Ashley Martinand Katie Poehling first crossed paths at a University of Notre Dame college football game in 2004.
Martin was there with her father, Rex Martin, the owner of Elkhart, Ind.-based valves, fittings, PEX and industrial plastics manufacturer NIBCO. The company was holding a tailgate party for customers, which included LaCrosse, Wis.-based First Supply Co. Poehling is the daughter of First Supply President Joe Poehling and happened at the time to be a first-year law student at Notre Dame.
“It was one of those fun NIBCO tailgates,” Poehling recalls with a laugh.
A decade or so later, Martin and Poehling are back together, this time as the driving forces behind the formation of the new American Supply Association-sanctioned Women in Industry group. The new group offers networking, mentoring, education and recruitment opportunities for women in the PHCP-PVF industry.
“Our main goal is to gain, retain and promote women within this industry,” the 28-year-old Martin says. “This is a great platform to get women together and to make sure we are being as successful as we can be and that we are learning from each other. We want to get more women involved in the industry and show they can stay here and have very successful careers.”
Martin says the idea for the group’s formation was first hatched during a 2013 video filming session related to ASA’s new industry employment initiative (Supply House Times’ video studio in Deerfield, Ill., was used for filming).
“The day we were shooting the videos, Katie brought it up that she wanted to start this group and mentioned it to Mike (Adelizzi, ASA Executive Vice President),” she says. “I happened to hear about it and said I will do whatever I can to help with it. I thought it was a great idea.”
During her flight home from the recent combined Kitchen & Bath Industry Show/International Builders’ Show event in Las Vegas, the 32-year-old Poehling was drawn to a story in the outdoors-themed magazine “Outside” on the U.S. women’s ski-jumping team.
“It was an inspiring story that made me think about why we formed this group,” she explains. “In 2005, only 83 women competed in international ski-jumping worldwide. Today, that number is more than 300. Lindsey Van (U.S. women’s ski-jumping great) was the one who got it going and was the one fighting to get the sport in the Olympics. That was one woman standing up and growing the sport and saying, ‘We can do this!’ Having a women’s group demonstrates this industry is committed to welcoming women and committed to the growth of women.”
Martin and Poehling are two examples of how women can have successful careers in the PHCP/PVF industry.
Martin earned her undergraduate degree from Notre Dame and earned an MBA in strategy and operations management from Southern Methodist University in Dallas. She started her industry career at WinWholesale, first at a Noland Co. branch in Frederick, Md., and then at a Winnelson showroom in Denver.
She came back to NIBCO nearly two years ago and is now the company’s director of distribution and transportation. Martin oversees the company’s seven distribution centers, working with each location to ensure orders are properly filled and delivered on time.
“I’ve always known I wanted to work at NIBCO, but my parents had certain things they wanted me to accomplish before coming back. One was to work outside the business and the other was getting a college degree,” she says. “I worked at NIBCO a couple times in high school and remember it as always being a fun place with energetic people. The people drew me back. They are successful, hard-working people who also like to have fun.”
Poehling graduated from Arizona State with an accounting degree and then earned her law degree from Notre Dame. Like Martin, Poehling fulfilled a family requirement by working outside the business for five years. She worked at an international tax consulting firm in Milwaukee before being approached by the First Supply Board of Directors about coming to work for the company.
“I had a great job at the time, but it felt like the right opportunity to come into the business,” she says. “It’s exciting to be part of a company with a strong reputation in the industry. We have a hard-working team that I’m proud to come to work with every day.”
Since joining First Supply, Poehling helped get the Sheboygan, Wis., branch’s HVAC department up and running and recently went through the store-manager training program at the company’s Kohler Signature Store in Edina, Minn. She currently works in sales, splitting her time between Wisconsin and Minnesota locations.
Now, Martin and Poehling want to share their experiences with other women in the industry and those who may be looking at pursuing a PHCP/PVF career. Both feel that while there aren’t currently enough women in the industry, the numbers are on the rise.
“Most women currently in the industry probably have five stories about being the only woman in the room at a meeting,” Poehling says. “The biggest reason is tradition. This has traditionally been a male-dominated industry. On the flipside, there are more women than ever in the industry. Women are realizing they can find rewarding careers within the industry.”
Martin adds: “Plumbing is an attractive industry, but typically women don’t think about it. I feel over the past 10 years, more and more women are joining the industry. It’s a great thing and I think this group is in a position to keep that momentum going.”
Women in Industry held its first informal informational meeting at NetworkASA 2013 in Washington last October. Martin and Poehling, who also briefly spoke to ASA membership about the group during one of the NetworkASA luncheons, were thrilled with the turnout and the subsequent interest in the group.
“The response has been terrific,” Martin says. “We had about 20 women attend the initial meeting in Washington and that was with short notice. There are a lot of women who are interested in helping get the group going.”
Poehling adds she received many inquiries about the new group during her recent time at KBIS. Women in Industry is open to women who work for PHCP/PVF wholesalers, manufacturers or manufacturers rep firms.
“I’ve had so many requests for information,” she says. “There even has been talk within our own company of starting a small women’s group. The great thing about this is it has been a top-down effort starting with ASA and trickling down to the companies and their branches.”
InSinkErator Director of East Coast Sales Rebecca Falish wasted little time getting involved in the group. Falish has been in the industry nearly two decades, the last nine years with InSinkErator, a manufacturer of kitchen-garbage and food-waste disposers.
“From the moment I heard the group had formed, I wanted to be part of it,” she says. “It’s a void in our industry that finally has been addressed. I want to help any way I can. Hopefully in 20 years we’ll be saying ‘remember when’ about this group.”
Women in Industry’s first national meeting occurs April 23-24 at the Sheraton Chicago Hotel & Towers. A dinner and networking session on April 23 precede an action-packed day of guest speakers and panel discussions. Business and workplace motivational speaker Alexandra Levit will talk to the group, as will Debbie Lessin, who will deliver a work-life balance workshop. A panel of PHCP/PVF industry women will discuss many topics related to their careers.
“The panelists will talk about how their careers have progressed and we’ll open it up to members so they can ask the panel questions,” Martin explains.
Another key component of the group is spearheading future recruitment of women into the industry. Martin recently talked about NIBCO’s training program at a variety of major university job fairs.
“At the University of Illinois, three of the eight people we interviewed were women,” Martin says. “It’s important to get out and explain the benefits of this industry.”
Falish says there are plenty of opportunities for women in the industry and she hopes Women in Industry will be a driving force in the recruiting process of future talent.
“I would challenge you to find an industry so ripe with opportunity for women,” she says. “This is an industry that thrives on relationships and friendships. You will have high expectations and will work hard, but you will be embraced and rewarded tenfold. I would like to see it become a group that provides support and mentoring to women in the industry and get involved in assisting wholesalers and manufacturers in recruiting women in the industry.”
Dottie Ramsey, President and COO of Knoxville, Tenn.-based Modern Supply (2011 Supply House Times Supply House of the Year), sees potential similarities between Women in Industry and ASA’s successful Young Executives group. Ramsey is slated to be on the industry panel in Chicago in April.
“I would like to see Women in Industry become just like Young Executives and really do some good,” she says. “I was fortunate to have a great mentor (Modern Supply founder Mitchell Robinson) when I started. This group can help with mentoring and with telling everybody what this industry can do for women and what women can do for the industry. A lot of attention has been put on Ashley and Katie for putting this group together. I give them a lot of kudos. This group can do some good.”