– Words by Sandra Jones Photography by Don Denton
Luck favours the bold. Or at least it did for Ted and Christeen Pahl, the new operators of Sun Valley Pools & Spas in Nanaimo.
Five years ago, Ted accepted a job as CEO of a credit union on Prince Edward Island and the couple, together with their four kids, was adapting to life on the East Coast. It sounded idyllic until they realized it just wasn’t where they wanted to be.
“Both of us were born on Vancouver Island and our families are here. We always had it in our minds that this was where we wanted to end up. We all just really wanted to come home,” says Christeen.
As soon as they made the decision to return, Ted started looking into other banking opportunities. But fate and family intervened.
“My sister Lorrie called me. She and her husband Wes Jonat have owned Sun Valley Pools & Spas in Duncan for 10 years. There was another Jacuzzi dealership in Nanaimo that had gone out of business a year earlier and she was thinking of opening another location. She wondered if we’d open one with them,” says Ted.
With no retail experience between them, it required a leap of faith.
“We’d never been in retail before but I was a CEO so I thought I knew everything about it,” jokes Ted.
From August to December 2020, the couple worked at the Duncan store, gaining product knowledge and learning the operational end of the business. The new store in Nanaimo opened its doors in December.
As families hunkered down at home during the COVID-19 pandemic, backyard products like hot tubs were one of the many sought-after items.
“Usually, December and January are slow months in the pool and hot tub world,” says Ted. “In a typical January a store might sell four hot tubs and we were selling 20.”
Fortunately, Ted’s sister had the foresight to plan ahead for the brisk demand.
“When things started to shut down, she realized we needed to pre-order. She started ordering 12 months ahead of time. So now we’ve got new hot tub stock coming in every couple of weeks and we’re still ordering 12 months ahead.”
While the pandemic may have sparked some sales, the couple is also seeing customers who are looking to enhance their well-being.
“We realized pretty quickly that all hot tubs are not created equal. Jacuzzi’s high-end tubs are incredibly therapeutic and offer deep tissue massage that is designed to hit all of your muscle groups,” says Ted.
Christeen, who injured two disks in her back when working as a paramedic, knows first-hand the value of a Jacuzzi.
“The hot tub is really my only pain-free place in the world, so I completely understand the appeal for people who have arthritis or aches and pains.”
In a world hyper-focused on cleanliness, Jacuzzi makes use of ClearRay, a similar technology to that used in hospitals.
“It’s a UV light that zaps 99.9 per cent of pathogens, which means that there’s less bacteria and less need for chemicals,” says Ted. “Customers are sometimes surprised that there’s also a five-layer filtration system. These hot tubs are really ‘best in class.’”
In addition to selling new hot tubs and pools, Sun Valley fills a niche for those in the Nanaimo area who are looking for service.
“Between our two stores, we have five technicians and we’re in the process of hiring another one. Until we came along, customers could only find some parts and products in Duncan or even Victoria,” notes Ted. “We also do water quality testing here. It takes about two or three minutes and customers walk away with a recipe that says here’s what you need to do to your hot tub when you get home. Maintenance, parts, service—having that available to our customers is so important.”
While it’s been a steep learning and growth curve, the couple has found an easy rhythm to working together in the business.
“I look after sales and Christeen manages more of the operations,” says Ted. “We have a pretty good balance and know where our strengths lie. Every once in a while she has to reel me in and keep me focused on the task at hand,” he laughs.
For Christeen, creating the right environment for customers is something she loves to do.
“I have a background in interior design and I like getting the store to look the way it does so that customers feel this is a welcoming place. I also like the fact that buying a hot tub is a happy experience and we help people find something that they’ll enjoy for years and years.”
The business has become a true family affair with their 19-year- old son William working alongside his parents.
“He’s very entrepreneurial and has an interest in strengthening our online presence,” says Ted.
Although it’s early days for the business, the Pahls forecast a bright future even after the pandemic ends.
“Looking forward we see ourselves expanding and opening more locations. When you look at the amount of construction and the number of people relocating here, we think there will be a strong business case for a long time.”
While the business has been everything they hoped for and more, their return to Vancouver Island has also facilitated the kind of lifestyle the couple sought.
“I used to travel every week for work and now I love being home every night,” says Ted, and Christeen couldn’t agree more: “When I was young I couldn’t wait to leave the Island and now we’re thrilled to be back and so is our family. It feels like home and it’s one of the most beautiful places on earth.”