``The useless employee.'' That's one business acquaintance's unflattering nickname for Leisa Reiter, assistant manager for Grandma's Tires in Evanston, Wyo. She shrugs it off. It's ``humorous,'' she says.
Insults, cuts and jibes are a way of life for women working in the tire industry who often find proving themselves is a hurdle they face with each new customer.
But the tenacity that brought them into a male-dominated field in the first place helps most women in the industry deal with the incessant demeaning comments with relative ease.
``I realize that I have made a choice to work in a man's world, so I don't expect our clients to behave differently because I am there,'' said Linda DeLuca, a sales representative with Meander Tire in Pittsburgh.
Ms. DeLuca, 36, is a mother of two who joined the tire business because she liked ``the freedom'' of a sales position. Being a woman in the field can be both a benefit as well as a liability, she said.
``There have been clients that have admitted to me that they gave me a shot because they were curious,'' she said. ``But the bottom line is that you have to be capable of getting the job done.''
Much of the skepticism comes from customers who don't believe a woman can do the physical labor associated with some of the jobs in the industry.
``I like to do as much as I can when it comes to loading and unloading my truck. I pull my weight in the warehouse,'' Ms. DeLuca said. ``I have seen clients that don't want to let you do the work because they are afraid you will hurt yourself.''
Despite knowing the abuse they might eventually face, many women are lured to the tire business.
Patsy Bucki, business development manager for National Tire Warehouse, started her career when she was 16 as a automotive parts saleswoman/cashier with Western Auto Supply Co. The only way she could advance was to move into tire sales after the company bought NTW, she said.
``As a young female in the '80s, I was questioned and overlooked many times when customers came in looking for help,'' she admitted. ``As I gained more knowledge and could answer most questions with confidence, being asked `Are one of the salesmen available?' has not happened in many years.''
Currently, Ms. Bucki is responsible for creating and tracking new fleet and dealership customers for NTW.
In spite of being embroiled in a sex discrimination lawsuit against her former employer, Linda Nelson contends she wants to returnto the tire industry.
Ms. Nelson, who entered the tire business in 1969 as a desk clerk and soon after bought a $99 Tire Store in Prattville, Ala., joined Tire Kingdom Inc. as a saleswoman in 1991.
Late last year she was fired. Ms. Nelson alleges the company trumped up work violations after she gave a deposition in support of her sister who claimed separately that she had been raped by a Tire Kingdom store manager. Tire Kingdom denies her claims.
``I don't think that the tire business has a right to keep me from doing what I'm good at just because they don't want me to do it,'' she said staunchly.
The women dealers, managers and sales reps that contacted TIRE BUSINESS continually said they use their product knowledge to win over skeptical customers.
``I like to think that I am just as efficient (as men), if not more so, because I have to prove myself every day,'' said Ms. DeLuca.
In Galesburg, Ill., Roggenkamp Tire Center Assistant Manager Barbara Hall has been selling tires for 27 years. ``You have to prove to them otherwise by listening and not criticizing them. Be a listener, but tactfully show them your knowledge and expertise,'' she said. ``Many times you'll have to grit your teeth and smile, be friendly!''
The hard work can pay off.
``I knew I was successful in my job when a customer asked the guys at the counter (who were trying to wait on this customer) `Where is that girl who works here? She can help me,'*'' said Ms. Bucki of NTW.
The selling environment might be getting better for women, a few suggested, as more women are making automotive-related buying decisions-and women customers often feel more comfortable talking to a saleswoman.
Younger men, also, are comfortable receiving sales advice from either gender, according to Colleen Winkler of McCarthy & Son in Martinsville, Ind.