As a child, Nathalie Brooks would set up her plastic cash register and assemble merchandise and play at operating a retail store. “As long as I remember I’ve wanted to be in business.” Not surprisingly, when she became an adult she opened a clothing store in Georgetown, Ontario.
More recently, Nathalie and her husband Chris started Brooks Heating and Air, “Because Chris didn’t want to work for other people anymore. We decided to go our own way. I think I like business more than I like fashion, so I was happy to try something else.” Nathalie’s grandfather was in the heating business, installing and servicing boilers and hearth products in The Netherlands and in Indonesia. Her father was a gasfitter. When the time came, he helped Chris learn the trade. Today Brooks Heating and Air includes their two sons, Lucas and Tucker and has grown from one crew 10 years ago to seven trucks on the road. “I think the people in Georgetown like the fact that ours is a small family business,” says Nathalie. “They like to know who they are dealing with and they are loyal and supportive of businesses in their community. ”While Chris manages operations, Nathalie ‘does everything else,’ runs the office, all of the administration, human resources, accounting, customer services, and marketing. She is part of the HRAI Toronto Chapter, a member of a peer group, an oversight committee, and the HRAI Women in an HVAC team.
“We recently organized a career fair in Brampton involving three high schools in partnership with the Ontario Refrigeration & Air Conditioning Contractors Association (ORAC). I really enjoyed that because just like everyone else in this business we’re looking for talent, and I think women are part of the answer to that challenge.”
“A lot of young women were at the fair and they didn’t seem to realize that HVAC can be a rewarding career. What we tell them is that you can go to university and come out in four years with tuition debt in six figures and still have trouble finding a job. Or you can train for one of the trades and be pretty certain you can start a job immediately and soon be earning six figures.”
“Young people were surprised to hear this and became more interested. They picked up our information pieces and they had some interesting questions, such as will we be paid the same as the men for the same work. We told them, yes, if you can lift 50 pounds it would be totally equal. We also caution them that the construction business is full of strong personalities, so they have to have thick skin, but if they do, then they’ll be fine.”“In general women can take care of themselves. And I think a lot of them are interested in other opportunities in this business like sales, customer service, and office work, but a few were also interested in the tools. Some are into math and computers and building science. I think television shows like Mike Holmes have had a good effect because they see women who are role models working with tools or working as engineers and building designers.”
Nathalie says she is not intimidated if a man assumes she’s not ‘the boss’ because she’s a woman. She jokes that it’s harder for a caller to sell something to the company if they start off with an error like that. She can be tough when necessary but is something of a soft touch with family and staff. “We try to keep a positive vibe on our staff team and keep our loyal customers happy. I think a secret to our success is to treat people like family, both internally and when we’re taking care of customers. I always wanted to be in business, and that’s what business is all about.”