Garage brand: Power Equipment Technician grad restores the little engines that could

Chantele Lavack, outside La petite machine

Chantale Lavack knows how to fix your lawnmower. In fact, she knows how to fix a lot of the tools in your garage – from chainsaws to pressure washers, tillers and leaf blowers.

Even more importantly, the Red River College grad (Outdoor Power Equipment Technician, 2009) knows her gender has no impact on her success in the small engine repair business – and she wants other women to know that, as well.

“I hope my experience encourages more women to get into [the field],” says Lavack, who operates her own repair shop, La petite machine, out of her St. Boniface garage.

“The door’s not going to be closed on you right away, and if it is, then good riddance — you don’t really need those people, anyhow.”

Lavack recently talked to us about how her RRC education is “like gold,” how she sees her business evolving, and why other women shouldn’t hesitate to join a male-dominated industry.

RRC: Were you interested in fixing things as a kid?

Lavack: I wasn’t. It’s kind of strange. I only learned later in life that I had a liking for repairing things and wanting to get my hands dirty. It’s not like I was 10 years old with my head under a hood with my dad or anything like that. My dad was a funeral director.

What drew you to small engine repair?

It was those Orange County Chopper shows! I just thought it was really neat to see these guys in a garage, creating all of this cool stuff and putting it together and seeing it work. I had been working in an office at CN Rail and didn’t find it to be all that satisfactory. You just don’t get to see the results of your work. But when you have something that’s broken, you fix it, and away you go.

So you were starting from scratch when you entered the Outdoor Power Equipment Technician program?

I basically knew the difference between a screwdriver and a wrench, and that’s about it.

And you were the only woman in your class, right?

Yes. I think every couple of years they get one or two girls who sign up. There’s really not many of us out there … it’s a very male-dominated industry from beginning to end.

Do you feel this makes you a role model for women who are hesitant to get into the business?

I hope so. I haven’t really had any backlash being a woman. I’ve never had to deal with people just not giving me work or thinking, ‘She’s a girl; she can’t do it.’ Most shops that gave me a chance treated me like one of the guys from Day One, which is exactly what I wanted. You go through the regular going-through-the-ranks kind of stuff, but that didn’t have to do with the fact that I was a woman. They would have done the same had I been a guy at an entry-level job.

What would be your advice to other women getting into this industry?

Throw caution to the wind and go for it. If you end up finding out that it really is what you like, it’s the best thing you can do for yourself because it will make you that much happier.

Which skills from your RRC education have helped you most on the job?

I think the hands-on part is what’s most beneficial because you actually see what you’ll be working with in the future. You can read a textbook until you’re blue in the face but unless you’ve actually done it a time or two, you’re not as familiar with it.

My education there is like gold. I don’t think I’d be able to do what I do if I didn’t have that. I’m not claiming I do any type of rocket science and I’m not a brain surgeon, either, but you still have to have a certain amount of knowledge … You’ll see some people posting stuff online and I think, ‘Oh my, I really hope people don’t heed that advice.’ Because they could blow themselves up.

Where would you like to see La petite machine go in the future?

I would like to keep opening doors for women, whether it’s a matter of me just hiring women in the future, or just opening the door for women who want to learn how to operate the equipment. A lot of women are fearful of a chainsaw just because they don’t know how it works. Eventually it would be to have some kind of rental service of lawn and garden equipment, ice fishing augers, things like that. Way down the road it would be cool to think that La petite machine could be a franchise, but who knows?

— Profile by Lindsey Ward (Creative Communications, 2004)