The Ladies Are In the House
women Have made valuable contributions to the printing industry as far back as the Renaissance. Printing businesses were typically family affairs and all members participated. Men usually cast the type, which involved blacksmithing, and managed labor-intensive paper-making tasks, while women set type, folded paper and stitched bindings. When husbands died, wives continued running the shops and supporting their families with the permission of the industry-ruling guilds.
But, by the early 1800s, women in America and Europe began being shut out of the industry, as developing technology and increasing demand for books and newspapers moved printing from family shops into the hands of male-only unions.
Fast forward to the 1960s, and the women’s movement refocused attention on careers outside the home. While not too long ago, the overwhelming majority of attendees at industry trade shows were male, today, a fair percentage of women are among those gathering catalogs and samples and networking with peers.
Cleveland-based Proforma even conducted a Multi-Million Dollar Female Business Owners’ Interactive Panel at its 2005 national sales convention in Orlando, Fla., in recognition of the growing number of female franchise owners, including 106 sole owners and 57 in partnerships.
Here, three of the panel participants revisit some of the topics from the discussion panel:
• Linda Martinelli, franchise owner. She worked in the forms and office supply business for 27 years before frustrations with being unable to sell outside the box of her employers’ company led the single mother of three to launch Proforma Graphic PrintSource, Brea, Calif., in 1998. With six employees and $3 million in sales, Martinelli is now a single-source provider for all of her customers' needs.
• Vera Muzzillo, co-owner of Proforma. A commercial and investment banker with a finance degree from the University of Notre Dame, as well as a business consultant, she joined Cleveland-based Proforma in 2001. Now co-CEO with husband Greg, the mother of 10 children ranging in ages from 16 months to 23 years old, is responsible for the financial, operations and technology aspects of the $276 million company, and partners closely with Proforma’s 650 franchise owners.
• Kelly Ostos, franchise co-owner. She and her husband, Luis, had been providing business printing to corporate accounts for more than seven years when they established Proforma Diversified Corporate Solutions, Austin, Texas, in 1992 to grow their profits and become better suppliers to customers. Now, the parents of two teenage-children, they have five employees and more than $2 million in sales. The company serves various markets and recently has specialized in the diverse needs of advertising agencies.
Nature vs. Nurture
“Women have figured out that their qualities of multitasking, organization, good listening and a desire to please make them highly successful in the print world, where attention to the client is everything,” observed Martinelli. “Women are also very intuitive and tend to be more empathetic and non-confrontational—effective qualities in a sales professional.” Ostos agreed. “I think women are more balanced in this regard. They know when to be compassionate and when to be hard,” she said. “Men can be this way, too, but it’s something I find more common in women I know.” Said Muzzillo, “Women are very relationship-driven and solution-oriented. They tend to be creative and attentive to detail, which serves them well in the forms and promotional products industry.”
As far as disadvantages of being a woman in the industry, Muzzillo commented there are only the self-imposed limitations that people—male and female—place upon themselves. While she hasn’t personally experienced it, Ostos knows of women who faced challenges working in traditionally male-dominated industries until they were able to prove their competency. “Some women need to give themselves more credit for their talents and allow themselves to push hard to succeed,” added Martinelli. “I walked away from a significant income and knew that I had no choice but to succeed or I would let my kids down, which was not an option. I hit the pavement and never looked back.”
Family and Career
Over the years, all three contributors have witnessed the growing number of women in the industry. Creative expression is one factor attracting them. Ostos said she draws on her fine arts background when working with clients on layout, composition and color. “This is a very visual business and it’s important to be creative and open to ideas,” she said. “Women also enjoy the flexibility to balance family and career. I don’t have to be sitting at a desk all day to take care of clients.” Ostos noted that the juggling act isn’t getting any easier as her children get older. “Years ago, I heard a principal say that dealing with teenagers is like trying to nail Jello to a tree, and I remember thinking, ‘not my kids.’ Yeah, right!” (In the next breath, she mentioned that both children were coming into the office that day during their spring break to help pack a large promotional products order for a golf tournament.)
Martinelli added that a sales career allows a woman to earn a good living while balancing family needs. “Our organizational and multitasking skills are huge benefits in selling, but they can also allow us to take on too much as we try to do it all and cause burn out,” she said. “We need to remember to stop and take some time out for ourselves.”
Venus and Mars
Proforma still has significantly more male owners, but Muzzillo said the split in leads for prospective owners between men and women is roughly 50/50 now. “Plus, it’s an industry conducive to successful husband/wife partnerships. Both people can bring their particular strengths to the table and even work from home, making it easier to juggle family needs with calling on customers and growing a business,” she said.
It also allows for a complementary blend of leadership styles. “I tend to work in teams and seek input from experts before making a decision, which seems true of most women, while Greg is more definitive in his beliefs and a sole decision maker,” continued Muzzillo.
“Luis is a risk-taker and I’m more level headed, but I think that’s why he brings in the big fish,” said Ostos. “You need to have both types in the business world. I’ve learned over the years that I just need to trust, and that has worked for us. I’m also the one who can wear all of the hats—operations, financial, selling, ordering—and Luis likes to just go out and knock on doors and sell.”
Due to the high-success rating for the women’s panel, Muzzillo said it will be a recurring feature at Proforma’s national sales meetings. “There are a lot of people out there who want to understand women’s strengths and how to capitalize on them, whether they are buyers or sellers.”
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