People 07 July 2017
At this point, my life could easily be in shambles. Maybe it should be.
The hand we’re dealt
We’re all dealt a hand in life. Sometimes, we fall into things by chance, sometimes it’s choices we make, and sometimes it’s both.
Let me start by taking you back three decades. I was 25 years old, just starting out, living in Miami Beach, and managing an apartment complex. I tried to help a homeless man by letting him live rent-free in one of the units in exchange for him painting and doing maintenance work. But one day, out of the blue, he turned on me and attacked me, stabbing me 21 times. I was left for dead. I had more than 200 stitches all over my body and my left fingers were nearly cut off. Doctors didn’t expect I would live, let alone fully recover, but that’s what happened. I was released from the hospital after eight days and went right back to managing properties on Miami Beach.
Resiliency is something I believe in deeply. It’s part of who I am, and it’s who I’ve always been but for much of my past, I’ve struggled. I came from a difficult family life and was a high school dropout. I was voted most likely not to succeed. Then, I became pregnant at 31, and raised my son as a single mom. I knew I had to make my life a success.
It’s a ‘man’s world’
Overcoming obstacles became a theme in my life as I entered a male-dominated profession for the first time in the 80’s: recreational vehicle (RV) sales in Davie, FL. The industry was and is virtually all men. It’s a boys’ club in every sense of the word. I remember showing up at one of my first big RV association meetings in my ponytail, makeup, and new business ideas. One guy told me, “little girl, you need to go home and bake cookies. This is no place for you.”
Just you wait, I remember thinking. I had to prove them all wrong.
I kept my business open later and on more days than my competitors. I put an emphasis on building relationships and customer service. And it worked; many of my competitors ended up closing down while my business grew. Things were very good.
But over the years, I had to overcome other hurdles, like restarting my business twice for different reasons and nearly went bankrupt at one point. Now, as the CEO of RV Sales of Broward, I’m in my 31st year in the industry and business has never been better. The RV industry has seen a spike in sales the last couple of years as “glamping” has become so popular and millennials are now one of the largest customer bases I have. We’re seeing record growth and a shift in the demographic. I’m still one of the only female CEOs in the industry in the country, and that’s very rewarding for me. But as the industry continues to evolve, I think we’ll start seeing more women in roles like mine. A good percentage of RV-buyers these days are females and they’re often looking to buy or rent from another woman who can offer an alternative perspective when it comes to travel on the road.
As far as getting into the RV business as woman, you need to be confident and savvy. And that all starts with passion: a passion for travel, exploration, and the freedom of the open road. After that, it’s about business-smarts and knowing what your customer is thinking. Put yourself in their shoes.
What questions would you have? What would you want to know? Then, you need to know your product and talk about it in a way that’s informational but not “sales-y.” Your goal is to help a customer understand they’re not simply buying or renting an RV. They’re about to take on a whole new journey.
Keep looking up
One of my biggest passions these days is sharing my story and trying to encourage others, particularly women, to never give up. I even wrote a book about my life called Unstoppable! Surviving is Just the Beginning. We all fall on hard times and sometimes don’t make the best decisions. It happens, but what really matters is how we respond. Get back up and try again.
The odds weren’t really in my favor. But I never believed in odds anyway.
Gender divisions in sports have primarily served to keep women out of what has always been believed to be a male domain. The idea of women participating alongside men has been regarded with contempt under the belief that women were made physically inferior.