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Pushing woman power in business

Some companies see benefits in supporting female-run firms.

June 29, 2007|Andrea Chang | Times Staff Writer

While playing "hospital" one day as a child, Rebecca Congleton Boenigk recalled her mother rushing into the room to teach her an early lesson in girl power: Just because you're a girl doesn't mean you have to play the nurse.

"I thought, 'OK, I'll be the doctor,' " Boenigk said.

Today, Boenigk runs Neutral Posture Inc., a business she founded with her mom, Jaye Congleton, 18 years ago. The Bryan, Texas-based company sells ergonomic office chairs -- its biggest customer is United Parcel Service Inc. -- and last year recorded nearly $25 million in sales, Boenigk said.

And the entrepreneur is still following her mother's instruction by striving to promote other businesses run by women.

Ten years ago, she implemented a supply diversity program at Neutral Posture, which mandates that her purchasing department actively reach out to women- and minority-run businesses for supplies. Women-owned businesses also receive a significant discount on the company's chairs, which run at $200 to $2,500 each, she said.

"I think that all women should do everything they can do support other women in business," she said. "It's important to give back and to help other women business owners to succeed."

A study released Thursday by the Women's Business Enterprise National Council echoed Boenigk's intuition that doing business with women makes good business sense. The study, which surveyed 1,200 women across the country, found that 80% of women consumers would be compelled to try a company's product or service if they knew the company contracted with women-owned businesses as vendors.

Taking into account the growing buying power of women, who today hold 80% of household purchasing control, corporations can gain a competitive edge by doing business with women-owned companies and publicizing that, the study concluded.

At a conference Thursday in Los Angeles for women entrepreneurs, where the study was officially released, speaker Marti Barletta encouraged audience members to take advantage of the new findings.

"Tell women that you are a woman-owned business. Tell women that you support women-owned businesses," said Barletta, chief executive of TrendSight Group, a consulting firm specializing in marketing to women. "It could be the deciding factor."

Companies should also recognize that women are often more discriminating in their product standards than men, Barletta said.

"Generally, when you meet the expectations of women, you exceed the expectations of men," she said.

Margaret Mankin Barton, executive director of the National Women's Business Council, said the results of the study "made official what we all sort of expected." As an example, she pointed to the outfit she was wearing -- bought in part because it was sold by a company headed by a woman.

"Women business owners need to understand the market," she said. "If I have a decision, all things being equal, I will go for the woman-owned business."

Gail Brown, who recently started a New York advertising agency, said the results of the survey caused her to reevaluate her marketing strategies.

"I took a lot of notes today because I suddenly started realizing that a lot of the people who would be buying my services are women," Brown said, "and I need to be more aware of that."

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andrea.chang@latimes.com

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