Brandon Brooks, one of the winners of the Trade Academy 2021 HVAC Scholarship, knows first-hand what it takes to build a successful business. He and his wife own an ice cream shop located in the town of Berea, Ohio called Mootown Creamery. Brandon’s passion for HVAC began when he decided he needed to learn how to service their own refrigeration equipment rather than pay someone else to do it. He thought to himself, “I want to be able to do my own repairs.”
After enrolling in HVAC classes at Polaris Career Center, Brandon realized his desire to learn how to complete repairs for their business was more than just a functional skill he could use for himself. Instead, it was something he enjoyed doing that could benefit others. Brandon says, “Since I’ve been in class I’ve just had this overwhelming feeling that this is where I need to be.”
“Everyone’s here to help each other, have each other’s back, and work hard. That’s what we did in the Navy for the 20 years I was in, and that’s what I’m going to continue to do for the rest of my life.”
As a Navy Veteran, Brandon is no stranger to answering the call to serve. The thought of repairing refrigeration equipment in his business began as an effective method to manage his business. His curiosity to learn has led him to build a new business venture that makes him feel good about the work he’s doing for others. The feeling he gets completing HVAC projects provides him with a sense of pride and accomplishment. Brandon mentions, “it’s more rewarding from my point of view because you get some real, tangible-like job satisfaction at the end of it.”
It’s important to Brandon and his family to give back to their community. Their ice cream business participates in the local parades during holiday events like Christmas and 4th of July. They have a Volkswagen Beetle convertible painted with cow spots that drives along in the parades while they pass out candy to the kids. They are also involved with the local police department with their positive praise program where the police officers give kids tickets for being good citizens and they can come into Mootown Creamery to redeem their tickets for scoops of ice cream. The community is important to the Brooks family and Brandon is motivated to use his HVAC skills to serve the people of his beloved town.
Learn more about Brandon’s story and his passion for HVAC as you read his responses to our interview below.
What does winning this scholarship mean to you?
It means a lot, I’m grateful that you guys are doing this. You guys are putting something together like this where people who are in the trades are trying to get ahead and I’m grateful because I’m going to use part of the scholarship to use for tools that I didn’t think I was going to be able to get. One of the things that I’m not sure about at other career centers, but at Polaris we’re not able to keep our tools since they’re really expensive and we’re not able to take them with us. So there’s some key things like gauges, pressure gauges, and ammeters and things like that which are quite expensive. I wasn’t sure how I was going to be able to afford these tools especially when getting started in the industry. So this is really going to help a lot.
What do you plan to do with the scholarship award?
I’m going to try to be really thrifty with it, get a top dollar gauge, but then the rest I want to put away because I really want to start my own business. I don’t know if you saw it but it’s snowing here in Ohio right now so we get a lot of snow right now during the winter season especially in northeast Ohio. There’s lots of families out here whose furnaces go out - electric and gas furnaces are a big problem with heating issues. I’ve got 4 girls of my own so keeping those babies warm is important and I understand that. I really want to start my own business. There’s a huge need in the Cleveland area for HVAC and refrigeration. There’s just not enough technicians to service them. There’s not enough tradespeople to get out there and help them. It’s just really important to me so I’m going to use some of that money to get the tools I need to start and then the rest I’m going to kind of put back so I can start my business and licenses I need to start a business.
Your instructor shared that you decided to enroll in the HVAC program because you and your wife own ice cream stores. Can you tell me more about that?
We own Mootown Creamery which is a little ice cream shop here in Berea Ohio right outside of Cleveland. It’s where the Cleveland Browns training camp is and it’s a great little city. We love the city and we bought the business about 3 and a half, 4 years ago. It’s been great as my wife runs it full time and I work another supervisor job elsewhere while she runs the ice cream shop. I’m kind of her handyman though on the weekends and I repair stuff. My drive initially was to learn as much as I can about refrigeration so that we're not paying refrigeration or HVAC techs to come out and work on our own equipment because we’re looking at opening a second store here in May. I want to be able to do my own repairs, in fact, we actually just bought a freezer to put ice cream cakes in that needed some work. I’ve been working on it myself and me and some of the other students have got it to work at the right temperature. It’s working great and it’s going to go in store number two. So that was my initial drive and I really thought, you know, I’m going to use some of my GI Bill from the military and I’m going to get all this experience and education with HVAC refrigeration and then I’ll be able to do my own stuff. But since I’ve been in class I’ve just had this overwhelming feeling that this is where I need to be. This is something that there’s a huge need out there. I know that, where I’m working right now I’m making pretty good money where I’m at in management. I’m going to have to step back to go forward a little bit and I’m okay with that. We’re okay financially and I’m ready to take that step to where I can get my own business going at some point. So I think after graduation that’s what we’re going to focus on, me stepping back from my current position and then trying to get the business rolling.
How has being a business owner prepared you for HVAC school and working in the HVAC industry?
Well, I think it’s prepared me quite a bit. I mean, because I’ve seen the reality of what it takes to run a successful business and I’ve kind of seen the hard work that has been put into it. Being your own boss is not as easy as it sounds. Sometimes you want to take a new account and there’s things that could go wrong, so you just have to work hard at it. My wife and I worked really hard at it for our business and that’s why we’re thankful that we’re able to start a second business soon. She’s done a wonderful job and I give all the credit to her. I’ve seen what she goes through, and so I understand that concept. Especially in the HVAC business, I mean, it’s a service business, you know. I’m selling a product, it’s a service business, so with that being said, we do service like retail service. With the ice cream shop there’s a lot of that. That would be my first priority, especially with the new business, to be customer oriented, integrity - don’t try to upsell people things they don’t need. It’s being an honest business for repeat customers. I’m not trying to go out here and make a fortune on everybody and overcharge. I just want to help people. I want to get out there and create an honest business that can help people.
What similarities are there between being in the Navy and working in HVAC?
Honestly, it was pulling together to help each other, like a team. I mean, that’s what you do in the military - you gotta pull together as a team and work together and have each other’s back. That’s really important in the military. It’s important in real life, and it’s important in business. I think especially in the HVAC business to pull together and work hard. Everyone’s here to help each other, have each other’s back, and work hard. That’s what we did in the Navy for the 20 years I was in, that's what I’m going to continue to do for the rest of my life.
In your video submission, you mentioned that you really enjoy the hands-on element of work compared to office environments. Why would you say it’s more rewarding working with your hands out in the field?
Well, I think that it’s more rewarding from my point of view because you get some real, tangible-like job satisfaction at the end of it. Whereas in the classroom or at work where you’re managing things, sitting in an office managing things, it’s kind of nice to see something accomplished. But sometimes theoretical because sometimes you don’t see it happen or you don’t actually make it happen physically. So that’s the big difference for me is I kind of manage things from the office but it’s more satisfying to be able to make something happen and put something together or make something work again, troubleshooting it. I have a very analytical mind and that’s the thing I like most about HVAC. When things break, I have to go in a sequence of operations and say ‘okay, well this is working, I’m getting voltage from this, I’m getting amperage from this, that’s right’ and narrow it down analytically. This is probably what’s going on and that’s also something I got that from the military as well, because I was in Intelligence so there’s a lot of analysis and critical thinking so I enjoy it. I really love it.
You also said, “When you love what you do, it doesn’t feel like work at all.” How would you advise someone to find what they love as their profession?
Yeah, I think the biggest advice I would give is don’t be afraid to get out there and try it. Don’t be afraid to leap feet first because I didn’t know that I was going to like HVAC as much as I did. But it was a little scary because there’s a lot of components to it - electrical, plumbing, and a lot of other stuff, but I leapt in feet first because it was something that I wanted to learn. So don’t be afraid to give something a try. You never know what you’re going to fall in love with. You never know what’s going to be around the next corner. You may find that it’s something you’re really interested in and say ‘wow, it’s really great.’
You mentioned you have a family. What’s it been like for your family while you go to school?
Oh, they understand. They’re supportive, they do miss me, you know I’m at school Monday through Friday from 5:30 to 10pm, so there’s a lot of missed time. Days like today we’re going to go out later and spend time together, kind of make up time on the weekends and stuff. But we’ve only got about four more months of this and then I’ll have my evenings free again. We can sit down and have family dinners again as a family, all together, and it would be back to normal. But they understand why I’m doing it, and they are supportive. When I do come home, I’ll sometimes take videos of projects we’re working on whether it’s electrical circuits or whatever we’re looking at for that particular day and I share it with them. They can be as excited about it as I am. They understand what I’m doing, so they also understand the importance of it.
What message would you share to someone considering a career in HVAC?
Just be ready to roll your sleeves up and get dirty and work hard. I mean, it’ll pay off. Like I said, it’s rewarding - the sense of job satisfaction and being able to help people. It’s a great career. It’s a good paying career. You can definitely support a family and do well with HVAC. And there’s a lot of need for it right now and I’d say just be ready to roll your sleeves up and work hard and you should be fine.
Why do you think it’s difficult to recruit people into the Trades?
Honestly, I think there’s a misconception that you’re not going to make as much money as you would if you went to college. I got out of the Navy in 2013, I finished my bachelor’s degree and got my degree in business management. I know where the differences are with salary and stuff like that. I’m telling you the trades people make more money. I’ve got friends and family that are fresh out of college and they’re still making, you know, half of what some of these guys in the trades are making right now. There’s this misconception and in America, especially, we say education is important, and it is, but there’s different kinds of education. There’s education in the trades as well and you learn a lot. So this misconception that if you want to be successful, this is the route you have to go, but it’s not true. It’s just not true. There are so many opportunities in the trades that aren’t being tapped into right now and that people aren’t taking advantage of and we need to push harder for. I thought it was wonderful to see the young lady that got the scholarship the other day. I think that women need to definitely get more involved in the trades. I mean, they’re absolutely capable. Just like they were in the military, they were absolutely just as capable as the men, and so I think it’d be great if they get more interested in the trades as well - that’d be incredible.
What did you think of the virtual award ceremony?
I thought it was good and handled well, especially in a virtual environment like that. It’s hard to coordinate some things but I thought it was done really well. I did like the process of how you guys were passing it back and then you had the guest speaker and then you were able to go out to each individual person and talk about them. Maybe if there was a portion where if one of the winners wanted to say something or, you know, jump in, but I know we were trying to keep it within the timeline. Of course, I wanted to jump in and say thank you to you guys for giving us support. Maybe at the end, like a quick roundtable if anyone wants to say something before we close the meeting or whatever. Otherwise, I thought it was really good, and I thought you guys did a great job.
Meet more of the winners
Curious to get to know the other exceptional winners of the Trade Academy 2021 HVAC Scholarship? Click here to see the list of scholarship award winners.