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3rd generation enters leadership at Sonoma County’s Healdsburg Lumber

Most building supply stores don’t have a staff that is roughly one third female. They don’t create an atmosphere where women feel valued as customers. They don’t employ women in every department of the company.

Healdsburg Lumber Company (HLC), founded in Sonoma County in 1875, is the exception. That’s because Jill Ziedrich Gaylor, 37, serves as president. Ziedrich Gaylor knows that changing attitudes about women and building supply starts from within.

“When women come to work for Healdsburg Lumber Company, we show them we feel they are competent. We strive to let them know they are appreciated. There are opportunities to grow,” said Ziedrich Gaylor.

Ziedrich Gaylor said nearly a decade ago, she was one of very few women in the field.

“Beginning a career in a very male-dominated industry was intimidating, to say the least. I am also significantly younger than many of my counterparts. I was fortunate to be brought up in an environment which greatly valued the contributions of women. I knew that was not the case everywhere,” said Ziedrich Gaylor.

She added sometimes early in her career, people talked down to her.

“(They talked to me as though) I didn’t know what I was talking about. But I did know. I had to learn how to stand up for myself and have inner confidence (to say), “Yes, I do know what I’m talking about.” It takes practice to master that. (Today) I always encourage my female colleagues and staff to speak up and own their voice,” said Ziedrich Gaylor.

Ziedrich Gaylor said it is necessary to address misperceptions beyond HLC’s front door.

“Most of the obstacles Jill has faced have been more industry-related. (There have long existed negative) stereotypes, that women are not builders, are not mechanically minded, and can’t lead. Jill armed herself with knowledge, taking training on all of our products and classes on construction management at Sonoma State University. She shadowed colleagues both inside and outside the company. (She has also) fostered relationships with other women in the industry,” said Katy Nestor, marketing director for Healdsburg Lumber Company.

Nestor said Ziedrich Gaylor has raised standards through leading by example.

“During the pandemic, we have allowed as much flexibility as possible to moms and dads who need to work from home. (That way they) can help their kids with distance learning. We provide family leave when there is an addition to a family. We’re proud to announce that our new building will be equipped with a lactation room for women who are nursing,” said Nestor.

Ziedrich Gaylor said her familiarity with the business helps. She is the third generation in her family to lead Healdsburg Lumber Company. Her paternal grandparents, David and Dolores Ziedrich, purchased the company in 1972. Her father and mother, Eric and Janet Ziedrich, bought the company from them in 1985.

Ziedrich Gaylor’s first experience working for HLC was as an administrative assistant, while she attended Healdsburg High School. After graduation, she earned a B.A. in criminal justice from Chico State University. She then worked a stint as a personal banker at Exchange Bank.

Ziedrich Gaylor joined HLC in her first career position in 2008, as a sales associate. She quickly realized the family business was complex.

“Jill spent several years just working and learning about the industry and business. Eventually she began to realize what a difference the company could make to the lives of our employees (and) the community at large,” said Nestor.

As the years passed, Ziedrich Gaylor gained experience and moved up in management. She first became the location manager, then the general manager of Hudson Street Design. Hudson Street Design is HLC’s showroom for custom-made finished goods such as windows, doors, and fixtures. Ziedrich Gaylor was promoted to president of HLC in March 2020.

“It’s been an educational year, going through the highs of increased demand and the lows of temporary downsizing. So much about residential construction has changed very quickly,” said Ziedrich Gaylor.

One of the biggest shifts has been the price of lumber. The price of wood went up 250% since the COVID-19 pandemic began, but the cost has moderated in recent weeks.

“We’re also seeing more female customers than ever before,” said Ziedrich Gaylor.

The composition of HLC’s sales staff, which is nearly 50% female, makes a difference.

“Women often feel more comfortable asking for help from other women. Our female staff help balance the communication styles. Another way HLC invites women in is by catering our advertising to a broader audience. We want to be more approachable,” said Nestor.

Ziedrich Gaylor said outreach to Latinx customers is important.

“We do bilingual advertising, in print and the radio. We have bilingual employees who are comfortable communicating in Spanish and English. It’s common to hear Spanish spoken at our locations,” said Ziedrich Gaylor.

Technology attracts customers of all genders.

“Customers are using texts to communicate much more, which makes quoting product prices easier. We’ve created a virtual showroom. We put the finishing touches on (it) just as the pandemic began,” said Ziedrich Gaylor.

Ziedrich Gaylor said her upcoming goals include consolidating Hudson Street Design and Healdsburg Lumber Company in a new, large location in south Healdsburg. She is also exploring establishing building supply stores in the town of Sonoma and the city of Napa.

As Ziedrich Gaylor plans to expand HLC, the six female employees who make up half the company’s senior leadership team stand with her, ready to achieve these goals.

Nestor said having Jill being president has created an environment where women feel comfortable voicing their opinions.

“We know we will be heard. Her being here allows more women at Healdsburg Lumber Company to step forward,” said Nestor.

Ziedrich Gaylor noted she is already looking toward the future.

“My parents have three daughters. When my sisters and I were younger, the idea of girls taking over a lumber company seemed far-fetched. Thankfully, our society is making great strides to change stereotypes surrounding gender roles. I am now the mother of two little girls. I encourage them daily to dream big. They can do anything to which they set their minds,” said Ziedrich Gaylor.

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