Air conditioning repairwoman keeps her cool while running growing business
By Mary Margaret Stewart, contributor
Almost seven years ago, Jennifer Beato’s husband started RAM, Retro-Active Mechanical, an air conditioning repair company.
But when her husband unexpectedly died, Beato had to step up and learn the business. She worked with an employee her husband hired for a while, before finding a friend who taught her the trade.
“In the last few years, things have taken off,” Beato said. “I mean, I usually leave my house around 7 or 7:30 a.m. and I’ve been getting home around 10, 11 sometimes.”
On Wednesday morning, she and her employee JC installed a furnace in Norcross. They gathered tools from the company van and climbed into the attic.
You might’ve seen Beato and JC driving down Ponce de Leon Avenue or parked in your neighbor’s driveway but didn’t realize it.
“I was going to put the logo on the side of my van, but I got so busy,” Beato said. “I was just thinking that if anybody else calls me, I’m going to go crazy, so I put it off.
Beato is currently looking for another employee.
“Hopefully I will kind of get my employment portion of this set so that I’m not afraid to advertise,” she said.
After covering the staircase carpet of the Norcross home with a green plastic film for protection, Beato and JC had three hours of work ahead of them. Attics get hot quickly, though, so time was of the essence. They unscrewed, de-caulked and cut the old furnace out.
A typical day for Beato can consist of up to 10 service calls, depending on whether larger projects are interweaved into her schedule. Still, no day is the same, an aspect of her job that Beato appreciates.
Prior to taking over RAM, Beato managed a doctor’s office. She said the biggest difference between managing a doctor’s office and doctoring air conditioners is what she wears to work.
“It’s easy. I don’t have to think about what to wear in the morning,” she said. “It’s jeans and one of [the RAM] shirts. I have like 20 of them.”
Beato grew up in the Decatur area, attending Renfroe Middle School, Decatur High School for two years and graduating from Druid Hills High School. Her 19-year-old son and 18-year-old daughter both graduated from Druid Hills.
With the success of her business and a home near Decatur, she’s happy to concentrate her work in town. Working farther out in places like Norcross is atypical, she said.
“I don’t do jobs farther out much anymore because as I’ve gotten busier,” she said. “It’s become, you know, anti-productive for me to have to drive half an hour to 45 minutes to get to a job, especially with Atlanta traffic.”
In this case, she was doing a favor for a regular customer.
“I still get referrals. This family [in Norcross] is the sister of another customer I have, so I came out,” she said. “It’s not that far, but I’ve been trying to take less and less work out here.”
Since it’s just Beato and one permanent employee, JC, who’s worked with her for almost a month, having the ability to choose where to work makes things easier to juggle.
Beato works on every job site, but with booming business, she senses change for RAM’s future.
“Having me on every job won’t be possible anymore. A little bit of a transition is relinquishing control, too. Trusting other people,” she said. “That’s the thing – finding people who you can trust to do what you would do yourself.”
Beato ran an ad in February, trying to find another employee, but no one panned out.
“There’s really a big deficit of people going into the trades, so there’s not a lot of people going into this industry,” she said. “Finding people who can do the work or who aren’t already employed in the summertime is hard.”
Still, Beato said that she doesn’t mind hiring someone that doesn’t have experience who’s willing to learn.
“JC has some experience in installs, but he doesn’t have any experience in service. He’s interested in learning, and he’s a hard worker and everything so I can work with that,” she said. “Of course it’s ideal to have an employee that you can just say, ‘Hey, go do this,’ and they know exactly what they’re doing and how to take care of it, but it’s harder to find.”
While she continues to wrestle with hiring more employees, her customers aren’t waiting around. In her own words, “life goes on, so keep marching forward.”
All in all, though, Beato is grateful for the success of RAM.
“You know, I’ve had a really good reaction from the standpoint of it being a woman-owned business,” she said. “It’s a trade that most people haven’t seen a woman in, so most people are very receptive to it.”