News / USA

Woman-Owned Hardware Business Thrives in US Capital Area

Woman-Owned Hardware Business Thrives in US Capital Areai
July 24, 2014 7:57 PM
More and more American women are starting businesses in fields that are traditionally associated with men. VOA’s Julie Taboh caught up with one of those women to find out why she entered -- and how she successfully competed in -- the hardware business.

Gina Schaefer never expected to get into the hardware business.  But when she and her husband bought an apartment that needed to be fixed up and there were no local hardware stores, she decided she’d open up one of her own.

“I always wanted to own my own business... so the opportunity just presented itself... and I said, ‘This is what I’m going to do,’” Schaefer said.

That was in 2003. Today she owns nine thriving hardware stores in and around the Washington D.C. area, serving a total of 1,200 customers a day.

'Where's the guy?'

But starting a business – especially in a field usually dominated by men – had its challenges.

“We laugh about it in hindsight, thinking about some of the guys that would come in that would want some product help and would ask: 'Is there a man that I can talk to?'  'Where’s the guy in plumbing?’ ‘Where’s the guy that runs the store?’” she recalled, adding “We also joked that if you go to a convention and you walk down a convention aisle, the vendors don’t talk to the women that are there.”

But over time, that gender bias dissipated.

“There are lots of folks who come in – male and female – who have never had to fix their toilet, for example, and they just want advice on how to do it," Schaefer said. "And if you can make them comfortable and be confident in that answer, they’re not worried about whether or not you’re a man or a woman."

She credits her success to a number of factors.

Each of Schaefer’s stores is affiliated with Ace Hardware, a 90-year-old, multi-national U.S. corporation that lends its name to independent hardware stores. Schaefer says that gives them credibility, and more.

“So they give us that buying power, and then they wrap a whole lot of services around it, whether it be training, store layouts, planning, financial organization; all types of programs that they wrap around the co-op.”

She also credits her employees for her business success. She said she pays above average wages and provides health insurance and other benefits.

“What we really decided is that we wanted to be a great place to work,” she said. “We wanted people to be able to raise their children by working here. We wanted them to enjoy coming to work because they knew that their employers really valued their skill set.”

People make the difference

Gina Schaefer talks with employee Brian Cole.Gina Schaefer talks with employee Brian Cole.
Gina Schaefer talks with employee Brian Cole.
Gina Schaefer talks with employee Brian Cole.

One of those valued employees is Christina Amaya who has been with the company for six years.

“I like it here," she said. "They respect you. They’re very considerate of everything, of you as a person, instead of you as just an employee, and I like that very much because it makes you feel important.”

And happy employees translate into satisfied customers, like Chris Bolanos who visits the store on a regular basis.

“I think I come back more for the customer service than anything else,” he said. “Products you can probably buy anywhere. But customer service you can’t replace.”

Schaefer hopes to open in more locations as the demand for urban hardware stores continues to grow.

You May Like

Photogallery Brussels Schools, Metro Reopen Under Heavy Guard

City remains under the highest threat alert level due to what authorities have described as a 'serious and imminent' threat of attack

Video Debt-ridden Refugees Await Onslaught of Lebanese Winter

Aid agencies are attempting to reduce potentially devastating consequences of freezing conditions and snowstorms that killed eight last year, including three Syrian refugees

UN Warns Air Pollution in Asia Pacific Has Rising Cost

Globally some seven million people a year die prematurely due to indoor and outdoor pollution with about 70 per cent of those deaths in region

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
After Paris Attacks, France Steps Up Fight Against ISi
November 24, 2015 3:04 AM
The November 13 Paris attacks have drawn increased attention to Syria, where many of the suspected perpetrators are said to have received training. French President Francois Hollande is working to build a broad international coalition to defeat Islamic State in Syria and in Iraq. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video After Paris Attacks, France Steps Up Fight Against IS

The November 13 Paris attacks have drawn increased attention to Syria, where many of the suspected perpetrators are said to have received training. French President Francois Hollande is working to build a broad international coalition to defeat Islamic State in Syria and in Iraq. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video US, Cambodian Navies Pair Up in Gulf of Thailand

The U.S. Navy has deployed one of its newest and most advanced ships to Cambodia to conduct joint training drills in the Gulf of Thailand. Riding hull-to-hull with Cambodian ships, the seamen of the USS Fort Worth are executing joint-training drills that will help build relations in Southeast Asia. David Boyle reports for VOA from Preah Sihanouk province.

Video Americans Sharpen Focus on Terrorism

Washington will be quieter than usual this week due to the Thanksgiving holiday, even as Americans across the nation register heightened concerns over possible terrorist threats. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports new polling data from ABC News and the Washington Post newspaper show an electorate increasingly focused on security issues after the deadly Islamic State attacks in Paris.

Video World Leaders Head to Paris for Climate Deal

Heads of state from nearly 80 countries are heading to Paris (November 30-December 11) to craft a global climate change agreement. The new accord will replace the Kyoto Protocol on Climate Change that expired in 2012.

Video Uncertain Future for Syrian Refugee Resettlement in Illinois

For the trickle of Syrian refugees finding new homes in the Midwest city of Chicago, the call to end resettlement in many U.S. states is adding another dimension to their long journey fleeing war. Organizations working to help them integrate say the backlash since the Paris attacks is both harming and helping their efforts to provide refugees sanctuary. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.

Video Creating Physical Virtual Reality With Tiny Drones

As many computer gamers know, virtual reality is a three-dimensional picture, projected inside special googles. It can fool your brain into thinking the computer world is the real world. But If you try to touch it, it’s not there. Now Canadian researchers say it may be possible to create a physical virtual reality using tiny drones. VOA’s George Putic reports.

Video New American Indian Village Takes Visitors Back in Time

There is precious little opportunity to experience what life was like in the United States before its colonization by European settlers. Now, an American Indian village built in a park outside Washington is taking visitors back in time to experience the way of life of America's indigenous people. Carol Pearson narrates this report from VOA's June Soh.

Video Even With Hometown Liberated, Yazidi Refugees Fear Return

While the northern Iraqi town of Sinjar has been liberated from Islamic State forces, it's not clear whether Yazidi residents who fled the militants will now return home. VOA’s Mahmut Bozarslan talked with Yazidis, a religious and ethnic minority, at a Turkish refugee camp in Diyarbakır. Robert Raffaele narrates his report.

Video Nairobi Tailors Make Pope Francis’ Vestments

To ensure the pope is properly attired during his visit, the Kenya Conference of Catholic Bishops asked the Dolly Craft Sewing Project in the Nairobi slum of Kangemi to make the pope's vestments, the garments he will wear during the various ceremonies. Jill Craig reports.

Video Cross-Border Terrorism Puts Europe’s Passport-Free Travel in Doubt

The fallout from the Islamic State terror attacks in Paris has put the future of Europe’s passport-free travel area, known as the "Schengen Zone," in doubt. Several of the perpetrators were known to intelligence agencies, but were not intercepted. Henry Ridgwell reports from London European ministers are to hold an emergency meeting Friday in Brussels to look at ways of improving security.

Video El Niño Brings Unexpected Fish From Mexico to California

Fish in an unexpected spectrum of sizes, shapes and colors are moving north, through El Niño's warm currents from Mexican waters to the Pacific Ocean off California’s coast. El Nino is the periodic warming of the eastern and central Pacific Ocean. As Faiza Elmasry tells us, this phenomenon thrills scientists and gives anglers the chance of a once-in-a-lifetime big catch. Faith Lapidus narrates.

Video Terrorism in Many Forms Continues to Plague Africa

While the world's attention is on Paris in the wake of Friday night's deadly attacks, terrorism from various sides remains a looming threat in many African countries. Nigerian cities have been targeted this week by attacks many believe were staged by the violent Islamist group Boko Haram. In addition, residents in many regions are forced to flee their homes as they are terrorized by armed militias. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video Study: Underage Marriage Rate Higher for Females in Pakistan

While attitudes about the societal role of females in Pakistan are evolving, research by child advocacy group Plan International suggests that underage marriage of girls remains a particularly big issue in the country. VOA’s Ayesha Tanzeem reports how such marriages leads to further social problems.

VOA Blogs