The owner of Ace Plumbing & Airtec Heating & Air Conditioning in Kelowna has positioned his business to take advantage of the commercial and residential building boom in this busy resort town located in the Okanagan Valley, where the desert meets the mountains in British Columbia.
"We knew there would be an explosion of growth here but I don't think we could have imagined it growing this fast," said Walters. "We are getting an influx of big money into Kelowna."
Walters said that Kelowna's population grows by 30 to 40 percent in the summer and remains a popular four-seasons destination for tourists who like to swim and boat in the summer and ski and snowmobile in the winter.
Setting The StageThe business was founded in 1979 by Walter's father Ray as a plumbing shop. Brian started working with his dad as an apprentice. They worked as a two-man shop. The local economy hit the wall in 1981 and they scrambled to find any work they could.
The bad news didn't stop there. Ray lost sight in one eye and wanted to slow down a bit, so he decided to open up a plumbing shop with an office and showroom.
In 1987, Ray decided he had had enough and wanted to sell the business. He had a buyer lined up. "I talked the sale over with my wife and thought that I didn't want to waste six years of my life by winding up working for someone else," said Brian. "So I arranged to buy the business.
"I was eager to get started once I owned the business. I went out and got a lot of work. I was going gung ho and kept adding employees."
He also saw an opportunity to get into HVAC installation be-cause he thought he could do the work as well as anyone in the Kelowna area.
"I used to recommend HVAC guys to do the work but I realized that they didn't give service as good as ours," he said. "We decided to go into the HVAC business in 1993. We had already been doing some service work but never installations or replacements."
Walters hired an installer with a good reputation around town and business took off.
In 1999, he had the opportunity to buy an HVAC service company whose markets included maintenance, controls, and refrigeration. His company moved to the present location to handle the new businesses, which included plumbing and HVAC for residential, light commercial, and commercial markets. HVAC service is now 30 percent of its business.
The company now has 59 employees and is growing steadily without any periods of layoffs. The business has also run out of room. The company is looking to build its own facility within the next two years.
Walters is also getting into geothermal. "You have to find a good niche business to stand apart from other people," he said.
"We are the only ones in town that do what we do. We want to keep our customers by doing everything for them.
"We are not afraid to try something new."
Publication date: 10/04/2004