By Jim Morris
Swimming has always been part of Doug Perks’ life.
There are pictures of a six-month-old Perks swimming in the lake at the family cottage near Toronto. As a teenager he earned $1.98 an hour as a lifeguard. While attending Simon Fraser University in Burnaby, B.C., he was a member of the swim team. As a businessman, his company operates two successful businesses involved in aquatics.
Giving back is also part of Perks’ life. Each year DB Perks Group contributes around $75,000 to support a variety of swim organizations, lifeguard scholarships and parks and recreations organizations.
Over the years, Perks has donated more than $1 million to a long list that includes a bursary for SFU swimmers, and charities including Athletes 4 Kids, the Canucks Autism Network and the Lower Mainland Christmas Bureau. He also supports groups such as Swim BC, Swim Alberta and the Canadian Swim Coaches and Teachers Association.
“Swimming has always been good to me and business has really grown,” Perks said during an interview in his office in North Vancouver. “I just want to be able to put money back into people who need it.
“I’m very proud of our commitment to support the aquatics industry.”
Ahmed El-Awadi, Swimming Canada’s chief executive officer, said Perks has impacted many lives, often without the people even knowing him.
“Doug has touched so many lives by his generosity, investing in swimming and teaching people how to swim and improving their swimming through various charitable donations or business partnerships he has created over the years,” he said.
“Most people will never know how many lives he has saved or improved.”
DB Perks Group, headquartered in North Vancouver, operates Commercial Aquatic Supplies and Team Aquatic Supplies Ltd.
Commercial Aquatic Supplies, which Perks purchased from the original owner in 1986, supplies and services public aquatic centres. The company sells everything a pool needs to operate including filters, mechanical equipment, timing systems, diving boards and deck equipment.
“Anything but the water,” said Perks.
The company has grown from doing about $300,000 in business to more than $8 million in 2018. It started with three employees and now has 12.
One of his staff keeps track of new pools being built. In Western Canada alone, six to eight new pools are built each year.
Team Aquatic Supplies was founded in 1989. Perks bought the original business from former Olympic diver Bev Boys. The company sells items including swimsuits, goggles, kick boards and other equipment to individuals and teams across the country.
Team Aquatic Supplies has 14 locations and employs 80 people full-time and another 40 part-time across the country. It has grown from a company that did about $100,000 in business its first year to close to $12 million in 2019.
Perks came to Vancouver in 1966 to attend SFU and compete in track and field.
“I didn’t know where Burnaby was when I got accepted,” he said.
Paul Savage, the first head coach of the school’s swimming program, saw Perks in the pool one day and asked him if he wanted to compete at a meet in Seattle that weekend.
“I was an age-group swimmer,” said Perks. “I wasn’t national calibre by any means, but I was a decent age-group swimmer.”
Savage ended up offering Perks a swim scholarship. The $319 paid for his next semester of school.
“I was a better athlete than student,” said Perks.
It took Perks 10 years to complete his business degree. Besides attending classes, he also worked full time as the aquatic manager of a swimming pool in Burnaby.
“SFU was so good to me,” he said.
Once he graduated, Perks was approached by a friend who knew the owner of an aquatics company that was looking for a salesperson. He joined what was then known at Stranco Systems in 1980.
When the owner became interested in selling, Perks borrowed money from 12 friends to raise the $15,000 he needed to purchase the company.
“People asked if they were going to get their pink slips,” said Perks. “I said no, we have the basis of a very strong company.”
As Commercial Aquatic Supplies began to grow, clients started asking Perks if he could supply them with items like training gear, goggles and suits.
Boys used to operate a store selling those items in Vancouver. Perks met her at a swim meet in Victoria.
“She was raising a young family,” said Perks. “We started talking. A long story short, I bought her team business.”
The two business complement each other.
“The good thing is, even in a recession, pools are always open,” said Perks.
Having people on staff at both companies who are former competitive swimmers or coaches builds credibility. Many of the staff have spent years working for Perks.
“I have made mistakes, but I think I’ve learned fairly quickly from them,” said the 74-year-old. “People in this company, they are like a family to me.”
Perks’ dedication to sport was recognized when he was inducted into the Swim BC Hall of Fame.
El-Awadi said Perks’ contribution to swimming will be felt by future generations.
“His investments will likely span decades because the children of those children of who learned how to swim or improved their swimming, they will teach their children how to swim,” he said. “All this came from his investments in the aquatic community.”
Over the years, as his companies grew and prospered, Perks never lost sight of how swimming can affect people’s lives.
At a recent luncheon, Perks was told about a refugee family. They had two small children but couldn’t afford to buy them swimsuits.
“I said, tell me who they are, and I will send them some suits,” he said. “I mean, I just can’t imagine a family with young kids not being able to go to a swimming pool.”