YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections


On Solid Grout : Tile Supplier Remodels Gender Barriers

August 27, 1996

When Jan Leong opened a ceramic tile and marble center, she knew she was getting into a male-dominated business. She won the respect of contractors by proving her proficiency in the technical aspects of the business while reaching out to female retail customers, who were often overlooked. Leong was interviewed by Karen Kaplan.

When I was 25, I decided to start my own business. I was interested in opening a dress shop or a flower shop, but my stepdad persuaded me that it would be more practical to stick with something I knew. I had worked in construction management, and my stepdad is a retired general tile contractor. Tiles just kind of rubbed off on me, so I decided to open a tile business.

The contractor business is predominantly male, and I knew I would have to prove myself to them so they would take me seriously and become my customers. I took a UCLA Extension class in construction management and focused on ceramic tile. I learned all the product lines and how much stress different kinds of tile can handle.

Early on, I was rather intimidated by the predominantly male contractor customer base that visited my showroom. I thought perhaps I might be out of my league. They wouldn't give me a chance. They liked dealing with men, and they didn't have any confidence in me because I was a woman.

For the Record
Los Angeles Times Friday August 30, 1996 Home Edition Business Part D Page 2 Financial Desk 1 inches; 24 words Type of Material: Correction
Learning Curve--Tuesday's Learning Curve incorrectly stated the number of employees at Monterey Ceramic Tile & Marble in Rosemead. Owner Jan Leong has five employees.

It turned out that my intimidation was shared by a lot of women customers that came to my showroom. Usually, the women in the household are enthusiastic about having their homes tiled, but when it came to going to a showroom to shop for the tile, they would be faced with a male salesperson who was catering to the male tile contractor.

It was easy for me to relate to these women, especially since I had recently bought tile for my own house and had been in their shoes.

But I couldn't afford to alienate the contractors. I knew they wanted to hear the functional and technical facts about tile. . . . When contractors see that I know what I'm talking about, they take me seriously.

It took a good year to win over the respect of the contractors. It's a continuous process because you're always trying to increase your market base. We bend over backward to make sure our customers are happy, whether they're men or women.

On how she won the respect of male contractors . . .

"I knew they wanted to hear the functional and technical facts about tile, and they wanted the numbers crunched efficiently."

On what her female customers are looking for . . .

"As customers, women are more likely to focus on aesthetics and design, which I was sensitive to myself."

On serving female and male customers . . .

"We bend over backward to make sure our customers are happy, whether they're men or women. I never segregate my customers by ethnicity or gender."



Company: Monterey Ceramic Tile & Marble

Owner: Jan Leong

Nature of business: Tile and natural stone supplier for residential and commercial markets

Year founded: 1994

Location: Rosemead

Number of employees: 15

Annual sales: $500,000

Los Angeles Times Articles