Success In A Man’s World
In a business largely dominated by men, Donna Alm found a place of her own and dominated it.
I am a certified public accountant (CPA) with a business background; I found that in doing tax returns for small businesses, I would connect people whom I thought might work well together.
I found that I liked doing this, so when my tax clients needed items, I decided I could help them myself.
I started out with one small item, garbage bags, something most companies need; I found the source and started selling them myself.
I wanted a job that would be flexible and allow me to work out of my home so I could be home raising my kids.
B&L Distributors (B&L) is an industrial business supply company that has been in business since 1979; the first year, I sold $15,000 and now I am routinely doing seven figures in sales.
We can supply a business with everything for their own consumption: From janitorial supplies and equipment to office furniture and supplies.
Because of my background, we can also help them with analysis/accounting — we can help them find solutions.
For instance, if a customer needs a product customized just for them, we will, with a commitment from them, warehouse the product so that they can store it and use as needed.
Garbage bags, for example, are not as standard as one might think; some hold paper, some food … some need to be clear, some colored; based on the need, we can have them custom manufactured and stock products for clients.
In The Beginning
I started by doing all the selling; I had some small accounts from my tax business, and then started selling to government agencies because I knew I would get paid.
I targeted government agencies for 10 years; my first account, Chicago Transit Authority, is still my account today.
Then I set out to sell Chicago Public Schools.
This account took me two years to open and getting further business with the City of Chicago took me an additional three years.
Each government agency has its own process, and to do business with the government, you must realize this and do your homework.
We also sell to large retailers, drug stores, cosmetic stores, transit authorities and libraries.
I can take getting doors slammed in my face — I do not take it personally, and I advise others to take the same attitude.
There are lots of women-owned businesses, but I am not aware of anybody who does exactly what we do.
Being a certified women-owned business certainly helps get a foot in the door, but we bring more to the table.
We look at our clients’ long-term needs; we wish to increase the client’s profits, rather than add to their costs, and we try to find solutions for them — we will do their custom warehousing, and no order is too small.
Prospective clients check our references and find that our team of six women has a great reputation.
We are a modern day distributorship with an old fashion philosophy: The customer comes first, and the customer is always right … even when they’re wrong.
It makes us unique, because in this day of fast-paced technology, customer service has been lost.
In fact, the biggest change I have seen over the last thirty years is the loss of personal contact between customer/vendor.
I understand we live in a high technology age — we need information and we need it now — but I do feel the human element of a business relationship has suffered and become less valuable in business decisions.
I believe that as human beings we need to frequently interact — socially and professionally — to properly grow and thrive as individuals, communities and societies.
As a female in a male-dominated industry, I have learned that I need to be on my game 200 percent.
That is, always be prepared and proactive.
I have found most males to be quite receptive to me, however skeptical.
It is often only after we have been speaking in detail for at least 15 to 20 minutes, that he realizes I am qualified to do the job and can provide him with financial value and solutions to his problems.
I have found it most helpful to have a posture of respect with confidence, that is, when meeting with individuals in a male dominated industry, I feel it is important to listen attentively, evaluate, then participate in the discussion with facts and experience to support your statements.
Don’t have the attitude of being a “bull in a china shop.”
I feel it is most important to participate with content – not just words.
On the other hand, it is important to stand firm in a discussion if you are convinced your principles are being challenged.
It is in my opinion if you treat others as you would like to be treated – you can’t lose.