Stamford entrepreneur grows her revenues 20-fold in three years

Published: April 28, 1999
Maggie Jackson | Stamford Advocate

Women-owned businesses thrive

To get ahead in the fuel procurement market, entrepreneur Kristen Schaffner-Irvin computerized her clients’ tanks so she could check inventory from her lap top. Her rivals were still using wooden dipsticks.

That’s the kind of creative edge that is driving women-owned businesses toward spectacular growth these days. Not only are the burgeoning in number, but their sales and work force are booming.

In the latest sign of their economic weight, the collective revenues of Working Woman’s Top 500 women-owned businesses grew 12 percent to $80.7 billion in 1998. The second annual list, released to The Associated Press yesterday, will be published in the magazine’s June issue.

“They’re thriving,” said Sharon Hadary, executive director of the National Foundation for Women Business Owners. “These businesses are becoming more significant players in the economy.”

Antoinette Allocca’s Stamford-based technical writing and consulting firm grew rapidly after she creatively solved a key problem at her firm: she couldn’t afford to hire top salespeople.

After she began hiring older people who had been downsized, offering them low salaries and high commissions, revenues grew from $1 million in 1996 to $20 million last year at her company Essential Data.

“I give people a chance who are overlooked,” said Allocca, whose company in No. 461 on the Working Woman list. “I’ve attracted a work force that’s very experienced but still very motivated.”

The number of women-owned businesses leaped nearly 90 percent in the decade ending in 1997, according to the Foundation. Today, they number 8.5 million – more than a third of all U.S. businesses.

The businesses are still small when compared to the country’s largest companies. General Motors, for example, had $161.3 billion in revenues in 1998.

Yet the growing clout of women-owned businesses is increasingly evident. Between 1987 and 1997, their total sales grew 161 percent and their work forces grew 262 percent, according to the Foundation.

What’s more, women are displaying the talents that put them on the cutting edge of business world, with technological savvy first among them.

Consider this: 23 percent of women-owned firms have Web sites, compared with 16 percent of firms owned by men. Nearly half of women business owners have Internet access, compared with 41 percent of men.

Four years ago, Irvin became one of the first fuel procurers to equip customer fuel tanks with computers.

Her Huntington Beach, Calif., company, Team Petroleum, now monitors fuel consumption, pricing and even leaks by computer, then arranges with suppliers to refuel customers. The company ranks No. 315 on the Working Woman list.

“I’m sure all the male-dominated petroleum companies will figure it out eventually, but by then we’ll be on to the next thing,” she laughed, adding that women “think out of the box a little bit.”

One of her customers says that seeing such expertise in a woman still surprises many men. Larry Kuyper, who handles purchasing for Disney operations, said when Irvin “starts talking about passive and impassive tank monitors, these guys figure out pretty quickly she knows more than they ever knew.”

Working Woman ranks the companies on its list by revenue. Companies qualify if women are the largest individual shareholders, holding at least 5 percent of stock in a public company and 10 percent in private firms.

Many, including Allocca and Irvin, were inspired to go into business for themselves because they sought greater flexibility in their lives. Others hit glass ceilings in Corporate America.

“This is a chance for her to dream her dreams, fulfill them and keep control of her destiny,” said Judy George, chief executive officer and founder of Domain, a Norwood, Mass., furniture company that ranked No.220 on the Working Woman list.
“I know, I was president of a company. I was making a fortune…But I had my own dream,” she said.

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