Call it a gimmick. Call it sexist, if you so believe. Gary Southern will listen, but don't expect him to change his approach about educating new homeowners and marketing to clients.

The sales manager at Four Seasons Heating and Home Comfort Solutions, which serves metro Denver, believes women are simply better at educating new homebuyers about home comfort systems. It's why he has primarily females as "home comfort consultants."

"Our women consultants are so professional, so energetic, so well-trained, and, frankly, do a much better job," he said.

"Women have more energy and style. I think they are more highly organized. They follow instructions better. They build stronger, long-term relationships with our homebuyer clients and builders' salespeople..."

For the next minute or two, Southern will continue his superlatives regarding women in a sales-consulting position. He has experienced what women can do when it comes to Four Seasons' home comfort education processes. It's one of the reasons the contracting firm started its "pre-construction" Home Comfort Enhancement Consultation Process, and its "post-closing" Customer Assurance Walk-Through Process, for its builders.

In essence, Four Seasons pre-construction process links its builder's homebuyer and its women consultation team to educate the homebuyer about the benefits of home comfort systems available, which the buyer should factor into the building of a new home.

Within the first few days or weeks after the homebuyer closes on the new home, Four Seasons sends one of its woman customer assurance reps back in to educate the homebuyer on how to operate and maintain the systems the homebuyer chose. In this "post-closing" phase, the homebuyer is again presented with home comfort systems desired and available to be installed in the home.

These women are so good, they are the voices and professional actresses-educators on a special DVD they recorded this year on how to operate and maintain any of the home comfort systems their clients may have chosen. Every client gets the DVD for free after closing on the new home, or any time the client purchases any type of home comfort system, component, or even service/maintenance-type products from the firm's online store (

"All but one have come in green," admitted Southern of his four women consultants. "They couldn't even spell HVAC. Well, or at least they didn't know that it meant ... heating, ventilating, and air conditioning."

With down-home, easy-to-understand, benefits-oriented scripts, and plenty of training and mentoring of each other, these women have been selling systems to homebuyers, as Four Seasons is heavily - approximately 85 percent - into residential new construction.

"They connect with people easily, and a trusting relationship seems to be built almost immediately," said Southern. "That's huge for an industry and home comfort systems that most homebuyers know little to nothing about."

Sales manager Gary Southern (back row) believes in his home comfort consultants at Four Seasons Heating and Home Comfort Solutions. This includes (from left) Gayle Kilker, Patti Southern, Carolyn Cobos, and Linda Beck.

Unique Dynamics?

OK, these women are "easy on the eyes," he admits, hoping that does not offend anyone.

"That ends up being a minor consideration when placed up against their style, professionalism, and willingness to serve the client," said Southern.

He believes, for the most part, women add more "personality" to the whole process, and are definitely more graceful, energetic, self-motivated, and full of honesty and integrity. "I first saw these dynamics at work back in the early 80s," said Southern, who was in HVACR wholesale distribution for 22 years.

"One of the best manufacturers' representatives I ever had was a woman from Johns Manville named Marti Rankin. She never wasted my time, my employees' time, or my customers' time. She came in, stated her business, usually trained us about her superior products, and told our specifying engineer clients exactly what they needed to specify, and had them rewrite their specs on the spot.

"I didn't really understand whatever dynamic was at work, but I saw it happen. I was convinced. I have wanted to have a woman sales team in a traditionally man's industry ever since, and am just now getting to do it. It's such a cool thing to see a wild dream and plan come together."

In concert with his wife, Patti, who serves as the coordination administrator and front-line builder liaison, the processes have been constantly and consistently growing stronger with Carolyn Cobos and Linda Beck handling the enhancement presentations. Meanwhile, Gayle Kilker handles the lion's share of the customer assurance walk-throughs. Because of this new, fast-growing business segment, and resulting profits, Southern is in the process of adding another consultant, and (go figure), it will be a woman.

Together, in 2005, this all-star group of women consultants is looking to generate an additional $3.5 million to $4 million of incremental home comfort enhancement sales at a very healthy net profit to Four Seasons' already profitable business segments.

"We are very careful and intentional about the philosophy that they are not salespeople, but educators and consultants to our clients," said Southern. "They do not merely sell builder upgrades or builder options. "They educate on home comfort enhancements and systems for the homebuyer's new ‘castle.'"

The women are proud of their work. "I just love doing this," said Cobos, the eight-year HVAC industry veteran of the group.

"I have dreamed of being able to meet with new homebuyers my whole HVAC career. I knew it would be well received and I've always seen myself more as an educator than a salesperson. It has been so much fun helping to develop all this. As we have concentrated so hard on ‘no-pressure' educating, rather than all the normal sales techniques our industry has pushed, it just feels good - all we are doing for our clients. The no-competition aspect of all this makes it such a relaxed atmosphere."

Meanwhile, Beck likes the flexibility and support she receives working with the team.

"These folks we meet with are so appreciative that we are taking the time to educate them, and provide them the opportunity to customize their home comfort system, even in a project-type home," she said.

"The homebuyers that are buying their second or third home are bordering on being mad that they haven't been provided this opportunity by their previous builders. It's so much fun meeting new people. For the most part, they are such nice people. They are excited about building their new home and are always eager to learn more about what all is available to them. They just love us!

"And it's really neat to develop such strong friendships with all the builder salespeople, construction managers, and warranty folks. They all love us too!"

Kilker, the newest team member, is glad to be aboard.

"People are pleasantly surprised that we are taking the time after the sale to come back and offer support, education, and training on all their home comfort systems," she said.

"We're like their latest heroes or something. Before we get there, rarely do they ever really understand how to program their thermostat or even know where their filtration system is, much less how to maintain it. They are so excited about getting our DVD, and they love our E-mail Reminder system. They are just like we are in our own homes - they can't remember when it's time to service something, so we get to stay ‘connected' to them.

"I think that's a real confidence-builder and peace of mind thing for them. They know they can always call us and we are going to answer any question or help them with any challenge or problem they may encounter. And I know when they need that new two-speed, 15-SEER air conditioning system or steam humidification system, they are going to call me to help them out. I'm always ready for those calls. I help educate them about it."

More Relational

Southern, who labels himself a "vision caster" on one of his business cards, believes they have nearly perfected these marketing and educational systems. It's one reason why he started another business, Altus Solutions (, with some friends.

This company was set up to share home comfort consulting and educational techniques with sister contractors across the country. One of the tools his company offers is HVACBuilderBlocks, an online software suite. It is designed to make it easier to offer new homebuyers HVAC home comfort enhancements and increase profits for both residential new construction contractors and their builder clients. In essence, it's all the tools that his women consultants have requested and been preaching about for the last several years.

"With a proven set of homebuyer client education methods and solid online software, it can revolutionize the way your company does residential new construction sales and business, while drastically increasing your net profit margins on every home," said Southern.

Don't get Southern wrong. Males are needed in sales also, but perhaps more so in the add-on and replacement arena. Here, he believes, it may require more experience, technical knowledge, and on-the-spot applications background to get the attention of a potential client-homeowner. It's a different type of sale and experience for the client, if you will.

"Generally, I think women are more relational than men. They build strong relationships that will last," he believes.

"And that's what we are looking for - long-term relationships. When it comes to marketing to and educating new homebuyers, you need to connect quickly and be able to provide assurance and peace of mind to the client that you are interested in being there to support your ‘new friends' after the sale, too. Our women consultants seem to be able to do that very well. Largely, because of these women, we actually do end up with not just loyal clients, but raving fans."

Publication date: 10/10/2005