37 years ago, Heather Cruickshanks and her husband Lee started a sheet metal company in their backyard; today, it is one of the most notable HVAC and commercial air conditioning supply and installation companies in the greater Nova Scotia region. The popularity of the business can be attributed to Heather’s strong can-do attitude, her husband’s ability to look outside of the box for solutions, and the intense work ethic and family atmosphere of the company.
From Garage to Notability
LE Cruickshanks Sheet Metal really did start in the backyard/garage of the Cruickshanks family home, with Heather and her husband storing pieces of sheet metal in their garage and on the front lawn. However, as their clientele grew, so did their supply needs, and they rented a warehouse in Dartmouth and took a chance to grow their business. The gamble paid off as the company continued to grow until they could buy their own land and build large warehouses with plenty of room to grow and scale from that point forward.
Heather constantly stresses that for a company to grow, “you have to invest in your business… many people come and go, and it’s simply poor management or not investing in your company.” The continual investment led to greater job opportunities, including one of Heather’s favourite projects, a $5 million mechanical job for St. Mary’s new science building.
Fighting for Open Shops in Nova Scotia
Heather became very prominent in Nova Scotia when she led a successful campaign against the provincial government’s decision to mandate unionization of the industry. The new law would have severely limited, even put out of business, the smaller contractors in the region. Heather was having none of it. She mobilized the small businesses in the sector who believed that open shops were crucial to their viability and, after many battles with legislators and union representatives, they prevailed. The law was reversed.
Prior to this victory, Heather’s only past experience as a leader was as a Parent-Teacher Association President. But her tenacity paid off. And she learned a lot that she continues to use in business and industry leadership.
Out-Of-the-Box Engineering Abilities
A can-do attitude and a willingness to fight upstream on occasion helped create and maintain the reputation of LE Cruickshanks Sheet Metal as an unorthodox HVAC company, which in turn helped them build a position as a trustworthy and honest shop. Heather or her husband often would approach engineers and pitch ideas that weren’t traditional but were more effective for their customers.
For example, they have worked at many long-term care homes, because they refused to just accept the belief that “seniors don’t like AC.” Heather’s thought process was that seniors don’t necessarily like cold air, but she recognized they need something to counter the dry air in their homes. The result was a tempered air solution which was quickly noticed in the industry and became sought after by many other long-term-care facilities.
Labour and Life in Construction
Today, LE Cruickshanks is in the enviable position of not needing to go looking for work thanks to the reputation they’ve built up over the years, and in fact, they’ve needed to turn away work in some cases due in no small part to the global labour shortage.
Heather has served on the apprenticeship board for 16 years and is finding that even getting new apprentices is hard, despite the fact a job in the construction industry can offer great benefits and good pay. She believes it is because bright students are pushed towards university and aren’t able to see the benefit of being their own boss and potentially running their own business, or being a contractor and setting their own rates in the trades. Her biggest concern for the future is how the construction industry will be able to keep up with the rapid population growth of Nova Scotia, but, she’s relishing the challenges ahead.