Thirty years ago, business in the commercial aquatic sector looked a lot different than it does today. Back in 1986, annual catalogue production meant painstakingly compiling a 10-page promotional booklet along with hand-taped photos to promote the five important aquatic products available that year. Today, that catalogue is 130 pages, available online and includes more than 500 products with new ones available each week.
Take it from Doug Perks, President and Owner of DB Perks & Associates Ltd. After 32 years in the commercial aquatics business with a focus on aquatic centres, Doug has seen the evolution of the industry up close and personal. From the introduction of water slides and wave pools, to surfing economic recessions and integrating the internet and online shopping, Doug has seen it all.
It’s all about the tech.
Doug Perks arrived in BC in 1966, having left Trenton Ontario with a competitive swimming scholarship in hand, bound for Simon Fraser University in British Columbia. One could say aquatics were simply in his blood.
“I remember working at CG Brown Memorial Pool in Burnaby in the 70s while I was going to university. We offered an aquafit-type class for women who were home with their children called the ‘Housewives.’ Childcare was provided at the pool while the class was happening. Men were not allowed to participate much less be on the pool deck even if you were an employee. It was a great program, though I’m pretty sure the name wouldn’t fly today!”
As a small business person, the decades have thrown all sorts of new, and sometimes not so welcome, challenges Doug’s way. The largest influence? Not surprisingly, the internet.
“The internet really changed things. Thirty years ago, 60% of our orders came from fax and the rest by phone. Today 80% comes through email, and only 20% are verbal. We finally gave up our fax line last year!”
The internet has had other ripple effects on business.
“Delivery time is also much more important now. With something like a diving board, which we don’t actually stock, the expectation is, if it’s in the catalogue we should have it and be able to deliver it to you in five days or less. We have Amazon to thank for that!”
The online world has even influenced Doug’s own office culture.
“The workplace these days is much more of a social environment than it used to be. Employees expect to be able to access their phones, or listen to music while they work. I’ve really had to calm myself down around this.”
Waterslides, Wave pools, lazy rivers, oh my!
Thirty years ago, it was not uncommon to have the same person run the skating arena in the winter and manage the swimming pool in the summer. The introduction of Leisure and Aquatic Centres in the late 80s and early 90s signaled a shift in both how facilities were managed and the public’s expectation of their aquatic experience.
“Society’s expectations have really changed how people use facilities. Pools today are much more sophisticated with much more durable products. They are also, in turn, much more expensive to run. As leisure centres opened with wave pools and water slides, staff also had to be more informed and so did the people purchasing equipment.”
Today’s aquatic centres have moved even further, looking to provide people a multi-faceted aquatic experience. In larger centres it is not uncommon to have waterfalls, lazy rivers, fountains, sprinklers and even climbing walls as part of what used to be referred to as just ‘going to the pool’. Doug believes this is all here to stay.
The Cabbage Patch Kid of Aquatics
Aquatic products have evolved steadily through the decades, but there are a few trends that left Doug shaking his head. One of these was the Wombler (see image above).
“The Wombler was a bowl-like fiberglass floating toy about 4 feet in diameter. Kids in the 80s would sit in it and float across the water. We had all the pools ordering them until one day one tipped over, filled with water, sank and sealed itself to the bottom of the pool. That was the end of the Wombler. The 2018 version is made out of foam.”
Change for the better
Many of the changes Doug has seen have in fact, vastly improved the industry. Today’s aquatic facilities are now better managed with greater enforcement of government regulations, improving both environmental and safety standards for everyone involved. “I have the BCRPA Pool Operators Training to thank in part for that!”
On the technology side, the internet has also decreased the number of maintenance calls his shop receives. “The information on how to do anything is readily available on the internet. Anyone can fix their own hot tub these days, or at least they think they can!”
In addition to the stead increase in women working in aquatics since the 90s, Doug has seen a huge increase in the variety of accessibility features in pools that allow people
of different abilities to enjoy their aquatic experience.
“Generally speaking, society has changed how people use recreation facilities. People today have a much better understanding of the need for recreation facilities to help them stay healthy, and believe that everyone should be able to access pools and be welcome no matter who you are.”
The future is bright
Doug Perks sees a bright future for the aquatic supply sector, one that will continue to change as trends and societal needs evolve.
“The pools of the 80s were full of kids. Pools of today and tomorrow are much more than pools. Up until 10 years ago pools were almost always stand-alone features. I think we are going to see the future pool as more and more of a social centre. The pool will be a part of a multi-purpose complex along with pubs, bowling
allies and move theatres.”Doug also thinks there will be more specialty pools built, like a recent one he heard about created specifically for the autistic community.
“We are also seeing much more cultural sensitivity when it comes to everything from facility to swim suit design.”
Being one of the few sectors that’s often referred to as “almost recession proof,” new products continue to come online each day and communities continue to invest in aquatic facilities as a hub of activity. For Doug, this is always good news, and if asked how he feels about his involvement today having been in the business for over three decades, his response will most often be, “it’s still fun.”
Doug Perks President and Owner, DB Perks & Associates, Ltd.
Doug was born and raised in Toronto, swam competitively for SFU swim club from 1966-1967, and worked as Head Lifeguard in Burnaby at C.G. Brown Indoor Pool and Deer Lake. In 1980, Doug was hired as a salesperson with Stranco Systems and in 1986 he purchased the company of just three employees, changing the name to DB Perks & Associates Ltd. Today the DB Perks Group of Companies, which includes Team Aquatic Supplies, employs over 70 full-time and 60 part-time employees. Over the past 40 years, DB Perks has contributed over $1 million to a variety of scholarship programs, sponsorships, and individual athletes.