ACHRNEWS

At the Table: Saleswomen in HVAC

March 15, 2010

[Editor’s Note: This is the third article in a series that concentrates on the professional HVAC saleswoman.]

For those of you who are wondering where and how to find talented women who are interested in a career in HVAC sales, I’m delighted to introduce you to Gina Philippon and Charlene Faircloth. They are two exceptional women who unexpectedly landed in HVAC - and ultimately in sales, meeting homeowners face-to-face. Their stories are classic examples of John Lennon’s wise and clever quote, “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.”

QUILTING TOGETHER AN INDUSTRY CAREER

Meet Gina Philippon, sales and estimating manager for Mid-Coast Energy Systems Inc. (MCES) in Damariscotta, Maine. She is a single mother of an 11-year-old son and has been with MCES since April 2000.

Life stepped in at a very welcome time for Gina. She was frustrated with her dead-end bank job and was feeling a need to grow, which wasn’t possible at the bank. Fortunately, Gina worked with Michelle Morgner who had solid inside information that Mid-Coast Energy Systems was poised for growth, and she was happy to facilitate a meeting with the president, Bill Morgner, her husband. (The women’s network thrives on “inside information.”) Gina happily reported, “Within weeks I was the newest and proudest [MCES] employee eager to learn and grow. When I came out of banking, I had no idea that this would eventually become my dream job and career!”

Gina began her career at MCES working in the warehouse, purchasing and receiving materials. Bill recognized her talents and encouraged her to move into estimating, which naturally moved into sales. She was an apprentice to Bob Hardina, the 65-year-old former owner who had transferred ownership to Bill Morgner and two other men who had worked for Bob for a total of 67 years. Gina learned from a true master - master plumber, master electrician, and “master oil burner man.”

Hardina is happy to talk about his star apprentice. “Gina was my ‘project’ to train her to be an estimator. We spent a lot of time visiting jobsites and designing heating, plumbing, and electrical systems. Gina was a quick study. She took material home with her. She wanted to learn and she did. Gina, for me, was the opportunity to pass on what I had learned over the years. I am proud to be her mentor. Gina is a great success story.” Now there’s a match made in HVAC heaven!

And how do homeowners respond to Gina? “I am very well-received. I find that some women appreciate the gender identification and find it easy to talk to me like I were their friend. We can talk about their mechanical systems and about quilting or shopping all in the same kitchen table visit.

“I have never felt intimidated, nor have I ever been discounted by any of my male-only households. When dealing with couples, I can easily talk both of their languages.” Gina is comfortable and capable to discuss whatever is important to either of them, be it detailed specifics of system design or operation and benefits - all with complete assurance that “I would not recommend anything for their home that I would not put into my own home.”

And what does Gina love about in-home sales? “I love the unknown, the mystery. Often we work with long-time established customers that I have a past relationship with. Other times it’s a potentially new client. We don’t know each other, and I have no idea what I will be walking into, what problems will need to be solved, the constraints or how they will be overcome. I also love the competition with other contractors - always takes things up a notch.

“But, primarily I love my customers. That sounds cliché, but it is true for me. I never considered myself a people person, but I have found that I am. I enjoy building those relationships and having that repeat business that is a reassurance that I am trusted.”

And, Gina loves to talk about the culture and values at MCES. “One of the wonderful things about MCES is that they always differentiated themselves from others by being the premier contractor. The service and installation technicians wore white shirts, pressed trousers and neckties. This was an attempt to dispel the myth of the typical plumber or oil burner man. Indeed, it worked! MCES has a reputation for being a bit more pricey than the competition, but we are worth it. The superior service, customer commitment, and the unsurpassed quality of our work set us head and shoulders above the competition. This is a white-collar mechanical contractor. I would not trade my experiences over the last decade with MCES for anything!”

On her own time, Gina enjoys camping, her backyard vegetable garden, and quilting - a woman of many talents!

Charlene Faircloth with her 1981 DeLorean.

LOW-TENSION SELLING

Now meet Charlene Faircloth who is sales manager for ESCO Services Inc. in Salt Lake City. Charlene also took an entirely unconventional path to HVAC. She began her career in television and radio media, then to a hardware store. While at the latter, she was fully trained in remodeling and home repairs. Great for Charlene who said, “I love building things.” And, she’s not kidding. She remodeled her kitchen. Her 13-year-old son was happily enlisted for the demolition part of the project.

Charlene’s last stop before finding her way to HVAC was as director of marketing and admissions for a nursing home and a volunteer for hospice. To Charlene’s way of thinking, it’s all a perfect fit, “taking care of and caring about people. What will work best for them in their situation?”

Call it life, destiny, or divine intervention, a birthday celebration created the circumstance for a casual conversation with a guest in the HVAC industry who told Charlene, “You’d be good in HVAC sales.” That idea took hold, and she began exploring opportunities. A few weeks later, she was on her way to a rewarding career in sales in this great industry.

Richard Justice, president, ESCO Services Inc., explains, “Our company was formerly a commercial mechanical contractor that occasionally dabbled in the residential HVAC business. When I purchased the company back from a large consolidator, I wanted to get out of construction and focus exclusively on the existing residential and light commercial business. The first thing I had to do was to find some strong salespeople that were already familiar with the retail residential market. As a mechanical contractor, I had previously attempted - unsuccessfully - to recruit Charlene for commercial service sales, so she was one of the first people we thought of to help us with our new business model.

“Fortunately, we were successful in recruiting Charlene as a comfort consultant. She was later promoted to sales manager. One of the things I appreciate most about Charlene is her strong desire to continually improve both her technical and sales skills. She is also very creative and has been a great help in our marketing.

“Charlene relates very well to both men and women. They quickly learn that she is knowledgeable, thorough, and professional in her sales presentations. In short, she knows what she’s talking about, and many times her technical knowledge wins orders over a salesperson that has a more technical background. Her desire to always do what’s right for the customer is critical in our company, and that is one of her strengths.

“Charlene can also be counted on to jump in where needed, whether it’s answering the phones or helping a customer with a part. She is always ‘on’ when it comes to sales and marketing. She even convinced us to provide a canopy with our logo on it for the auto shows where she displays her DeLorean. In summary, Charlene is a great asset to our company, and I feel privileged to work with her.”

Charlene puts a high value on efficiency and style explaining, “I must be efficient so I carry every tool I’ll need in a tiny purple tool bag - must be purple, gotta be a girl. Love my laser tape measure, it’s quick and accurate. No dragging around a tape measure for me.”

The secret to her great success, equally as powerful as her strong technical skills, Charlene is passionate about putting people at ease, a lesson instilled by a mentor whose mantra was, “Meet them where they are.” Charlene said, “First, you have to find something in common for them to trust you in their home.”

She explained, “Most people appreciate you explaining what something does rather than the detailed mechanics of how it works. Yes, it takes a little longer to explain it to people, but it’s worth it, and there’s no need to be pushy. When they understand the benefits for them, they want high-efficiency equipment.”

Charlene’s suggestion for finding great women for HVAC sales is “Talk with women who sign up for remodeling and home repair classes at hardware stores.”

Charlene loves competing in car shows with her 1981 DeLorean along with the aforementioned canopy with the ESCO logo. And, is it working for her? Judge for yourself: In a recent show, she sold five jobs and the phone is still ringing.

Exemplary women in HVAC sales make for success stories that are bound to hit the women’s network - and that is very good for your business. I remind you, “Women do not gossip, they advertise!”™

Publication date: 03/15/2010