By Rachel Tacci*
“So, how’d you get into tools?” he always asks.
“They recruited me! I actually hadn’t ever used a drill before getting this job, isn’t that funny?” I say insensitively. Here is a guy who has worked in the trade for his whole entire life and who never got the opportunity to drink his fake stress away at college. Then I redirect the conversation back to the sale and pray he doesn’t hit on me. He probably smells like cigarettes.
I get the “How did I get into tools?” question several times a day. Being a marginally attractive female in a hardware store, it’s unavoidable. I don’t mind answering, and I do so honestly. In sales, though, it’s always better to be the question asker than the askee. The asker has the power, the asker controls the situation, and the asker typically gets what they want.
The company I work for is unique in a lot of ways: we have the largest store sales representative program in the industry, we invest heavily in research and development even during recessions, and we trust 22-year-olds with growing millions of dollars in business every single day. Sales representatives are not commissioned, which I actually prefer; I don’t have to sell the 90-year-old grandmother a $500 drill when a $30 one would work best for her (although I have sold professional tools to the elderly, but that’s beside the point).
Working in the power tool industry has changed my life in ways I could never imagine. The obvious way is that I have gained practical power tool knowledge that I never would have even tried to figure out before. Now I can build my own damn cornhole boards, and for a lot cheaper, too. I have also gained a deeper appreciation for the men and women who work hard, blue-collar jobs that are the true foundation of society. Remember to thank your electricians and plumbers, folks!
My experience as a power tool rep is fundamentally different from my teammates’ experience by the sheer fact that I am a woman and they are men. I say that without spite or malice; it is just a completely different experience.
This has been a really hard concept to explain to my male teammates, and I completely understand their trepidation. They work hard, too; why do I get to say I work harder? I do not (read: cannot) lift table saws down a ladder, and I do not sweat as much as them, so I must have it easier. Yeah, okay, sure, you win this one, you sweaty, power tool-wielding beasts.
That’s not what I mean, though. In my experience, every woman has to know more about tools and be able to communicate better with every type of person than any man.
Case in point: no one is going to immediately assume a man has no idea what he’s talking about without even speaking to him.
This has been proven to me over and over again. I have several real-life examples, but these are the most common:
- I’m wearing a shirt with my company’s logo on it, hosting a demonstration, using the tools, and cutting up wood or screwing boards together or something. While teaching a male store associate how to use the new tool, a customer will come up and ask him about the tool’s specifications, how he likes it, how long he’s used it, and how it compares to another brand’s version of the tool. I’m seen, not heard.
- I’m setting up an endcap (the product display at the end of store aisles). A stubborn piece of wood will not hammer into place to form a proper shelf. An older man will come up and either tells me I’m making too much noise or tells me I’m not using my hammer right. Bonus points if he takes the hammer out of my hand to try to hammer it in himself to no avail. Take that, King Arthur.
- I get hit on and politely decline the gent’s advances. I continue to get hit on, same gent, but with different tactics. As a salesperson, I admire his persistence, but as an uninterested recipient, I get f*cking annoyed. I refuse to use “I have a boyfriend” as an excuse because like any good feminist, “no” should be enough. But, alas, he retreats and buys a competitor’s crappy product. He comes back next week when it breaks. Lather, rinse, repeat.
- My personal favorite: An older gentleman approached me and said he was looking for a drill. After asking the right questions, positioning a solution, and flawlessly showing how it would be a great fit for him, he says, “That’s adorable, sweetheart, but you’re too young to know what you’re talking about.” Whammy.
It can be rough being a young woman working in the power tool industry. There is sexism and ageism, doubt around every endcap display, and the belief that because you cannot lift a cast iron table saw, you cannot sell said saw. There are also people whose lives you make easier, whose worries you calm, and whose confidence you build with the simplest projects. I have built, framed, wired, and plumbed part of a house to code, and I have shown a grandmother how to hang a picture of her grandkids. It’s all about perspective and helping people and competition and selling, but at the end of the day, it’s just a job. What I do is sell power tools, but who I am is a feisty, dog-and-coffee-and-wine lover who happens to work in this industry. And my dog-and-coffee-and-wine habit ain’t gonna support itself. #blessednotstressed
*Rachel is a marketing enthusiast who has worked in sales and marketing since 2013. She is a proud alumnus of James Madison University livin’ the dream in Fredericksburg, VA. She has a fur child named Belle who is much smarter than your honor student.
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