She Broke Down Barriers by Building Walls
Mikki Paradis was planning to become a lawyer—that is, until an internship in the most unlikely of places changed her career path forever.
The summer before her senior year at North Carolina State University, Paradis decided to intern at a drywall company and quickly realized the construction industry was badly in need of a revamp. Before the end of her senior year, Paradis scrapped her lawyerly ambitions and founded PDI Drywall, a Raleigh, N.C.-based construction company.
Not only was the move an unlikely path for Paradis personally—in the male-dominated construction industry—she quickly realized she stood out for being different. But for Paradis, resistance and stereotypes about her industry only energized her to succeed even more. Twelve years later, PDI Drywall, a PNC business banking customer, has made a name for itself thanks to Paradis's strategic thinking.
Here are three tips from Paradis to small-business owners on how to persevere and gain an edge on the competition.
1. Don't just know what makes you different, live by it.
Paradis decided that being a young woman in a field run predominantly by older men would be an opportunity for her to stand out from the competition. It meant often enduring the skepticism of veterans in the field, only to prove them wrong.
"Whatever you have that sets you apart from everyone else, use it," Paradis says.
She further distinguished PDI Drywall from the competition by focusing on integrating technology into what's long-been considered a slow-to-change industry. From day one, Paradis made sure the company website was user friendly and stood out for its accessibility and modern feel.
Paradis included a video on the site in which she explains how PDI differs from others in the industry. She integrated a digital pricing estimation feature for prospective clients visiting the site and has focused on incorporating other green technologies throughout the company's communication and planning process.
For example, unlike most traditional construction firms, PDI does not use paper blueprints but rather focuses on digitizing all documents. "People of my generation making decisions are going to see that if we have a good website, we are obviously invested in the future," she says.
2. Make quality your No. 1 focus.
From the very early days of her business, Paradis has emphasized the need to use higher quality materials that are often more expensive, but better in the long run for consumers as well as the environment.
For example, while drywall installers typically use metal corner beads when installing corners on walls, PDI uses a newer, more expensive vinyl material that cuts the amount of product used and installation time required in half, she says. "In construction in general, there's this old dinosaur mindset where you do everything the same because it’s always been done this way," Paradis says. "Construction is one of the slowest industries to adapt to new technologies."
But by embracing this notion of quality and innovation over tradition, Paradis creates a clear value proposition for her customers. She also focuses on reducing environmental impact in her projects. While most competitors use plastic buckets to store their drywall, PDI uses only cardboard boxes, which Paradis says is less convenient, but more environmentally friendly.
3. Form tight-knit friendships across your industry.
Since starting her business, Paradis has focused on developing and strengthening the network of women around her. That is what inspired her to start a professional group called Chicks in Construction, focused on bringing together women in the industry.
The group gathers every few weeks for dinner and networking. As a result, Paradis says she's received a great deal of future work projects from the women she's met. "Friends want to work with friends and help them grow their businesses," she says. "My advice to somebody is, if it doesn't exist, build it."
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