Lisa Whitson is a very popular service tech according to Al-Don customer feedback.
CREVE COEUR, Mo. — One of her customers refers to her as “my furnace lady,” and the customer has every right to be proud. Lisa Whitson is taking care of her.

Whitson is doing what comes naturally, servicing customers of Al-Don Service Inc. of Creve Coeur, Mo. She has worked for the company for the past nine years.

“A lot of these people are my friends, and they treat me like a friend,” she said.

That’s one reason why Whitson has had such a successful and satisfying career as a service technician in this suburb of St. Louis. Being a trusted friend helped Whitson achieve a total of $325,000 in replacement sales last year for Al-Don.

“Women do feel a little more comfortable and would often rather talk with me than with a man, who may wind up talking over their heads,” she said. “I want customers to make the buying decision; it is their money they are spending. They will give me the business because I take the time to talk about their needs.”

Whitson’s boss, Jeff Miller, Al-Don vice president and general manager, acknowledged that 55 percent of customers who call for service request Whitson, adding that a lot of female homeowners will take the time to go into the basement with Whitson to discuss service or repair. “Some women would rather not go into their basement with a man,” he said. “They don’t feel threatened with Lisa.”

The company is also influenced by another woman — Jeff’s mother Jane, who owns the company. Al-Don has serviced western St. Louis county for 43 years. Its market is made up of 80 percent residential customers and 20 percent light commercial businesses. The company employs 10 workers.

Laying The Foundation

Whitson, a senior technician and one of six company field mechanics, started out in another field, working in electronics for McDonnell Douglas. When layoffs hit the airplane manufacturer, she decided to make a career shift from the electronics field to the HVACR field, working for a contractor while attending school. She then worked for White-Rodgers as a technical representative, learning about controls by “answering questions quickly for phone-in customers.”

Her neighbor had worked at Al-Don and recommended that she speak with Miller. The rest is history. She doesn’t believe that her presence has had a great impact on the company.

“I don’t perceive myself being different from any other service tech,” she said. “Al-Don had a lot of clients long before I started working for them.”

Miller respectfully disagrees.

“Having Lisa, a female service tech, gives us an advantage,” he said.

It’s Not Just A Man’s World

Whitson said being a service tech is a great career and believes that other women could be as successful as she has been — if they understood the profession.

“We need to get the word out about women in the field,” she said. “A lot [of women] don’t want be the first to do it. Other women are fascinated and think that it is great that there is a woman in field service. Maybe it is because I am doing it and not them. Sure it’s a dirty job at times, but women also clean dirty houses. Me, I’d rather clean a dirty blower motor.

“The business is a lot cleaner than people think, and IAQ is an interesting field that women can get into. I like the IAQ aspect of the job and teaching how it is important to customers.”

Whitson believes in taking the time to explain the many benefits of the systems she sells, detailing the efficiencies and safety topics.

“People are interested in you if you take the time to teach them about your products,” she said. “You have to be honest and you have to be sincere. Don’t make things up and try to sound too intelligent.”

Whitson also believes that she has to make an extra effort to be accepted into the “man’s world.” “I’ve always felt like I had to learn everything and know more than men,” she said. “I think you have to know a little more just because you are a woman. But I have been accepted by the other men at work. I’ve never, ever heard any snide remarks from co-workers. We work hand-in-hand. Ours is a wonderful crew.”

One of the biggest benefits of the job is that Whitson is not confined by four walls.

“I’m not stuck in a building,” she said. “I’m out meeting people. I’m not sure there is any other career where you meet so many different people.

“This field is infinite. You can never get stuck doing the same thing.”

Publication date: 07/21/2003