Dawn Richards tells a similar story. She left a position with the Marine Corps to help her father during a particularly busy time in his growing business - Childress Heating & A/C Inc. (Fredericksburg, Va.) - and she, too, stayed, joining her sister, Dena Cooke, in the family business. Today Richards serves as office manager and treasurer of the company, while her younger sister handles accounts payable, contracts, and change-outs.
In October, a fourth woman brought these three women and 28 others together for the first-of-its-kind event - an all-women tour of the Johnson Controls factories in Wichita, Kan., and Norman, Okla. Until this October, Maureen Baker, who wears a variety of hats in the business she and her husband Ken have owned for 24 years - York distributor Virginia Air Distributors (Midlothian, Va.) - had never toured an HVAC factory.
“We’ve conducted twice annual trips to factories for the past 10 years, sending 20 to 30 people - and by people I mean men - on each trip,” Maureen Baker said. “But it occurred to me that we had never sent a group of women, despite the fact that more and more women are working in the industry. So we gauged the interest among our dealers and got a tremendous response to our inquiry.”
As a result, Baker reached out to representatives from the York brand of Johnson Controls, and together they organized a three-day, all-expenses-paid trip for 32 women to the two Johnson Controls manufacturing facilities. In addition to plant tours, the trip included a tour of the Wichita lab; discussions of quality processes, market product demand, and the York dealer intranet; and question-and-answer sessions.
According to Baker, the tour attracted women representing a variety of positions within the HVAC industry, including secretary/treasurers, residential sales managers, co-owners, human resource managers, and office managers. “The goal of the trip was to expose women to the manufacturing process - to let them see how the products they sell are actually made, the quality that goes into them, and the marketing initiatives and tools that are in place to support the sale of these products and ultimately, their businesses.”
Conversations with women who attended the tour indicate the trip easily met this goal. “I’ve always seen products from the outside,” said Marr. “This trip gave me a whole new perspective by helping me understand how products are built from the inside out - how all the various components come together to form one unit in a process that focuses on quality. It makes me feel good that I can explain the process to my customers and assure them that they are getting a quality product when they purchase a piece of York equipment.”
Richards echoed Marr’s sentiments. “The tour was an eye-opening experience,” she said. “For many years we’ve dealt with coils, compressors, motors, and other parts in a purely administrative way - as part numbers on inventory lists. This tour gave us the opportunity to see the actual parts and how they fit together in pieces of equipment, which was quite different from what I had previously envisioned.”
Cooke agreed, adding, “Now I know why an A coil is called an A coil - it actually looks like an A! And I learned so many things about the equipment and how it works. I’m so much more comfortable talking with customers because I have a better understanding of how the York equipment works and what goes into it, especially the quality control process.”
“Quality control is a big issue for us,” said Richards. “So the discussions about quality and seeing the steps that are in place in the factory to assure the quality of York products will go a long way in giving us confidence about the products we sell and install in our customers’ homes and businesses. That means a lot to me.”
All three women agree they would recommend the tour to others, especially as they observe more women entering the HVAC industry and greater acceptance of women in the industry. “It used to be that when a customer called and I answered the phone, it quickly became obvious they preferred to speak with a man,” noted Marr. “Today, however, with more women technicians, customer service reps, tune-up specialists, etc., that attitude is definitely changing. And the information I brought back from this trip will help our customers feel even more comfortable talking with a woman.”
“It can be a very stressful business,” added Richards. “But I would absolutely encourage women to get into the industry. It’s a great field to be in. No matter what happens with the economy, people are always going to want and need a warm home in the winter and a cool home in the summer, which can mean a steady job for women lucky enough to find a place in our industry.”
With one factory tour under her belt, Baker is already thinking about the next one. “The positive feedback we’ve received makes it not a matter of if we’ll organize another women’s factory tour, but when. For women who deal with model numbers, warranties, and billing processes, the tour provides a wonderful opportunity to see how equipment is constructed, understand how it works, and instill confidence in the women who represent that equipment, in the office and in the field.”