Whether they’re on the manufacturing line, installing floors, managing company finances, selling products, marketing, or the CEO, there are many women leading the way in the wood flooring industry. Hardwood Floors is celebrating these women and sharing some of their stories.
The timing is no coincidence, as March is Women’s History Month in the United States. Additionally, March 8 is International Women’s Day, an annual day across the world designed to celebrate the social, economic, cultural, and political achievements of women.
Here you will read about women who are part of this great industry and find out how their careers began, what they enjoy about working in wood flooring, and the ways they are contributing to improving the trade and their communities.
Edgewood, New Mexico
Spending more than 40 years in the wood flooring industry is an impressive run, to say the least. And, after all that time, Cheryl Anderson’s favorite part of the job is giving people what she calls “Wood 101” by educating them about the advantages of having a wood floor.
“It is not only the value of a wood floor, but the longevity, ease of cleaning, hypoallergenic properties, and quality of products available on the market today,” explains Anderson.
That passion was ingrained at an early age. Anderson’s grandfather started Kimbrough-Carpenter Inc. in 1938, and her mother worked there until her retirement. As the third-generation president of the company today, Anderson oversees scheduling, invoicing, payroll, and client relations, among other duties. For years, she did all of the estimating, and has attended many training and product information seminars, and NWFA conventions. She also holds a contractor’s license in the State of New Mexico.
In her community, Anderson volunteers and fosters for a canine rescue group. The organization does outreach across the state to provide doghouses, food, spay/neuter services, and education. Kimbrough-Carpenter Inc. also donates flooring products to Habitat
for Humanity and other non-profits.
Anderson has been most- inspired by her mother. “My father passed away when I was very young, and my mother taught me the meaning and rewards of hard work, responsibility, and having a good work ethic,” says Anderson. “She was the second generation with Kimbrough-Carpenter Inc., taking over the company from my grandfather, and she worked there until her retirement.”
For women in wood flooring or trades in general, Anderson believes the sky is the limit. “Although there are still more men than women working in the industry, there are more and more females joining the ranks every day,” she says. “Whether it’s bookkeeping, estimating, customer relations, sales, warehouse, installation, or sanding and finishing, we have had a woman work here in each of those roles. Everyone has a forte; find yours and run with it!”
Compliance Manager; Product Development – Hardwood
Swiff-Train Company (EarthWerks & Pinnacle Hardwood)
Brenda Cashion was taking a break from school and needed a job. When she interviewed with Triangle Pacific (Bruce Hardwood Floors), she wasn’t expecting to be hired. However, she spent the next 20 years in various roles with the company, eventually leading one of the divisions of Triangle Pacific’s hardwood group.
“I was very fortunate to have a mentor at Triangle Pacific that had confidence in a young woman’s ability to succeed in what was at the time pretty much a ‘man’s industry.’ Melvin Burkhardt took a chance on me, and promoted me to an outside sales position, then to regional field sales manager. From there, I developed and ran the buying group division for five years, and eventually took on the role of running the Premier division,” recalls Cashion.
After working for Pinnacle Interior Elements, Cashion joined Swiff-Train Company. Two years ago, her role as Product Development Manager of their hardwood division was expanded to incorporate product compliance. She works with the company’s factories in product development of all new hardwood introductions, as well as ongoing quality control programs.
Cashion serves on the NWFA Board of Directors and is proud to participate in the Gary Sinise Foundation’s R.I.S.E. program. She and her daughter serve their community by being involved with programs such as FoodShare, The Church on the Slab, and Buckner Children’s home.
She notes that the friendships and business relationships she has had throughout her career have been some of the most meaningful in her life. She also credits her mother, stepmother, and family friend, Jane Prejean, for playing an important role in shaping who she is today.
“I am so excited to see how many opportunities there are for women since I was first promoted into a management role in the flooring industry,” says Cashion. “The women that I have been privileged to work with and along side of over the course of my career are some of the most interesting, intelligent, and gifted people that I have had the pleasure of knowing, and I am very proud to be part of such an amazing group of individuals.”
Being born in Senegal and later growing up in France, Rose Fall says she always has been inspired by diversity and different cultures, and approaches flooring with a global lens. After completing a degree in graphic design, she began an internship at the San Francisco Design Center where she was introduced to the business of hardwood flooring. After working for hardwood flooring companies for many years, Fall was on maternity leave with her second child when she decided to make a dream of hers a reality.
In 2010, she opened Fall Design, a retailer offering custom lines she created as well as a library of offerings from a multitude of vendors and manufacturers. Her goal is to provide clients with the perfect solution, both aesthetically beautiful and family functional, because she believes floors are meant to be lived on.
“Choosing flooring is one of the most important decisions a homeowner gets to make, and it can be a lot of fun,” explains Fall. “Getting to be the one that helps them find that perfect flooring, and of course getting to see the big reveal at the end, is what it’s all about.”
Fall is an NWFA Certified Sales Advisor and participates in NWFA events, design showcases, and other shows such as Surfaces, Market, and Boutique Design. She participates in local charity events in the Bay Area like the Blackhawk Film Festival, and was a long-time member of the local Business Networking International chapter.
The greatest inspiration to Fall has been her mom, a single mother who raised her and her sisters while working. Women in the wood flooring industry also encouraged her early on to learn as much as possible about all of the different wood species.
“Women and mothers often carry the mental load of a family; we’re strategic go-getters. This carries over fantastically in business,” says Fall. “I don’t always start out knowing what I’m doing, but I figure it out, get to work, and get it done!”
Emily Morrow Finkell
CEO & Interior Designer
Emily Morrow Home
Growing up in Dalton, Georgia, (known as the “Carpet Capital of the World”), Emily Morrow Finkell was surrounded by flooring icons. Her introduction to the wood flooring industry came via interior design, when she would select the type of hardwood (it was all site-installed at the time), stain color, and gloss level of the urethane for her clients’ projects.
Finkell landed at Shaw Industries for 13 years, where she was director of color, style, and design. It was there that she took a deep dive into the looks, visuals, and techniques of hardwood flooring. She notes her career has had several chapters, from a stint in women’s apparel to years of commercial and residential interior design.
“Every day you are working somewhere, you are learning something valuable, even if it seems menial or unrelated at the time,” says Finkell. “My career path had taken turns, stops, and starts in areas that seemed disconnected to flooring or design, but as with anything, in hindsight, it all seems like a brilliant plan.”
Currently, Finkell is CEO and interior designer for her company, Emily Morrow Home. Finkell also shares her expertise during education sessions at NWFA events and is a design contributor for Hardwood Floors magazine. She serves as the fundraising chair for the Floor Covering Industry Foundation (FCIF), and recently pledged to start and fund the new EMF Grant Fund for the FCIF to support floor covering families facing a catastrophic medical condition.
Finkell’s advice is to stay confident by knowing your strengths and weaknesses. She believes getting honest feedback from colleagues, bosses, or direct reports can teach you a great deal about yourself.
“We are so lucky to be working in hardwood flooring,” she says. “There are some incredibly talented, kind, generous, and community-minded people in our industry who have worked hard, freely shared what they’ve learned to help others, and give back to the industry.”
It is quite poetic that Carol Goodwin was dressed as a tree when she met her husband, George, at a Halloween party. Not long after that, he took her on a walk at the Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park, which was adjoined to the sawmill in Florida. With that began what is now a nearly four-decade-long career in the industry. She says the health, environmental benefits and beauty of wood flooring blend perfectly with her love of nature.
However, for some of that time, Goodwin kept her day job. She worked as a hospital IT manager during the day and wrote software for Goodwin Company at night for many years before joining the business full-time. Now, she is president of the company, where she says the real joy is their team members and clients. Goodwin Company is well-known for its River-Recovered? and reclaimed luxury antique wood flooring.
“I always have been involved in environmental education and support,” explains Goodwin. “Sometimes, if I pick up the phone and speak with a client, they ask me if there is a salesperson they can speak with instead because I’m way too technical!”
Goodwin has been on boards for the Florida Green Building Coalition and U.S. Green Building Council, was chair of the NWFA Environmental Committee, a Vanguard Degree recipient, and the company has won an NWFA Wood Floor of the Year award.
Her advice is to attract potential clients to the benefits of real wood for health, the environment, beauty, and durability as much or more than promoting one’s own products.
“This is the only planet we have, so if women want to do something to ensure that their children and those who come after them have a healthy place to live, the wood floor industry is a great place to start,” adds Goodwin. “Wood is going to last a lifetime, unlike having to tear out and replace something, if you take care of it.”
Oshkosh Floor Designs
When Brenda Kubasta graduated from college with a degree in interior design/building, she says it was not easy for women to enter the building industry. So, she worked in advertising and marketing, where she learned a lot about branding while working with well-known food brands such as Anchor Foods, Blue Bunny, and Otis Spunkmeyer. Ultimately, going to work for Oshkosh Designs was the perfect fit because it allowed her to utilize her design, building, and marketing skills.
Kubasta purchased the company in 2011, and its designs are featured in homes and businesses around the world. As the owner, she is involved in all aspects of the business. While it used to be medallions, she says they are now known for parquet and their customization capabilities.
For years, Kubasta was active in the education aspects of NWFA, even writing some of the original curriculum and donating product for installation training sessions. She is a Winneconne Village Board Trustee and believes in giving back, whether it’s building a table for the local fire department or Toys for Tots. Oshkosh Designs also has contributed to the NWFA’s efforts with the Gary Sinise Foundation’s R.I.S.E. (Restoring Independence Supporting Empowerment) program, which provides specially adapted smart homes for severely wounded veterans and first responders.
The people of the wood flooring industry have been one of the main highlights for Kubasta throughout her career, who notes she has met some great friends and extremely talented individuals.
“I think every person we meet has some effect on who we become – and hopefully we are always growing and learning throughout life,” adds Kubasta.
“It has been a pleasure and so exciting to see so many new faces and women joining this industry. Keep pushing and learning.”
Customer Service Manager/NWFA Certified Wood Flooring Inspector
Qualiwood Enterprises Inc. dba ETM Distribution
Burnaby, British Columbia, Canada
From nuclear medicine to construction, Sharlene LaCroix found her way to the flooring industry. After joining ETM Distribution, a hardwood flooring distributor, she immersed herself in training opportunities through the NWFA and became an NWFA Certified Wood Flooring Inspector in 2006.
“I truly enjoy my work and always learning new things, as it keeps it interesting,” says LaCroix. “Whatever your background is, you can always bring your skills into this industry, be it creativity, organizational, a scientific mind, or just a hard worker.”
As a flooring inspector and the company’s customer service manager, LaCroix does inspections, handles complaints, supervises the distribution order desk staff, technical training of staff, and serves as the main link between the territory sales managers and management. She says the people she works with are one of the best parts of being in the industry, along with the technical side of her work. By doing inspections, LaCroix enjoys being able to find out what the real issue is in order to help make good decisions about how to fix it. She also volunteers her time to review inspection reports for NWFA.
One of the most inspiring women in LaCroix’s life has been her mother, who she says is a strong woman who worked full time, took care of their family, and still managed to keep a great garden. LaCroix notes that more and more women are getting involved in the wood flooring industry and that if you treat everyone with respect, it will be reciprocated.
“There are so many facets in the wood flooring business: manufacturing, distribution, sales, installations, inspections, and design,” she explains. “The only thing you should ensure is to learn the most you can and enjoy what you do. Also, make sure you cut out some time for your family and friends to have a balanced life.”
McMinnville Manufacturing LLC
A career in wood flooring began when Donna Millard took a clerical/ accounting role at A.J. King Lumber Company in Tennessee. With hard work and mentorship from John Austin (one of the founders of NWFA), she quickly moved into sales for the company. Currently, as sales manager for McMinnville Manufacturing, she also assists with many areas of the operation. McMinnville Manufacturing has been around for more than 100 years, and estimates that they rank among the top one-third in terms of hardwood flooring sales and production.
Millard has served on the NWFA Board of Directors and various other committees over the years. She also was a recipient of the NWFA Vanguard Industry Service Award, and she notes that McMinnville Manufacturing contributes to many local fundraising efforts in the community.
“I feel confident that wood flooring is the best floor covering available today for most every application,” Millard explains. “It is rewarding to know so many people make the decision to use wood in their homes.”
The product she sells is one of the top reasons she likes working in the industry. That, along with the people, of course. Several women with strong leadership roles in the industry have influenced her, including Jonny McSwain, Chris Coates, and Vicki Dryden, to name just a few.
“The wood flooring industry affords opportunities for women in all areas of the business. What once was a male-dominant industry is no longer the case,” advises Millard. “At the end of the day, we must enjoy what we do, and I can’t imagine doing anything else.”
General Manager Installations and Sales
Namba Services Inc.
Suzy Namba’s venture into the flooring world began when she was a flooring installer’s helper with her father. She moved on to installation and sales of other floor surfaces such as carpet and tile, eventually working into hardwood.
Today, she and her husband, Jon, have their own company. As the general manager of installations and sales for Namba Services Inc., Namba enjoys being involved in everything from estimates to sales, installation, and seeing the final product.
Along the way, her love of education has been a constant. Namba says she has taken courses on everything possible to keep their company up-to-date on every aspect of floor coverings. She has held certifications from NWFA and the International Certified Flooring Installers (CFI). She also has been an Institute of Inspection Cleaning and Restoration Certification (IICRC) inspector and taken the Flooring Consultants and Inspection Training (FCITS) Color Blending course. She regularly attends industry meetings, including the NWFA Expo.
“We love to get involved with volunteering and donating installation of flooring, and have donated product with our labor for those in need,” Namba notes of their community involvement.
Namba’s biggest inspiration has been her mother, who she says was the hardest worker she has ever known. She also is motivated by working daily with her daughter and daughter-in-law, as well as by the other women she has met through industry training events.
“In such a male-dominated industry, it sometimes feels as though we have to work harder to earn respect,” explains Namba. “I love and am amazed at what I have accomplished. Women in the wood flooring industry are awesome. We can do it all and more, so let’s keep up the great work!”
Merchandising Vice President, Wood
Floor & Decor
While her career began in marketing, Stacey Spilman found her passion in product and migrated into merchandising. She has held key positions for single-unit specialty retail stores all the way to large retailers such as The Home Depot. As Merchandising Vice President of Wood for Floor & Decor, Spilman leads a team in the development, procurement, and sales of products including solid prefinished wood, engineered prefinished wood, bamboo, cork, and unfinished wood.
When it comes to working in the wood flooring industry, Spilman likes the mix of longevity and trend.
“Wood flooring adds value to your home, and it can last a lifetime,” explains Spilman. “There are so many options, you can make a selection that reflects your personality and style, and trends really do change. They are more subtle in hardwood flooring than some other categories, but they do definitely change.”
As a company, the Floor & Decor Cares program gives team members the opportunity to participate in charitable community initiatives. Spilman has taken part in Habitat for Humanity builds through those efforts. For nearly 10 years, she has participated in Team in Training endurance events to raise funds for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society.
Many women have inspired Spilman throughout the years. She notes how seeing a woman in the CEO role at her first professional job was important because it set a standard and reinforced that those positions could be held by women. It still rings true today for Spilman, as she joined Floor & Decor under the leadership of Lisa Laube, who is now president of the company.
“Know your business and own your business,” advises Spilman. “Respect yourself and expect others to respect you. Treat others with respect. Be approachable and support those around you who take ownership of their careers. Find a mentor and be a mentor.”
Carving Out Their Own Path
An Ernst & Young (EY) survey of some of the world’s largest family businesses found that family businesses believe in the value of women in leadership overall, not only women family members. Further, 70 percent of family businesses surveyed were considering a woman for their next CEO.? More than 40 percent stated women family members had become more interested in joining the business during the past three years.?
Family businesses are at the heart of the wood flooring industry. Many women grow up learning the ropes of the business, later stepping into key roles for the company, all while representing the second, third, or fourth generation of their family to do so. Hardwood Floors asked some of these up-and-coming women about their experience working in the family business.
Founded in Brazil by Jose Antonio Baggio and his cousin, Kiko Uliana, Indusparquet celebrated 50 years of business in 2020. As the second generation involved with the business, Flavia Baggio oversees U.S. operations, where she is involved in strategy, sales, financials, and logistics. Baggio is on the NWFA International Committee, was on the 2019 Hardwood Floors “40 Under 40” list, has served on the NAFCD Board of Directors, and received a 2014 NAFCD “Leadership in Action” award. ?
Jessica Hickman Fresch
Marketing and Sales Director
Allegheny Mountain Hardwood Flooring
Jessica Hickman Fresch’s great-grandfather started the sawmill in the 1930s, making her part of the fourth generation of the company. Fresch’s responsibilities include trade shows, meeting with architects and designers, updating the company website, managing social media accounts, designing marketing materials, and cost analysis. She is on the NWFA Emerging Leaders Council, was on the 2017 Hardwood Floors “40 Under 40” list, serves on the Pennsylvania Forest Products Association Board of Directors, and is VP of the Pittsburgh East Rotary Club.
Graf Custom Hardwood
This family business has been around for more than 34 years, with three generations contributing. Laura Mullins handles marketing, promotions, inventory management, software, and travel for the company. Graf Custom Hardwood is a NOFMA certified manufacturer, and she serves on the NWFA Emerging Leaders Council.
A conversation about working in the family business
How were you introduced to the wood flooring industry?
Baggio: The wood flooring industry has been a part of my life since an early age. My sisters and I would help answer the phones or learn about the wood drying process during our school vacations and rotate through the company’s different departments to learn more about the business as a whole.
Fresch: Growing up, my family was only in the sawmill business. During my last couple of years in high school, my dad found a demand for rift and quartersawn hardwood flooring and decided to hold an education class. I met amazing installers from all across the country, many of whom we still work with on a regular basis.
Mullins: Since it was our family business, we all grew up working in the lumber mill or flooring plant.
Was the family business part of your original career plan?
Baggio: I always thought maybe I would join and contribute in the future, but never imagined it would have been so soon.
Fresch: Not at all. I studied international business and Spanish. I thought I’d be running a hostel and yoga retreat on the beach in Argentina when I was younger!
Mullins: I always thought one day I would join the family business.
I just was not sure when.
Why did you decide to join the family business?
Baggio: After college, I was working for a Swiss investment bank when I was invited to join the company to try to collect a debt owed by an American customer. I thought it was a great opportunity to learn about a different market and different culture, but never imagined I would actually stay and run the business. I thought I was going to resolve the debt issue and move back to Brazil.
Fresch: In 2012, I was thinking about going to grad school. The great recession had been really hard on our business, but we had survived. We had found a niche with our flooring without having much of a website and little to no marketing. My dad asked me to update the website and create a marketing plan, and I told him I’d give him three years.
Mullins: After being in television sales for six years, my father was looking to expand our business in the southern states where I resided.
In what ways have you carved out your own path in the family business?
Baggio: All of the family members involved in this business reside in Brazil, so I think that family and company executives viewed me differently when they saw my desire to accept a challenge and help us in the U.S. I have demonstrated my hard work and commitment to the business and my understanding of the American industry, which is so different than where we manufacture our products in Brazil.
Fresch: I think I’ve really put an importance on educating the consumer and getting our story told. We’ve been featured on various TV shows, including This Old House and HGTV’s Restored by the Fords.
Mullins: When I joined the company, marketing was not a forefront in the platform. I was able to build it from the ground up to create what it is today.
Has mentorship been important to your success?
Baggio: Definitely, and even more so because I joined the company when I was 22. I can say proudly I had mentorship from family and co-workers that contributed to improving as a professional.
Fresch: Yes. I’ve had some influential people within the industry and outside of the industry that I really have learned from a lot.
Mullins: Mentorship has been a huge part of our success. My father, Jim, has always given us the strength to accomplish what is needed without controlling every move. My brother, Andrew, sister, Sara, and I work
well together because we all do our own portions of the business.
In terms of encouraging more women to join the wood flooring industry, they note the importance of working hard and knowing all sides of the business. Baggio summed it up by saying while there may be less women than men in the industry, there is an opportunity to stand out and bring the value of an alternate perspective.
The NWFA offers a Women’s Industry Network Committee to unite women throughout the wood flooring supply chain and to identify ways to recruit, retain, and advance women in the industry. If you are interested in joining this group, contact Anita Howard at email@example.com.?