Electro-mechanical repair shops owned and run by women are a rarity. That much Peggy Hunnicutt knew.
What she didn’t know until recently was that a shop with a female owner could have a competitive advantage.
After a lengthy application process, Hunnicutt’s business, Dixie Electro Mechanical Services Inc., recently won national certification as a “Women’s Business Enterprise” by the Greater Women’s Business Council. It’s a hallmark that could generate new business for the 55-year-old Charlotte company.
Here’s why: Many major corporations have supplier-diversity programs that set aside money each year for vendors owned by minorities, women, veterans, the disabled, members of the LGBT community or other groups. Rather than offer their own certification programs, which would be costly to roll out, many businesses require suppliers and vendors to go through rigorous third-party certification.
For Hunnicutt, the new certification means Dixie qualifies for diversity programs at a number of companies in the area, including Coca-Cola, Bank of America, UPS and Duke Energy, which are all members of the Greater Women’s Business Council.
From a business-strategy perspective, it’s great news: Dixie is now in a smaller pool of competitors vying for the companies’ business. Plus, they’ll get more face time. Certifiers such as the Greater Women’s Business Council often help with the match-making by hosting networking events so their certified businesses can build relationships with their member companies.
More than 70 women-owned businesses in the Charlotte area are certified by the Greater Women’s Business Council, said the organization’s president, Roz Lewis, and more than 220 certified women-owned businesses operate in the state.
So when Hunnicutt started looking at these programs last year, she realized there was no good reason not to jump on the opportunity. “I said, ‘Wait a minute. We’re missing something here,’ ” Hunnicutt said.
‘I’ve got the good people’
Employees say Dixie is an “emergency room” of sorts. Available 24-7, they tackle most any industrial problem that involves a pump, motor, fan or gear box.
Woody McClure Sr. founded the company in 1958. Now it serves factories, banks, wastewater treatment plants, hospitals and municipalities in Virginia and the Carolinas, including the city of Charlotte. The company’s annual revenue is between $3 million and $5 million, Hunnicutt says.
Gastonia resident Hunnicutt, 54, joined the Dixie team in 1986 as a sales and marketing professional. Woody McClure Jr., son of the founder, groomed Hunnicutt for the role of president and CEO, and she bought the company from him in 2009. She holds 51 percent; her husband, Darryl, 49 percent.
Now she spends nearly every day in Dixie’s 46,000-square-foot operations, service and distribution center along Freedom Drive. “Can I go out and work on the bench and tear down motors? No,” Hunnicutt says. “But I’ve got the knowledge, and I’ve got the good people.”
But though the number of women-owned businesses in North Carolina – an estimated 267,000 firms – has nearly doubled over the last 16 years, according to a recent American Express OPEN study, the number of women-owned repair electro mechanical shops is still minimal.
Linda Raynes, president and CEO of the St. Louis-based Electrical Apparatus Service Association, an international trade organization with 1,900 members, estimates 5 percent or fewer of its member companies are owned by women. An even smaller number of EASA member businesses are owned and run by women, Raynes says.
“I can think of … less than a handful of companies across the country where we have women who are running the company the way she is running it,” Raynes said. “It’s impressive.”
Hunnicutt is EASA’s North Carolina director and on the board of the Southeastern Chapter, a role that’s a stepping stone for international leadership, Raynes said.
The road to certification
Last November, Hunnicutt decided to pursue the certification through the Greater Women’s Business Council, a regional certifying partner of the Women’s Business Enterprise National Council.
She called a meeting with human resources director Karen Wheeler and sales and marketing director David Porter.
The checklist of required documentation alone was five pages long. They had to pull together three years of federal income tax returns, financial statements, a history of the business, proofs of purchase for equipment, employee stock ownership plans, the certificate of incorporation, trust agreements, even employee resumes and more.
“You can’t just sit down one afternoon and do it; otherwise you’ll make a mistake,” Porter said. “You have to … bite this off in pieces. You have to project-manage.”
The three met weekly for months. Hunnicutt, Wheeler and Porter estimate the prep work took more than 50 hours.
The certification process also required a site visit from the Greater Women’s Business Council, to verify the business operations and Hunnicutt’s role in the company.
The processing fee for the Greater Women’s Business Council is on a sliding scale, based on the applicant’s annual gross revenues, says Lewis, the organization’s president. Costs range from $350 for companies with up to $999,000 in revenue to $1,000 for companies with $10 million or more in revenue. Dixie paid $500, Hunnicutt said.
Hunnicutt was notified in March: Dixie is now a certified “Women’s Business Enterprise.” Hunnicutt says she’s already meeting with potential clients thanks to the certification.
Just last week, she attended a BMW supplier diversity match-maker event, hosted by the Greater Women’s Business Council, where more than 500 women-owned businesses were able to meet with 116 of BMW’s prime suppliers.
“I’m proud to own this business, but I certainly don’t see them giving us work just because (we) have a certification,” Hunnicutt says. “It’s just an opportunity.”
McMillan: 704-358-6045; Twitter: @cbmcmillan
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