Frozen Assets

Aq 605 30pg 0001 Some things are just a good fit: Baseball and hot dogs. Fireworks and the Fourth of July. Canada and swimming pools. Autumn and . . . Whoa! Back up the truck. Canada and swimming pools?

“Don’t let the weather fool you,” says Ed Gibbs, Jr., the president of Gib-San Pools in Toronto. “Canada does have longer periods of frost and freezing, and bad winters can be a factor in a number of installations. But swimming pools are about more than the water. They’re part of the growing backyard-cottage concept, a perception of environment over reality.

“Competition is huge in many parts of Canada. In Toronto, just open up the Yellow Pages and there are pages and pages of people in this business.” Or just look at the numbers. There were nearly 637,000 pools in Canada in 2003 (the most recent industry data). Retail sales totaled about $360 million. About 40,000 new pools are installed each year — a total that pales in comparison to the United States, but remember, Canada has only about one-tenth the population. Better yet, consider Gib-San’s growth numbers: $11 to $12 million in gross sales annually, with steady, 8 to 10 percent annual growth for the last nine years.

And Gib-San recently took a characteristic step forward when it earned ISO quality-standards registration. The International Organization for Standardization, headquartered in Geneva, Switzerland, is recognized as the world’s best quality-management system.

“This is the pursuit of new ideas and standards,” Gibbs says of the three-year commitment to refine the company’s policies and procedures to the ISO benchmark. “We like being industry leaders.

“It’s part of reinventing ourselves so the customers are saying, ‘I want to deal with a spectacular company, and I want the company to do what it says it’s going to do. We now have third-party verification on that.” The process begins with hiring a consultant. “They come in and go through your paper trail, how you build a pool, how you service and landscape it. Then QMI Management Systems Registration, a third party, has to come in and verify that we’re up to standards and doing what we say we’re doing. They review this every year.”


Such recognition by a world body is a statement about quality that transcends international boundaries. But Gib-San was already accomplished in taking its standards overseas. A few years ago, the company embarked on a project that was ambitious even for Gib-San: a multiple pool and spa installation for the lavish Marriott Beach Resort and Casino on the Caribbean island of St. Kitts.

This 37,000-square-foot endeavor included three pools made up of natural-looking lagoons, bays and coves — all punctuated by breathtaking waterfalls and multi-level nooks for privacy and relaxation.

There were also three mammoth spas built around the pools, not to mention four hot-and-cold whirlpool baths installed at the fitness center. The site was 2,175 miles from Gib-San’s home office, but the company was chosen because of its reputation in the industry and an infrastructure that could organize and build such a project. Nearly 20 trucks were sent to Miami full of cargo and equipment needed for the job — and from there, the tractor-trailers were all loaded onto a cargo ship bound for St. Kitts.

With apologies to MasterCard, let’s run the numbers: Number of staffers utilized for the job: over 100. Time span of the project: 17 months. Number of building challenges, including elevation, extreme heat and the water table: multiple. Number of gold awards the project earned: two — in the NSPI of Canada’s 2003 Awards of Excellence event and the Master Pools Guild international competition. Project value in terms of international visibility, presence and standing in the industry: priceless.

“What we ’ve accompl ished in terms of ISO certification and some of our most-high-profile projects only scratches the surface of what we can do,” says Gibbs.


As the leader of a history-making company, it’s only fitting that Gibbs knows a lot about the subject. He majored in history in college, and he’s constantly applying the lessons of history to make Gib-San not only adaptable but innovative.

“History is about reinventing ourselves,” he says. “Pool companies do that. We want the public to tell us what they want, and we have to give them what they want in outdoor living and in leisure.

“You can see that happening with the automation of pools — features like freeze protection, timers, things of that nature that customize the pool for the owner. It’s no longer about the limited options the pool company wants to give you, the kidney shape or the rectangle . . . now it’s water features, rocks, outdoor gyms, spas, outdoor kitchens, chipping greens and on and on.”

As the complexity of pool projects increases, so does the need to provide all-inclusive service to the consumer in specialty areas. With that in mind, Gib-San opened an extension of the company, Gib-San Environmentals Ltd., in 2000 to complement the pool-building operation. The environmental division encompasses pool and landscape design.

The company also has an international division for projects abroad, a division for commercial maintenance and renovation, and the Gib-San Pool & Spa Centre, a retail store in Etobicoke, Ontario, that specializes in hot tubs, barbecues and pool and spa maintenance products.

Establishing these entities was a natural progression of the company’s growth and the quest to meet increasingly sophisticated consumer demands. But it was also an opportunity to give customers the ultimate convenience: a one-stop shop for all their needs in their backyard oases.

“When the house is built, the bricklayer is gone. When the roof is done, the roofer is gone. But you want to know the pool guy is always there. He’s there to upgrade, renovate, maintain, bring chemicals — and now he’s there for the other features that complement the pool in the overall setting.”

This attention to outfitting the entire yard is a response to a growing rediscovery of outdoor living — something the rest of the world has known about for millennia. Gibbs says the right effect can be achieved even in small spaces, “where you don’t need huge acreage and still can capture the essence of the experience. You can have it all in a 50-by 30-foot lot.”

More people want that, Gibbs notes. “History repeats itself through generations,” he says. “In the early ’70s, the pool industry exploded with the Beverly Hillbillies notion of someone actually having a built-in pool at their home being such a fabulous fantasy to capture. It eventually came to be that the common person could own a pool.

“Back then, there was more of a focus on family, the home. And now, especially since 9/11, people are coming home again. That explosion of energy in the business that happened over 30 years ago is happening again right now in the U.S. and Canada, if not worldwide.

“Travel has changed. It’s more expensive and seen as more risky.

People are just discovering their own countries again. They want to stay home. They can have all the amenities they want there, or at least something that works for them financially.”


Pools have always been home for Gibbs. His father, Ed Gibbs Sr., teamed with Robert Sanelli in 1972 to found Gib-San. The younger Gibbs started with the company in 1981, working in various capacities while attending high school, and then college.

In 1996, Gibbs bought the business from his father, who still works part-time in sales and remains a vital, active part of the operation. “My father has been a great inspiration with his work ethic and knowledge,” Gibbs says. “His commitment to the business and doing the right thing have been a built-in advantage for me.”

Another advantage is his affiliations with industry organizations. The company has been a member of the Master Pools Guild since 1986, and Gibbs is currently vice chairman of the board. He’ll be the chairman next year, a rare distinction for a Canadian.


Gibbs loves where he comes from and where he is. “Being in Toronto, it’s a dynamic location in terms of activity and travel,” he says. “And the close proximity to the United States helps expose you to what the U.S. is doing. “I have no sense of competition with the U.S., only admiration. They’re our top trade partner, our best ally in terms of ingenuity and strength. I think it’s natural that you want to be like the greatest and the best.”

It’s all part of his stated drive for constant improvement. “Your goal should always be that when you get up in the morning, you’re better than what you were yesterday,” he says.

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