Government Contracting: It Can Pay to be Woman-Owned
Susanne Hogan, CEO dsi Associates
Women may be deemed the “gentler weaker sex”, but in the government construction contracting arena, one woman has done some pretty heavy lifting to make her mark in a typically male-dominated field. Susanne Hogan, founder of dsi Associates, has over twenty years of professional experience successfully managing large public sector construction projects at the federal, state and local levels. And she did it the old-fashioned way, by being really good at her job and by using the tools at hand to help her small company succeed in Illinois. As a resident client of the Business Innovation Center, she has established a presence here in Bay County to oversee the FamCamp renovation project at Tyndall AFB, hired two more people, and sees a bright future here in the Florida panhandle.
Susanne’s first job out of high school was an administrative clerk at the U. S. Department of Energy National Accelerator Laboratory site office, “…readying the site for the design and site team to begin the process of constructing a 25-mile diameter ring for what would become the world’s largest proton accelerator. Acquisition, development, design, permitting, inspections, and all aspects of constructing this extraordinary facility, along with the unique aspects of art and restoration that were a part of the project, set the stage for what was to become my future career, then business,” quipped Susanne. Armed with a Master of Management from Northwestern University, she continued to work and rose up the construction project management ladder in the private and public sectors. She helped make her organizations and colleagues more effective, efficient and profitable through innovative institutional research programs to bolster expertise on public sector projects, as well as a project incentive program that led to double-digit annual growth gains for her employer. She skillfully guided the Illinois Corridor Transportation Management Association members through the web of Clean Air Act requirements to avoid non-compliance fines and help redevelop blighted areas in Chicago.
After years of proving herself to be equal to the tasks, Susanne took the initiative to start her own enterprise in 1991, and now manages a $150M annual construction management portfolio. She pursued and won status as an SBA 8(a) firm, a Women Business Enterprise (WBE) and Disadvantaged Business Enterprise (DBE), all business development tools to help small disadvantaged businesses compete in the federal and state contracting marketplace.
When asked about her success, Susanne said that often being the only woman in the meeting can be daunting. “But if you are willing, as my mentor, Lt. Col. Charles Dierker (USACE, Ret) said, to be ‘an individual who leans forward in the foxhole’, armed not only with the knowledge on how to do your job, but the confidence in yourself and your abilities, you can win them over and win those contracts. Then you have to deliver what you promised on time and on budget. That’s how you succeed.” Not too bad for a girl who started out as clerk!
By Jamie Shepard, Consultant, Business Innovation Center
Allison Craft Designs bets the odds in Grayton Beach
Small retailers everywhere struggle against national chains which can offer deeper volume discounts and loss leader items to entice shoppers in person and online. Does that mean you should shutter your doors and surrender? Certainly not! In fact, your mom-and-pop shop might have a distinct advantage over the megastore.
A good case in point is Allison Craft Designs (ACD), an artisan pearl-on-leather jewelry studio in nearby Grayton Beach. What began in designer Allison Craft’s home studio a few short years ago has blossomed into a successful storefront business with a growing regional and soon-to-be-national wholesale presence. Her success has been built “the old fashioned way” by offering a unique, high quality product, genuine customer service and outside-the-big-box marketing strategies. According to Allison and senior manager Scott Henderson, quality and innovation are at the forefront of Allison Craft Design’s philosophy and retail practice. Here’s how:
- A Quality Product and a Wide Range of Price Points. The desire for artisan-made, high quality products is a growing trend in domestic and international retail markets — a definite niche for small local retailers. There are cheaper, knock-off versions at flea markets but one look at the real goods tells the tale. Allison Craft explains, “Real pearls are lustrous and radiate a natural warmth that synthetics cannot replicate. The workmanship of small production houses like ours and our ability to customize our designs to target local markets in other markets like Nashville and Colorado differentiate us from chain stores.” ACD also recognizes the need for entry-level, affordable and versatile products. “By introducing these buyers to our line, we build the same brand awareness as with higher end clientele. Both wear their purchase with pride and tell their friends, who in turn become our customers”, says Scott.
- Quality Customer Service. According to Allison, “As kids, we all loved to play dress up. We embrace that need for relaxed creativity in our store. Our staff is very well trained (another key element in success) in how to market our product but also in ways to make the customer relax and enjoy the whole shopping experience.”
- Quality Exterior and Interior Appearance. First impressions count! Making the storefront visually appealing and your inventory accessible inside are equally important. Front window dressing is your store’s billboard. ACD has made a concerted effort to make its studio airy and welcoming with attractive point-of-purchase displays that showcase the jewelry’s versatility and the variety of its inventory.
- Innovative Marketing. Traditional advertising is expensive but necessary to create brand awareness. The key is to know your customer and target your marketing accordingly, not to what the ad sales reps are pushing this week. Small retailers especially benefit from targeted customer loyalty /repeat purchase programs. ACD’s “Pearl Perks” program rewards loyal customers with gift cards for future and referral purchases. It doesn’t really cost anything until redemption, then sales offset that expense.
Small retailers also have the advantage of being more nimble, “guerilla” marketers, capitalizing on opportunities as they arise. For ACD, the idea of “gifting” music performers at the 30A Songwriters Festival was one such opportunity. Allison created music-themed jewelry especially for female and male artists, who wore the gifts onstage at the festival. Many came by the shop and bought other pieces, which caught the eye of other performers, their entourages as well as music magazine reporters and the fans. This has significantly impacted online purchasing and wholesale vendors in the artists’ home market.
Small shops can indeed compete and prosper. You just have to be creative and think out of the “big box”.