By Sean Delaney
Kooy Brothers Equipment is an award-winning Toronto-based commercial-grade landscaping, snow removal and construction equipment retailer, with a history that begins with a tool shed, an in-home secret office and simple reel sharpening.
“When we first got started we were working out of the tool shed at my parents’ house at Jane and Finch,” said President and CEO Bill Kooy. “The Toronto Cricket Club was one of our first customers, but they didn’t even realize it, that we were working out of my parents’ house, because we never let them know.”
Kooy said when landscapers would show up at his house for equipment, he would meet them in the driveway, so they didn’t see his little work shed beside the garage.
“When we started making too much noise, my dad said, you’re going to start ticking off the neighbours. You’re going have to find somewhere to go,” Kooy laughed.
He began his business life fixing pianos for his father. He grew up in a musical family, his dad involved in music since the “boat landed from Holland” he explained. But for his father, the piano business was secondary, as his focus was his passion with music and not making money off the business side. Kooy had bigger ambitions.
In the spring of 1985, a friend of his who was in the landscaping industry bought a building and had the front half of it for rent. He suggested it would be a good space for Kooy to move his repair work to, and Bill decided to take his first risk.
“I had three little kids, and one in the oven and no money,” Kooy said. “So, I borrowed $25,000 off one of my dads’ friends and that’s how we started.”
Just after they moved in however, they were robbed – of everything except a tool box. They received support from some suppliers they had good relationships with however and carried on. Six months after that, Kooy said, he was offered a good deal on a sharpening machine. And coincidentally, while the machine would lead to a long-time core of his initial business, the deal came from a competitor.
“It was tough though, an old machine, and I found I was breathing in dust, making a mess, that sort of thing.”
So, he found a water-cooled, automated version of the latest technology from England and felt he just had to have the machine. Another friend co-signed a loan with him, and it was a real “bonanza” for his business. Soon they were grinding 2,000 reels a winter.
In 1988, a supplier of theirs in the United Kingdom sold their business to a large conglomerate, and Kooy decided to take another risk. He and his American distributor of the grinding machines and other products decided to begin their own manufacturing firm, instead of finding another to deal with.
Two sales guys, he said, with no manufacturing background, standing in the middle of Alabama without a hint of what they were doing.
“But it’s those risks that get you going,” he said.
The business began in 1988, and by 1994, had enough of a foundation that they sold it for a tidy profit. With that, Kooy decided to expand and in 1997, he was approached for and decided to take another risk.
“That’s when I first took on Kubota,” he said. “And I’ll tell you, I was actually praying someone didn’t come in. Because if they would have asked me at the time what the difference between a Ford and a Kubota was, I wouldn’t have had an answer for them. But, sometimes it’s good to be dumb, because you’re not aware of what danger you’re getting yourself into.”
He made his first sale of the reputable equipment to a landscaper, however, continued to educate himself about the product and worked on from there.
This year, they are celebrating two Ontario awards for being the largest Kubota dealer in the Province, as well as a national award, for being the largest Kubota dealer in Canada.
Their facilities are groundbreaking for the size and scope, especially so close to the city. But the successes they have found from their risks have allowed them to continue to dream big, and now, Kooy said, it’s what they’re known for. He wouldn’t have it any other way.
“I hear from people all the time, what are you doing with a business like this in downtown Toronto? It’s too big. But now, it’s strategic. We’re a nice little hub here and not too far for anyone to get too. So, come visit us, and don’t forget to bring your wallet,” Kooy said with a wink.
Kooy Brothers Equipment is located at 1919 Wilson Avenue, Toronto
You can reach them at: (416) 242-3513
Or find them online at:kooybros.com