An Excerpt from the Book:
“If you tell me I can’t do something,
I am going to work twice as hard to prove that I can.”
Christine Bierman broke through many glass ceilings in her 34-year professional career. She began accompanying her husband on his sales calls where he sold large machine tools, shears, and presses. After being rejected as a distributor by many of the Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEM’s), she helped smaller companies bring new products to the marketplace, building her company at the same time. She has won numerous small business awards, with multiple appointments at both the local and national level.
Shortly after college, I had to grow up quickly: I found myself recently divorced with a daughter that I had to provide for. I soon realized that it would be difficult to make ends meet on a parochial teacher’s salary – so I started selling Compton encyclopedias. Encyclopedias are aspirational: they are built on the idea that a child who knows more will go further.
I was very approachable as both a woman schoolteacher and a single mother, which allowed me to connect with the key decision makers: the moms. I could get in some doors that would have been closed if I were a man. Ironically, for the rest of my professional life, it was just the opposite: doors were closed to me because I was a woman. What others did not realize is that if you tell me I can’t do something, I am going to work twice as hard to prove that I can.
One of strongest markets for encyclopedias is in the poorest areas, where the question of “Would you like your children to have a better education?” was answered with a resounding “Yes!” I taught the Dewey Decimal System to kids in the morning and sold encyclopedias to the parents in the evening. I genuinely cared about the students and their future, and that came through when I spoke with the parents.
About a year into the program, I met my future husband, David Bierman. He was somewhat concerned that I was traveling into these marginalized areas as part of my job. He presented me with the idea of working with his clients on safety products that were complementary to his core product line; the heavy machinery typically lasted a lifetime, was expensive, and was a “one-and-done” purchase.
At this time, OSHA was about a decade old and beginning to make their presence known: beyond the new regulations, there was an increased need for safety glasses, respirators, work gloves – personal protective equipment (PPE’s). These were perishable items, discarded after one or two uses, so a new customer was a repeat customer. We started in an office of about 300 square feet. It was not long before I realized that the client base for PPE’s was much broader than David’s: utility companies, construction companies, breweries, railroads, etc. all had need for these products. The world was my oyster.
There were a few large companies who owned most of the market. They had the muscle to bring in their own products from China and largely sold on price; because I had to source my products, I could not win that game. I realized that all of my products had regulations associated with them: technical expertise was a way in.
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