Foam Comfort Owner Reflects on Being Female in Predominantly Male Industry
Jennifer Leavitt co-founded Canadian spray foam company, Comfort Foam with her husband in 2006
ONTARIO, CANADA - March 7, 2011 - Foam Comfort Inc. is a Canadian spray foam contractor headquartered in Toronto with additional office locations in Ottawa, ON and Barrie, ON. The company was founded in 2006 by Jennifer Leavitt and her husband Daniel.
“We had been renovating old buildings in Toronto when a building inspector suggested spray foam insulation for a project. We liked the product so much that we began researching market potential and planning to start our own company.”
Jennifer points out that they bring a unique approach to the way they run their company. “My background was in computers and my husband’s was in marketing so we were able to bring white collar skills to a traditionally blue collar trade. We noticed that many of those skills were weak in the trades in general. For example, I used to work in the financial services sector where a big part of my job was client service and scheduling appointments. I learned that making, confirming and following up on appointments would lead to sales and so I make a point of ensuring that my staff follows these basic rules: every phone call is important and is answered by a live person, every voicemail message left after hours is returned first thing in the morning and every estimate is followed up by a phone call. These guidelines ensure that our response time is very fast.”
“Additionally, we use technology extensively to keep all of our employees connected. We invested up-front in systems that would run our business efficiently and allow for growth. We can often receive a phone call for an estimate, schedule an on-site consultation, provide a written quote and complete the work all in less than 48 hours, often before our competition has yet to even return the phone call! We understand that in this day and age you need to respond quickly. When people want something, they don’t want to wait. By having a well-staffed office, we are able to go above and beyond for our customers by assisting with information about energy audits and grants, providing product information to building inspectors and arranging for complimentary services such as engineers or general contractors. We train each of our employees as an ambassador of our company, so no matter who a customer speaks to, they are receiving the best possible service.”
Although Jennifer has had to face some challenges as a female in a predominantly male industry, she takes it all in stride. “Being a female in this industry means that 90% of the phone calls coming in will ask me ‘Is there someone there I can talk to about insulation?’ However, when I am able to answer their questions and often educate them about insulation, they are pleasantly surprised. Because my role is to run the office, I am the most readily available and as an owner, I am probably the most knowledgeable about all aspects of the business. I think businesses in the trades often discount their female employees and do not spend the time educating/training them about the business. I like to think that my receptionist and administrative staff can handle most queries and I try to give them the tools and opportunities to learn; after all they are on the front lines and make the first impression. Occasionally I deal with customers who would prefer to speak ‘with the boss’ in which case I refer them to my partner. On the other hand, when tough negotiation is required, my partner will often use that same line to hand the ball to me!”
Overall, Jennifer believes that being a female in her role is advantageous. “I spend a portion of my week going after new business and I believe that women are sometimes more skilled at making contact and asking the right questions to get the dialogue started. I think homeowners tend to feel that women are more honest or maybe it is because their experience has largely been with male contractors and they may not always have been good experiences. I have also found that the decision makers are increasingly female and I think that sometimes women are more comfortable asking questions to another woman as they will not feel intimidated as they may by a male.”
Leavitt recently hired a female regional manager, Jennifer Smith, who is also a licensed sprayer. “I truly believe that the strongest companies are those that use the talents of both sexes. I don’t understand why more women don’t get into the trades as the opportunities are endless. We deal with a few female owned contracting companies and they do very well. Female heads of households are on the rise and companies that recognize this and can service this market well will excel.”
Smith entered the spray foam industry about 13 years ago. She states, “I started in the office, and was an office manager for about three years. Sitting still all day didn't suit my temperament so I became an installer for the same company.”
“I expected when I started installing to have to deal with prejudice, so I worked very hard, and took the initiative to learn as much as I could as quickly as possible. Because I performed above expectations, I was quickly taken seriously by my co-workers and boss, and kept being promoted, even above some men that started before me. I hardly ever felt like I was treated differently at work, although that may have partly been due to my attitude coming in.”
About Foam Comfort, Inc.
Foam Comfort Inc. is a Canadian spray foam contractor founded in 2006. The company is headquartered in Toronto with additional office locations in Ottawa, ON and Barrie, ON. Foam Comfort services residential and commercial markets in the greater Toronto area, Barrie and Ottawa. For more information, visit www.foamcomfort.ca or call 416-410-0961 (Toronto), 705-733-8778 (Barrie) or 613-567-3626 (Ottawa).