WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. — “I was a rock star in another life,” laughs Sara Howell, a self-described karaoke queen who sings to favorites like Pat Benatar. She says the best women rockers have something in common: they’re “all about the performance.” No pretense; just hard-working, passion-filled music.
It’s not unlike the passion that fuels Howell’s own day-to-day world. While she’s not on a stage behind a microphone, she’s rocking things behind the scenes and one-on-one in the world of commercial laundry.
Howell grew up in Newton, Iowa, not that far from where the renowned Maytag company first began production.
She was steeped in Maytag culture throughout her youth — thanks to her father, Leo Yokiel, who worked at Maytag for 36 years, with the final 15 as director of marketing for Maytag® Commercial Laundry. Howell’s mother, Judith Yokiel, also worked at Maytag, so every facet of the appliance industry became a fascination for Howell.
“In college, I was actually known as a Maytag Girl, because of where I grew up and the fact that my family was so involved in that business,” she says.
She majored in communication studies at Iowa State University, and by the time she graduated, Howell had yet to ever leave the state of Iowa. That’s when her dad said, “You know, Maytag is hiring.” She had no reason to deny herself the opportunity.
Howell impressed the Maytag team and earned her first role as a district account representative in 2002. The position took her to Greensboro, North Carolina.
“This was my first territory, and it was a lot of fun,” she says enthusiastically. “And though it was my first time away from Iowa, the Maytag heritage was still there. It felt like a part of my real home.”
Over the next two decades, Howell found herself rising through the ranks, as she worked with a diverse set of customers. She discovered a particular passion for collaborating with distributors to rebuild territories, bringing renewed success by leveraging today’s technologies and marketing capabilities. And along the way, she learned valuable lessons from those who went before her.
“I still talk with a lot of the folks I met when I first started,” she says. Their wisdom has guided her throughout the years, and provided valuable insights into relationship-building.
Today, Howell is the Southeast regional sales manager for Maytag® Commercial Laundry, including the Whirlpool® Commercial Laundry and ADC™ Laundry brands. She’s got 17 years under her belt, and her enthusiasm remains unchanged.
“The appliance business is fun,” she says. “You get to really bring your personality to it.”
Capitalizing on her marketing background and education, Howell uses these opportunities to design effective marketing strategies, and to work closely with distributors and Laundromat owners alike.
“I’m in the business of creating long-term relationships,” she notes. “I love being around people, and I take a lot of passion and care in what I do.”
Howell says she appreciates that her role brings new challenges each day – and she particularly enjoys taking on tasks that others might not think she’s up to. Some days, her work is focused on marketing strategies. Other times, it’s all about store design or problem-solving.
“I get to travel, work with sales teams, meet with potential owners and investors, and more,” she says.
Right now, Howell is excited to be part of a team working to establish and launch a new Laundromat in the Southeast.
“We’re in the beginning stages. So we’re looking at it not only from a design perspective,” she explains, “but we’re also working on the store itself, from start to finish. We’re also considering marketing, demographics, and more, so we can decide exactly where we should be. The process has been very interesting.”
Howell believes she and her team are well-positioned to help potential owners in the vended laundry industry. They are thinking about ways to make their stores stand out, for improved marketing, efficiency, and ultimately profitability.
“Technology is advancing, and the industry is changing,” she says. “We’re integrating everything we do — from the store, up.”
Howell notes that these changes are bringing both new benefits, and new challenges.
At the store level, owners can now use connectivity to easily change time-of-day pricing on their machines, from wherever they are. Meanwhile, at the corporate level, technology is driving huge shifts in marketing efforts.
“When my dad was doing this, it was all about mailers and print advertising,” she says. “Now there’s a social media aspect to consider, and the reporting has changed. We have to think very strategically with everything we do.”
And in between, there’s always the relationship — the thing that continues to drive Howell to take on every new challenge, in support of commercial laundry business owners.
“At the end of the day,” she says, “building a relationship is about being there consistently to support them with their needs. And as my amazing mentors in the company have always reminded me: Ultimately, it’s all going to be alright.”