Facebook Twitter LinkedIn Google Plus RSS
Breaking Glass

How women business owners can avoid being overcharged

By ,

At this point, we are all painfully aware that, on average, women in New Jersey earn less than 80 percent than men.

Did you know, however, that while women are earning less for the same job, they are also paying more for the same products?

A study released last month by the New York City Department of Consumer Affairs found that in some of the most popular consumer industries — toys and accessories; children’s clothing; adult clothing; personal care products; and senior/home health care products — gender-specific packaged products for women cost 7 percent more than virtually identical products for men.

But this isn’t news.

Back in 2012, Marie Claire magazine hosted an online campaign encouraging women to contact their local representatives to demand federal laws outlawing gender pricing on everything from everyday items to home mortgages, health insurance and car repairs.

For example, California — the first state to ban gender pricing in 1996 — discovered over a decade ago that women paid about $1,351 annually in extra costs and fees.

I can’t imagine what that number would be now.

Yes, women admittedly need to start paying better attention to how their gender is unfairly affecting their everyday lives — but women business owners are growing especially difficult to deceive.

When I interviewed Christine Brenner in September, I was disheartened to learn that when she took over as the new owner and CEO of Brenner Metal Products Corp. — a manufacturer of hospital beds in Wallington — suppliers of raw materials attempted to charge her up to 20 percent more than they had her late husband.

But Brenner had thankfully analyzed all of the company’s records and spreadsheets.

“They would always apologize and say they were looking at the wrong information when I questioned them,” she said.

As Brenner exemplified, here’s the bottom line: Women need to continue taking matters into their own hands.

“You really have to do your homework,” Brenner said. “Get three estimates in order to keep everyone honest — even suppliers that you’ve been working with for a long time. You need to know that you’re working with good people.”

It was a tough lesson for Kelley Evans, co-owner of Aurora Kitchens and Interiors — a nearly $2 million residential remodeling business in Somerville — to learn, too.

“The first time it happened, it was a small incident — but it made me pause and think,” Evans said.

Evans had confronted a storage manager after learning that her male subcontractor was being charged $5 less for individual tiling that she had been when her and her business partner, Kolbe Clark, had visited the store themselves.

“I said, I would like credit for $5 apiece because you charged me $15 when you’re willing to sell it to him for $10,” Evans said.

To which, she said, the manager replied, “That is the price we gave you.”

Evans and Clark never dealt with that store again — but it got them thinking.

Were they being overcharged elsewhere?

“I started calling male remodelers that I knew well and asking them how much they paid a certain plumber for a standard bathroom,” Evans said. “They said they paid anywhere from $1,200 to $1,500 — we were getting charged $2,500 to $3,000 from the same plumber.”

Evans outright confronted that plumber — who acted as if the pricing was significantly higher due to the fact that this was the first time they were working together.

“What exactly would entice me to come back if I’m paying the highest price possible?” Evans said. “I’m taking all the risk and liability for their work — how is that a winning situation for us?”

Evans had had enough. She took it upon herself to get involved in as many trade organizations as possible and even became the local chapter president of the National Association for the Remodeling Industry.

“The more you build those relationships, the more open discussion you can have — that visibility actually helped us quite a bit,” Evans said. “But until I really put myself in the old boys clubs and decided I was staying there, things wouldn’t have changed.”

Evans continued to seek out professional relationships with those who were older, had been in the business longer and had established relationships with subcontractors. She’d then ask them to review her numbers and help her understand why her company wasn’t winning as many bids as her male competitors.

“I’d run everything by trusted colleagues in the field with similar business models who weren’t going after the same market segment as us,” Evans said.

Turns out, Evans was paying top dollar for nearly all of her subcontractors.

“My materials are what they are and are the cost of goods sold,” Evans said. “But I can definitely control my labor costs.”

Being a woman business owner is never easy — but it shouldn’t be made more difficult by unfair gender pricing.

So, ladies, let’s make a few resolutions for the New Year:

Know what you’re worth.

Know what you’re paying.

Know who you’re working with and why.

And vow to buy more men’s products at the store.

More Breaking Glass

Write to the Editorial Department at editorial@njbiz.com

Leave a Comment


Please note: All comments will be reviewed and may take up to 24 hours to appear on the site.

Post Comment
View Comment Policy