Re-Imagineer: Norman Miller

You had a very long and successful career in the luxury publishing business, including stints at The New Yorker, Gourmet, Marie Claire, W and more. You then left New York City for the Hudson Valley and had a total Reimagination. First stop was to manage a few departments at Lowe’s. Tell us about the decision that led to that change.

I knew that my time in media was up. A publisher once said to me that we all have a specific amount of time in this business, some shorter and some longer. I’m proud to say that mine was long and successful, and when print started to decline, I made the decision that I really didn’t want to delve into the other aspects of media. The words ‘know thyself’ come to mind, and I knew where my passion was and it wasn’t selling “likes” or “impressions”. That’s me—I applaud those who were able to make the transition. 

I’d considered real estate, and both my husband and late father looked at me like I was crazy. Neither thought I had the ‘patience’ for real estate. In retrospect, they were correct. 

While I considered the transition, I decided to stretch my comfort zone and apply for a job at Lowe’s. They put me in the flooring department and I was soon managing plumbing, flooring, paint and Home Décor. I know that my professional and personal experience brought a different mindset to retail. Apparently—I was told after the fact—that there were those in the store that were convinced I was from the television show Undercover Boss. HA! As if!

My soon to be 60-year old body succumbed to lifting flooring, bending to mix paint, and loading toilets and sinks into customers’ cars, and when I came back from fairly extensive back surgery, I knew the Lowe’s vacation was over.

I had learned a great deal about homes, and saw a job for territory sales at Culligan, selling water treatment and learning an entire new industry. Well I drank water, so I figured why not? I covered fairly rural Sullivan County, NY and really worked it hard—like I always had at other jobs. I was able to increase the territory significantly.

After a couple of years, we purchased one of our local competitors and I was asked to be a Selling Supervisor for that branch. Ironically, we purchased the branch because they had an exclusive water treatment relationship with—of all stores—Home Depot, previously my arch nemesis.

After about a year, the company went through a reorganization and created an Area Sales Manager position and I am now the Area Sales Manager for both my original branch in Newburgh and the acquired branch in Wappingers Falls. There are 11 sales people between the branches.

Now you have a robust new career at Culligan by WaterCo, running a territory, growing a sales team and business. You’ve become a licensed water specialist and have even talked about it on Catskills News Radio!

In your 60’s, you are thriving in an entirely new industry and second career. How does it feel and where do you see it going from here?

I’m LOVING it! I am so proud that I have reinvented myself and am taking my sales and sales management skills and translating them into an entirely new industry. In publishing we worked trade shows. At Culligan we work County and Town Fairs and Home Depot. Sales is Sales is Sales.

Ha, the radio stint was a hoot. There is so much problem water out here, that the more we can educate homeowners, the better it is for our business. When I was in publishing I covered mostly jewelry and watches, and was successful by involving myself in the industry, even chairing the Gem Awards. It’s the same concept here.

Next Steps? Well I won’t work full time forever, and I don’t (really) have a timetable, but I do know that I would very much like to stay with Culligan after that and work with training the sales team locally and even around the country. We introduced SalesForce three years ago, and I was lucky enough to be part of the initial development team since I’d used it at 7 different places before. Now, I work not only with our team here locally, but make myself available for other teams around the country as we continue to evolve our use of SalesForce. I’d love to continue that work should the opportunity present itself. 

As a bonafide Re-Imagineer, what advice would you give people who have spent 30 or 40 years in one industry, but want to try something new? Our message at ROAR is that at 60, people have a whole new career run in them, but there is always trepidation. Since you have done it, share some wisdom for our readers.

Never doubt that your skill set is transferable. You will take everything you learn with you—good and bad. It’s just like the positive and negative baggage in your personal life—it comes with you as a package deal. With both, you get to choose which to use and which to ignore or work through.

I’m using reports at Culligan that I used in publishing. Spreadsheets are my friend, and my co-workers abuse me a little bit for my use of them.

Trust yourself; you’re smarter and better than you think. Reinvention and reimaging can be fun and productive.

My family and friends are amazed (and bewildered and annoyed…) when I walk into their homes and start to test and analyze their water.

I’ve said more than once: “You think I’m drinking THAT? NO WAY!

Five years ago, I didn’t know anything about water treatment and know that I still have a lot to learn.

My Best advice: Go learn something new. It’s NEVER too late.

Life in your second half of your life is like my friend the Excel spreadsheet. It can be manipulated, you can copy and paste and you can pivot it.

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