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Putting women up front at J.T. Sport

Malyssa Houle, a customer service and parts specialist at J.T. Sport, spent International Women’s Day at a training course for ECHO power equipment and tools. She learned how to take apart and reassemble a battery backpack blower, as well as tips and tricks for cleaning carburetors. It didn’t come as a surprise that out of the more than two dozen participants in the workshop, she was the only woman.

Houle and Nancy Riley, who has nearly two decades of experience working in customer service and administration at the Ormstown-based family business, have grown used to being the only women in the room. Both work in the front of the small-engine sale and repair shop and serve in many ways as the gateway to the technicians.

“We always try to fix something before having to bring it into the back,” says Houle. “If we can’t figure it out, then it goes to the mechanics,” she says. Most clients are comfortable with her assessing the work to be done; and, she says, in some cases it’s a simple fix.

“Sometimes people come in and they want to talk to a mechanic, and I’m like, your brake is on,” she smiles. “It’s the small stuff,” Houle acknowledges – like changing blades, changing trimmer line, or fuel lines or primer. “We’re pretty good,” she insists.


Malyssa Houle inspects a chain at JT Sport small engine repair where she has worked as a customer service and parts specialist for over five years PHOTO Lorelei Muller


Riley agrees. “After 17 years, they realize I know more than what they think I do,” she laughs, suggesting there are still times when customers demand to speak with a mechanic or a man, when the problem can be easily resolved.

Houle admits it was a challenge when she first started at the shop, but says that after more than five years, customers trust her with their equipment. “Sometimes we will tell someone something, and they will want it backed up by a man,” she shrugs, suggesting it doesn’t happen very often and she is able to quickly brush it aside.

“It just slows everything down in the back,” she says. Both women say the mechanics trust them to know when a problem needs their attention.

Houle and Riley admit they enjoy the challenge of working in a male-dominated field. Both are also proud that they have earned the respect of their co-workers and the trust of their customers. “Let’s just say, when we go to parties, people ask us lots of questions!” says Houle, with a laugh.

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