im Miller was president and co-owner of Nova Craft Canoe for 33 years, from 1986 to 2019. He retired last spring and has been spending more time on his bike and in his boat since. We caught up with Tim recently and asked him a few questions about his time leading the company.
Tell me the story of how you came to buy Nova Craft with Pat and Zoltan in 1986.
After our family moved back to London from Calgary in 1986, I went on a fall canoe trip with Pat and Zolt to the French River. We were camped at the Blue Chute and after the whiskey bottle had been passed around a few times Zoltan mentioned that a canoe company out in Glanworth was for sale. Since my job at the time was house husband and we were having a good time canoeing, it was agreed I would have time to investigate when we got back to London.
Upon investigation, it looked like a good opportunity as it was pretty much a back yard business with an excellent product with lots of potential. The three of us ponied up and moved Nova Craft to an industrial space in London, learned as much as we could from Ken Fisher and started building the business in December 1986.
When you took on the company, it was a garage-based operation building boats to order. By the time you retired Nova Craft was an international brand serving over 40 distributors worldwide. What do you think the key to Nova Craft’s growth/success has been?
The key to our longevity and success is really the key for just about any business: We produced the best product we could and we backed our products with the best personal service possible. Over the years many of our customers commented on how much they enjoyed working with us because we were always friendly and easy to deal with. Also, they enjoyed the fact that someone actually answered the phone when they called. Simple really.
What are your favourite memories from your time as president of Nova Craft Canoe?
So many memories! Probably the best ones are working with my two sons when they were young and just learning about jobs and working. When my oldest son, Ben, was just starting out he asked me the “how much am I making” question on the way to work. I thought about it, put on my best negotiation face and said, “I was thinking three dollars an hour.” He got a big grin on his face and said, ” That’s great ’cause I was thinking $1.00.” As they say the first one to name a price loses but it was still an excellent arrangement.
Once Ben was going to university my youngest son Dan was still working with us for a summer job. Both Ben and Dan had worked there way up to being trimmers, fitting the seats and gunwales, etc. on the finished product. The height of trimmer skill is being able to do wood trim on the canoes. Ben had never been trusted with this but one day as we were leaving work Dan declared, “I did a wood trim today!” Once we got home Dan called Ben just to rub it in and smack down his older brother. It was a proud moment.
What’s one thing you are proud of accomplishing here?
I am most proud of representing Canada throughout the world. We have taken classic Canadian wood canoe designs, resurrected them using innovative modern materials and showed the world that Canadian canoes are the best. In the minds of most people of the world nothing represents Canada like the canoe and over the last 50 years Nova Craft has been a big part of that message.
Favourite Nova Craft model and why.
My favourite model is the Prospector 17. It has lots of volume for multi-day trips and is whitewater capable even when loaded. A sweet blend of speed on the lakes and manoeverability in rivers with good volume in the ends for a dry ride in rougher conditions.
Bonus question! Now that you have more time to paddle, where do you want to go?
Now that I have more time to paddle, I really just want to go on my next canoe trip down the Thames near our home. Any time in a canoe is a good time. There’s just something about it. Even better when we get our grandchildren to share it with us.