Doug Brantley (left), with his wife, Kim (right), and their son, Will. Looking back on the year she took over her husband's contracting firm while he served in Iraq, Kim Brantley said, "I probably knew just enough to be dangerous!"

Doug Brantley has been a member of the Tennessee Army National Guard for 23 years. During that time, he married his wife, Kim; fathered a son; purchased Brantley Heating and Air Conditioning; and, most recently, spent a year serving with the Guard in Iraq.

Brantley joined members of the 194th Engineer Brigade of the Tennessee National Guard at Fort Bragg, N.C., in November 2004. The following month, the brigade left for Iraq, where Brantley applied his engineering background to a variety of construction projects throughout the country and earned the Bronze Star for his service.

Word of his deployment reached Brantley about four months before he headed for Fort Bragg. As he got his affairs in order, he faced the prospect of leaving a family he loved and a business he had purchased eight years earlier.

"With respect to my business, my biggest concern was maintaining my customer base while I was away," said Brantley. "There really wasn't much I could do about it, apart from putting people in place that I thought Kim could call on for help if she needed it. I also made the decision to scale back our new construction work and ductwork installations."

Prior to Doug's leaving, Kim ran the office by answering phones, handling billing, and taking care of payroll issues. She had no technical background in HVACR, but soon found herself running the business and practicing on-the-job training.

Looking back on that difficult year, Kim Brantley said, "I probably knew just enough to be dangerous! I had managed to pick up some things about the business as I worked in the office before Doug left, but that certainly didn't prepare me to step into Doug's shoes."


Brantley's wife's new role was not an easy one to assume. Plagued with some personnel issues shortly after Doug's departure, she found herself with fewer people she could rely on for help. Fortunately, she was able to communicate with her husband on a fairly regular basis, thanks to the Internet.

"I don't think I could have survived without that ability to communicate with Doug," said Kim. "I was able to ask him about model numbers and pricing issues, and if he didn't have an answer for me, he could at least direct me to someone who might be able to help."

Johnson Controls' Coleman distributor, Equipment Supply Distributor Inc. (ESD), also provided Kim Brantley with support. Brantley switched to the Coleman line of heating and air-conditioning products in 2000.

"I liked the reliability of Coleman equipment, as well as the accessibility of all the components," said Brantley. "Accessibility makes the products easy for a technician to work on. In addition, I appreciate the fact that every piece of Coleman equipment I sell has either a five- or ten-year parts and labor warranty."

In his estimation, the company also offers dealers a lot of support. "Kim experienced that through the efforts of ESD," said Brantley. "Anytime she or the guys here had a technical problem, the folks at ESD were always available to talk on the phone or drive up here from Memphis to help figure out the problem. They even made trips here to help move equipment."

Kim Brantley echoed her husband's praise for the people at ESD. "They were really, really, really good to me," she said. "I can't tell you how good it made me feel to know I could go to them whenever we needed advice or technical help. I know they wanted Doug to have a business to return to and did everything they could to see that he did."


According to Charles Humphreys, president of ESD, it was natural to want to help Kim Brantley.

"Kim is a very capable young woman, but I don't think she was prepared to sit in the hot seat, trying to keep the business afloat while taking care of family obligations and participating in support groups for families of service men and women who are serving overseas," said Humphreys. "I can't imagine what it's like for a small business when the principal is suddenly absent for a year. We just wanted to support Kim with whatever she needed to make her situation less stressful and protect the business."

Brantley Heating and Air Conditioning is a Coleman Libertiesâ„¢ dealer. As such, the Brantleys have access to a variety of cost-effective services and programs designed to help them manage their business.

"I appreciate the financing options available to me as a Liberties dealer," said Brantley. "I've also been able to take advantage of some of the training programs offered by Coleman Business Training University (BTU). A lot of what they teach you I've been doing, but it's good to know that I'm doing the right thing.

"The other important thing I carried away from each session is the fact that you really have to practice the techniques they suggest all the time, not just when you think of it or feel like it."

Home since last December, Doug is working hard to make up for the year he lost.

"I'd like to take some additional training, but at the moment I'm still busy trying to build the business again," he said. "It's just good to be home and have a business to return to."

As for Kim Brantley, she's back doing the invoicing and happy to return to a more limited role in the business. "It was definitely an adventure," she said, "one I hope not to repeat anytime soon!"

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Publication date: 09/25/2006