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How a Boat Crash Turned My Hobby into a Successful Startup

Posted by Steve Houle on

How a Boat Crash Turned My Hobby into a Successful Startup

There are many reasons to start a business; it can be the desire to be your own boss, pursuing your true passion, having more hands-on opportunities, or simply making more money.

For me, it was a combination of two things. First, I noticed a niche on the market that I could fill with my product. Backing a trailer into a tight spot can be the most frustrating experience in the world — I know firsthand. I found this gap in the market and I aimed to do my best to fill it.

But more importantly, I’ve always enjoyed building solutions to problems I saw around me. Being able to turn this hobby of mine into a career has been hands down the greatest experience of my life.

My name is Steve Houle and this is the story of how I founded Parkit360.

My life-long passion

Growing up, my dad worked as a millwright and owned a machine shop, so since my teenage years, I've been building drivelines for sawmill and planing mill systems. These were my formative years, and my dad instilled in me a deep work ethic and business sense that persists to this day. I credit my success in creating this product – which I believe to be the best and most advanced trailer dolly on the market today – to him.

Still, this didn’t happen overnight; nothing worthwhile does. It all started when my wife and I purchased a new 27-foot cabin cruiser boat. We couldn’t wait for the maiden voyage on a windy day in Kingston, Ontario — but disaster soon struck. When leaving the dock, the wind blew my boat onto another boat beside mine, resulting in major damage to our young vessel.

That same week, out of pure necessity, I developed my own bow thruster, spending countless days in testing, developing, and finally bringing this product to the market. We received great feedback from the release: the product was such a great help to people with larger cruisers.

I’d always enjoyed handy work and building my own solutions to problems around me, but this sparked a greater idea — what if I could make a proper business out of it? My experience building the bow thruster made me realize that I could build a similar product for trailers that could aid people in fitting their trailers into tight places that would otherwise be difficult.

A solution to a niche problem

Soon afterward, I started a precision machining and welding shop in my double garage at home — all the while diving into building prototypes of what later became Parkit360.

Almost everyone I knew had trailers back then — from boat or RV trailers to the big work trailers my friends in the landscaping business had. So I identified early that there would be a pretty good market out there for my future product: the trailer dolly. And I was right.

Parkit360 Trailer Dollies
An early Trade Show display for Parkit360 showing 3 models

My number one priority was to help individuals trying to fit their boats or RVs into a small spot in their garage or yard. Many times, the trailer is so wide that there’s only an inch on each side and it’s almost impossible to get the trailer in. From the start, I gained valuable feedback from the people around me, and I used this feedback to design my prototype. I also attended multiple RV and boat shows to gain a feel for what the market would be like by talking to real people: my future customers.

I will admit that it wasn’t always easy. When you’re working on a new project where the bills don’t immediately come in, the negative thoughts always creep in. Am I wasting my time? Did I just waste an entire day working on something that will amount to nothing?

But I persevered, and soon found the development process to be highly rewarding. Sure, sometimes it could be frustrating, but with each prototype, I began to get closer to what I wanted to build, and that kept my enthusiasm going. This enthusiasm became my fuel, and I continue to ride it to this day.

After approximately seven prototypes — and six months of work! — I finally managed to build a product that I was satisfied with. My tiny little invention could move a surprising amount of weight! I posted two units on eBay and began to wait.

Parkit360 Electric Trailer Dolly
Steve Houle, Founder, with an early model of a Parkit360 Electric Trailer Dolly

I remember my first sale like it was yesterday. While enjoying a pleasant dinner with some of my friends, I got a notification: both items that I had posted were sold! Words can’t describe just how shocked and happy I was at that moment. All that long work had finally proven my idea successful. I was so excited about these sales that I added three more to eBay, and — you guessed it — sold all of them the very next day! Needless to say, I had to get busy and start building the product at scale.

That’s how Parkit360 started. The early days sure had their ups and downs. Any company goes through similar struggles in dealing with growth. Keeping up with demand can sometimes be a challenge for me, but it’s a sign that people like the product, and inspires me to continue working.

Still, the first year was a success! Next, I had to figure out how to grow my fledgling company. First, I began to expand my operations by hiring an administrator to help me out – and they're still with us to this day! During the second year, we hired three team members to build units because we had so many orders. In the third year, we really hit it off with a whopping 3000 units bursting at the seams in my double garage. To handle all the orders, we ended up moving to a 12,000 square foot facility in an industrial park, where we now have 11 employees building 50 units a week on average.

It’s all about the people

A company photo from 2022, although missing many!

It may sound counter-intuitive, but to anyone looking to start their own business, I’d say a slow start is best. Try to control your growth and, for the first few years, avoid bank financing. The main interest of each business shouldn’t be unparalleled growth, but rather happy customers and a nice community. Start there and the rest will follow.

There are a few other things that I’ve learned in my journey of being in business. Remember that family always comes first; if you neglect the ones you love then what’s the point? You always need to make time for them, even if it means you miss a deadline or two.

But the single most important thing is that you can never take people for granted. Everyone on your team is valuable in some way and you should never think of them as a liability to you. It may sound cliché, but sometimes you don't know what you have in someone until they’re gone. Don’t make this mistake. Make everyone feel that they're wanted and that they’re working towards the same end goal, and you’ll immediately see the results.

That’s why my team is my most valuable asset. Our employees are loyal and they love to be here working on this amazing product. When people are really passionate about what they do, it makes all the difference in the world. I invest a lot in my employees. Almost every year, we all go on a cruise or an all-inclusive resort, where each employee can bring a plus one. It’s a great opportunity for us all to get away and enjoy each other’s company.

When I look back on my entrepreneurial journey, I see that the key to success is believing in the idea and being truly passionate about it. And when I look into the future? I see myself and my team constantly working on our product, improving it, and having a great time while doing so!

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