industry that is always busy and constantly changing, Laird notes there is often a feeling of needing to prove yourself. “As a woman in this industry, I’ve struggled with feeling like I constantly have to prove myself,” she says. “Now on my third role within the company, I can look back and can say, 'Wow, I have established myself within this company and the industry.’”
As the PHCP industry is heavily relationship-based, Laird explains networking and involvement are vital to success.
“One of my strengths is networking; I really enjoy it,” she says. “I’m so lucky that Bradford White invests in industry involvement so I can build these connections and relationships.”
Laird is actively involved in both ASA’s Emerging Leaders’ and Women in Industry groups. She notes groups like these have given her great allies and friends within the industry.
“Once you build these relationships, you’re able to just pick up the phone and bounce ideas off of people,” she says. “One of the greatest things about our industry is how you become true friends with people; you make genuine connections with people who actually care.”
Laird says ASA’s Women in Industry arm is the single best group in the industry. “This group means so much to me,” she says. “It’s empowered me to be transparent and share my experiences and challenges, and helped me work through them, allowing me to grow within the industry.”
She says Women in Industry has helped her establish a core group of peers and friends, and ultimately, has had a tremendous impact on both her career and personal life. “I really encourage companies to send their female employees who are looking to grow in this industry to the annual ELEVATE conference.”
As a woman holding a leadership role, Laird offers great advice to both women and men in the industry who are seeking leadership opportunities.
“Don’t say ‘no’ to opportunities,” she says. “Be confident in your abilities and always be willing to put the work in.”
Oftentimes, women seek and fill marketing and human resource roles within our industry, instead of executive leadership and sales positions. Laird urges her peers to remember there are ample opportunities for women in all facets of the industry, although marketing is where she got her start.
“I started out in marketing and the skills I learned there are what helped me grow to where I am now,” she explains. “If a woman wants to make a change in our industry, they have to be tenacious. Learn to meet new people. Be kind, honest and surround yourself with good people who have faith and trust in you.”
When it comes to attracting and retaining people into the industry, Laird again notes it’s important to emphasize the endless opportunities available.
“We joke about how everyone needs hot water, but it goes far beyond that,” she says. “Our jobs are never done; there’s manufacturing, selling, marketing, attracting the next generation, reaching out to trade schools, etc. The industry is always changing and there’s always more to learn. We sell water heaters and boilers, but at the end of the day this industry is so much bigger than what you sell.”