Janet Winkelman needed a challenge.
After graduating from school she found that, to her dismay, nowhere she worked held her interest for too long. After job hopping for a while, she used the experience she gained as an operations manager in a lingerie store to find a job in the fasteners division of a metal service center.
But this time, something was different. Janet was hooked.
“It was my introduction into the business. I found something that challenged me.”
Within a few months, she was running the division and learning everything she could about the industry.
A year later, the business suddenly shut down its fasteners division and was incorporated. Janet was out of the first job she’d ever loved.
She was soon approached by another woman at the same company and they went into business together, starting Rose Fasteners. For two years, Janet learned everything she could about running a metal fastener business.
When she and her business partner split, she felt ready to venture out on her own.
“I got a lot of feedback from suppliers and customers saying I should stick with it. I was living in a 1 bedroom apartment and I had to borrow money from my family, friends, enemies, whoever would loan me the money to start the business.”
Three years after her first foray into the industry, Janet Winkelman started her own company, quirkily named Wink Fasteners, Inc.
Wink Inc was set up as a stocking distributor for nuts, bolts and screws used by different industries and sourced from all over the world.
As a new business in a large market, Janet admits, “The first year was rough.”
Competing against other companies meant her profits were lower than she expected and there were many aspects of the business she had to figure out through trial and error.
Nevertheless, she persisted and 26 years later, Wink Inc is still very much in business, supplying growth industries including wastewater treatment and mining in countries like Australia and Japan. Annual revenue has increased from less than $200,000 to over a million dollars.
As one of the few women-owned businesses in her field, Janet is quick to note that it hasn’t been easy.
“It’s a double edged sword,” she says, “On one side its a bonus, on another side its a detriment. Corporations, government and big businesses that care about diversity are looking for ways to be better stewards of the money they spend and so are looking to support minority business ownership.”
“They appreciate me putting it out there that this is a woman owned business, but I face a backlash because smaller businesses I work are often insulted and feel I’m looking for special treatment because I’m a woman.”
She initially had trouble getting a loan because the officers were reluctant to lend money to a single female entrepreneur.
“Bankers would look at, and like, my business plan, but would ask whether I was single,” she says with a dry laugh, “Then they would ask, ‘what happens to your business when you get married?’”
“I was only able to acquire a loan after meeting a female loan officer.”
That was decade ago, but Janet still suffers the effects of gender discrimination.
As one of the few women in the “Good Ol’ Boys club” as she describes it, she’s had a hard time meeting other business owners in the fastener industry and making important contacts.
“I recently went to a fastener distributor event,” she says, “and the other business owners kept introducing their wives to me and expecting us to have conversations.”
They found it hard to believe that a woman was in the fastener business and understood it as well as they did or maybe even better.
Despite these challenges, it’s impossible for Janet to choose the number one reason why she loves what she does. It might be because it comes so easily to her. Coming from mathematical family, she understands the mechanical aspect of the business better than most people.
“I was born into being able to understand the business,” she says, “My father was a mathematician, my sister’s an engineer and my brother is an architect so that side of the business seemed like a perfect fit for me.”
Janet also loves the philosophy of her work. She feels that in a world where more people replace than repair products, this damages not just the environment, but the human sense of relationships.
“I strongly believe that everything should be built to last forever and this has extended into how I run my business.”
Although it’s a niche industry, Janet is hoping to make a difference.
“I’ve focused on anti-corrosion since day one,” she says. “Everything I do is extending the life cycle of goods and putting less pressure on the environment.”
Wink’s operation philosophy has also set it apart from their competitors.
“The world is not fair but I want Wink to be fair. That was the premise of starting the company and continues to be an overriding factor in decision making in the company.”
This mantra has meant that Janet and her employees sometimes work into the early hours of the morning to keep a promise made to a customer.
“At Wink, our word is our honor and everyone is committed to being dependable,” she says. “We recognize that we are only dependable if we keep our promises.”
Janet wants Wink to be a company people can trust.
It was her quest to find a partner with the same values that led her to Veem.
A BEAUTIFUL THING
Janet typically works around the Point of Sale. Working with suppliers and distributors from Europe and Asia means there has to be a large degree of trust between both parties.
Until her supplier receives their payment, her goods are not shipped. The entire process can take about four months and is often very frustrating.
“I was having trouble with my wire transfers when I first heard about Veem.”
Tired of the long delays and exorbitant fees associated with sending bank wires to her international partners, she figured she had nothing to lose and signed up for a Veem account.
That was years ago and Janet hasn’t looked anywhere else since.
“There’s always emotions around paying businesses and receiving payments in return,” she remarks, “There’s a lot of anxiety in every aspect of my business. So when Veem is able to tell me where they are working with my transaction, it tells me something and diffuses this anxiety.”
Although the speed of transactions is what draws most customers, Janet makes it clear that it’s the transparency that she likes best.
“I really like the tracking aspect. It really makes the entire process transparent. I don’t even need to go on the website because Veem sends an email when a business associate has taken an action.”
The money she saves from transferring payments with Veem goes right back into her business and allows her to continue working in the industry she loves so much.
“People ask me how I got into this business because I’m a small non-masculine woman,” Janet says, laughing. “It confuses people.”