Melissa Coolidge, eastern region sales manager for Matco-Norca grew up on the outskirts of a small town in northern Pennsylvania. “At an early age,” she says, “I was encouraged to work hard and figure things out for myself.” This type of learn-as-you-go process continued into her adult years. “From cars to mowers to plumbing and more, I enjoy do-it-yourself challenges.”
That frame of mind has served Coolidge well in her position as a regional sales manager. “I am faced with lots of challenges,” she says. “But I can’t say that these challenges arise because I am a woman; they are part of the job.”
Coolidge’s main role is to work with company representatives and her management team in providing quality products at competitive prices to her customers. She is responsible for covering 15 states from Indiana and Kentucky east to Virginia and north to Maine.
“I have had customers quiz me about my knowledge of our products and know how,” she says. But Coolidge certainly doesn’t see this as a challenge only women face. “I don’t focus on being a woman in a male-dominated industry. I actually seldom think about it at all.”
Coolidge started in manufacturing at the age of 18. She took evening classes in college while working for GTE/OSRAM SYLVANIA as a buying assistant. She worked her way up to a buyer, and then a consultant. “I can tell you, I have never laid out a plan for my career,” Coolidge says. “I basically focus on what I’m doing at the present time, and when an opportunity presents itself, I don’t feel obligated or disappointed that I didn’t stick to my plan.”
She says she admires people that can map it out, but for her, that’s a lot of pressure to try and guess where you want to be some day down the road without really knowing all of your options.
In her early 30s, Coolidge and her friend invented and patented a product that became successful. This new career was far from the manufacturing setting she got her start in, but fell perfectly in line with her hard work ethic and willingness to “figure it out.” She completely flipped her career path to health care development for eight years, again, far outside of anything she would have planned, but it worked. A few years ago, Coolidge decided she wanted a new challenge and found her way to Matco-Norca.
“I like what I do,” she says. “If you know your products and can talk about them to customers with knowledge and confidence, you will succeed and earn their respect and trust. If you don’t know something, you can learn. It all depends on how much you apply yourself going forward.”
When faced with challenges, Coolidge says she focuses on how to handle the situation in the most positive way possible. “You can only learn and grow from such things. Face it straight on and trust in yourself, but also consider others’ points of view.”
It seems Coolidge took that advice as a child to figure things out and make it work. When asked to define herself, she simply says, “I don’t know if I do define myself.” Coolidge describes herself as a very independent person, a forward thinker and an encourager.
“Still no master plan,” she says. “I am very happy where I am right now. Since I started with Matco-Norca, I feel I have found a company that I respect and truly enjoy working for, customers I want to retain and grow with, many that have become good friends, and co-workers that are simply the best on all levels, personally and professionally.”
Women in Industry
At the American Supply Association (ASA) Women in Industry 2017 Spring Conference, held April 26-28 at the Omni Austin Hotel Downtown in Austin, Texas, Coolidge was encouraged to see young women from Texas A&M University apply their knowledge and skillset in the industry. She adds that we should also look beyond universities to recruit talent; the message should be more universal. “I would tell any young woman that this industry has plenty of room for her if she applies herself and has a willingness to learn,” Coolidge says.
The industry is huge, and we should paint a picture that shows just how exciting it can be. “I can tell you, my days are filled with plenty of action,” Coolidge says. “From customer visits to working with reps to traveling, my day is packed full, and it keeps me on my toes.”
As for young girls considering entering the industry, Coolidge says, “I would tell them to apply. It’s that simple. If they see a job they find interesting in our industry, they should go for it!”
Coolidge says many people, especially young women, don’t apply for jobs because they feel they aren’t qualified. “I can assure you, if you don’t apply and take the chance, you’ll definitely never get the job.”
She encourages young women to call someone in the industry and ask for advice. She urges women to reach out to local people in the trades, sales reps or wholesalers and observe what they do for a few days/weeks. It’s important to learn about all the ways products are used in the industry. “The opportunity is out there,” she says. “And those who have been in our industry for years know we need younger people to join our us.”
This was Coolidge’s first ASA event, and she decided to attend because she believes it’s a great way to meet and connect with other women. “The women I’ve met so far in the industry, whether they are selling, managing or buying, are all strong, confident women, but each has her own style. I find what each of them do interesting; a lot can be learned from them.”
In regards to other networking events for women in the industry, CooIidge says, “I would encourage everyone to see themselves as an individuals. Seek out events in the industry that would expand your knowledge and your network.”