I sit on my couch in the basement straining to find words which do justice to the events of the past 3 years. I’ve been meaning to write this post for a good two years now and yet those words have eluded me so far. Sitting next to me on the ottoman is the one and only brochure I ever produced in my previous business as a speaker/sales trainer (A few days before I had grabbed an old binder for a quick piece of paper and out dropped this little gem). Somehow, between the stock photos and the dense text, I had managed to create a downright terrible marketing document. I laughed out loud. Suddenly, the juxtaposition of the world this brochure represented and the one I now knew as reality seemed oddly hilarious.
I’m now a pool builder. There! I said it! I…AM…A…POOL…BUILDER! I’m not entirely sure why it’s been so difficult to say publicly. Perhaps because “putting it out there” somehow seemed to snuff out any small chance of going back to my old life. Maybe it’s because I never thought I’d be on the precipice of 50, just 3 years into a brand-new venture which has required more physical and mental grit than I have at times. To remove any doubt, I need only to gaze at my hands. Scarred, weathered and bearing evidence of six surgeries, they look nothing like their white-collar ancestors. Whatever the case, I am now a pool builder and a small business owner.
Origins of Change
Taking a spin in the DeLorean back to March 4 2020, I’m saying goodbye - not by shaking hands but by elbow-bumping – a group of men and women who had just attended a 2-day keynote speaking bootcamp in Detroit. This was my second in-person attendance of this incredible program. This time, however, I was there to take notes and find ways to mold the content to a GTA-based audience. I had already signed a contract to bring this bootcamp to Toronto. I was feeling damn good. My April was full of speaking bookings (my best month since I started in 2017) and I was excited about the prospect of bringing this program to a Canadian audience.
Everyone was aware of “coronavirus” in early March 2020, but it seemed like a minor and temporary speed bump. Then it happened all at once. Within a week of that trip everything was completely locked-down. My April bookings suddenly became zero and our first bootcamp scheduled for June was cancelled…“Oh shit…what now?”.
Covid Births a Business
A week went by and a strange calm overtook me. For the first time in recent memory, I had TIME – no more running kids to hockey rinks or birthday parties. But clearly, I had some decisions to make. I either needed to figure out how to move my speaking business online or find some other way of earning money. What happened next sowed the seeds of my new career.
What I loved most about speaking was the palpable energy that can be created in rooms large and small when discussing topics of serious consequence. I loved that energy. I lived for it. The thought of sitting in front of a computer screen speaking to people wearing pajama bottoms did not appeal to me. I had spent the better part of 10 years as a teenager into my 20’s learning how to repair and build pools. On a whim, and still thinking this was a temporary measure, I said to my oldest son “Buddy, why don’t you and I open a few pools this spring?”. We called the company “Oakville’s Finest Pools” as a play on words for a father and son who were both born and raised in the community. Covid had birthed a business.
Within 3 weeks, we had a website up and running, tools purchased and 1200 door hangers delivered to homes with pools in Oakville. Slowly at first, then in a torrent, the calls came. Could we open this pool, fix another, replace a liner in another? Yes, yes, yes! I had a truck, a set of tools, a cell phone and now apparently, I had a pool business.
It was a heady time and a very busy time. I said no to nothing, not realizing how big a mistake this can be in business. But we had lots of work and the cash was flowing. And then, when people woke up to the reality of life at home for the indefinite future, the pool-building boom came. We built a handful of above-ground pools in late 2020. And so, it began!
In early 2020 we were operating out of my garage. By mid-summer 2021 we were bursting at the seams, making regular donations to the town of Oakville in the form of parking tickets for the trucks we now owned. We were overrun with work and we had started building inground pools as well. Everything happened so quickly. Though we really needed out of the garage much sooner, the work was so continuous that a move mid-season seemed impossible. Finally in late 2021, we rented a yard on a horse farm just outside of town.
The expansion in 2022 continued unchecked. More trucks, bobcats, and several trailers were purchased, people were hired, and somehow the business ran. I realized that my corporate experience on Bay Street and my 3 years as a consultant had left me rather unprepared for my new role (I reckon every business owner feels nakedly exposed at times). Nevertheless, we completed 14 full backyard renovation projects in 2022, each with a pool, patio and all the trimmings. Our service and repair business is also humming. We now do around 200 pool openings, 200 closings, and at least 40 replacement liners. Oh, and other stuff too….leak detection and repair, pump, filter, heater, salt system sales and installations, all types of plumbing repairs etc…anything for inground pools. Maybe it is time to admit I’m a pool guy!
In late 2022 it became evident that a quiet horse farm was not the place for us to be running a full-fledged construction business. We started looking for other yard space in the area and we were getting a little discouraged. Costs had gone way up and good options were in short supply. Then, a friend told me about a space opening just down the road from her house near Bronte Rd and Burnamthorpe in north Oakville. It was a rather nondescript, beige low-rise building with yard space behind it. I myself, had driven by it countless times and never really noticed it. But it had indoor space, offices, a heated warehouse/workshop and a yard out back. It was perfect for us. We quickly scooped it off the market and started moving in November, 2022.
An Unexpected Shift
One inescapable truth about our new location was the constant flow of traffic passing by. It was so unrelenting that, early on, we made the decision to build a showroom/retail store. Though we hadn’t planned on opening retail space, we reasoned that we were paying rent anyway. Why not capitalize on this incredible exposure? And so began the buildout of our brand-new store!
We worked furiously over the winter of 2022/2023 to customize the space to our needs. We painted the exterior blue which makes now makes the building difficult to miss. We added walls and storage space in the warehouse to make room for all our tools and equipment. We built cubicles and offices, we built a gorgeous boardroom table out of locally sourced black walnut and created a client presentation room. And finally, we built a cozy and beautiful showroom/retail space.
Holy Shit…It’s HERE!
It is now Easter weekend 2023. Our brand-new sign that was supposed to be installed in early March (the joys of dealing with Oakville permits!) is finally going up on Tuesday, April 11. The forecast this week calls for mainly sunshine and 20-degree temperatures. I know from experience that a string of warm April days always kickstarts the pool business. And once it’s on…it’s ON! Suddenly, the time we’ve been working so hard to get ready for is here! On Monday April 10 at 9am we open our doors to the public.
We have everything anyone could possibly need for their pool and more. Pool equipment, chemicals, maintenance gear, toys and inflatables, parts and plumbing supplies etc. And we have some neat stuff you might not expect from a pool store. Cool planters, firepits, commercial grade patio furniture, landscape lighting. The list goes on. And whatever we do not have, we can get in short order. We are dubbing our store the “Little Engine That Could”. Small space, large in stature.
I’d love nothing more than to reconnect with old friends. And we have some special offers for the first 100 in-store sales. If you live in the Oakville/Burlington/Milton area, drop by, enjoy a fresh coffee or bubbly beverage and check us out. I honestly cannot believe I’m saying this (Man is life ever strange!). Our retail store is OPEN!!!