Waterplay expands Kelowna headquarters

Owner Jill White tries not to get wet in Waterplay’s indoor test pad at its new headquarters in Kelowna’s North End.

Imagine having a water park at the office — one with all the coolest water toys, from ground sprayers, water cannons, a big-top soaker, parasol spray and aqua-knot to cyclone, fun-brella, water blaster, spinny squirt and misty twisty.

That’s what awaits the 70 employees at Waterplay every day they come to work.

“We call them aquatic play features, and they really are for work,” said Waterplay owner Jill White with a laugh.

“It’s our test pad where we try everything out. Previously, we had an outdoor test pad, which was really only usable from April to October. This one is indoors, so we can test year-round as well as invite dealers from around the world here any time to check out our product.”

White showed off the test pad and the rest of the 38,000-square-foot Waterplay headquarters in Kelowna on Thursday.

The company moved in 2004 from Penticton to the Kelowna warehouse, which was previously a chopstick factory.

Waterplay has done 4,000 water park and playground installations around the world, and yet most people in the city don’t even know it’s there at 805 Crowley Ave., in the industrial North End.

“We did keep a low profile, simply because most of our customers are outside the Okanagan,” said White.

That said, Waterplay does have 16 installations in the Valley, including the new water park in Kelowna’s City Park.

The occasion on Thursday was the grand opening of the new 28,000-square-foot addition to the facility on 0.8 hectares of land.

It’s a modern, two-storey edifice of glass, steel and concrete, with a manufacturing facility on the ground floor and design, engineering, sales, customer service, marketing and administration offices on the upper floor.

The staff is pretty evenly split between fabrication of the water features and the office, which is all open plan and playful to encourage collaboration.

“We’re not the biggest, but we’re the best,” said White when asked about Waterplay’s share of the world market.

“And we don’t care to be the biggest. We want to be the most innovative and the best quality.”

That’s not to say the company doesn’t have some huge installations and post some big sales numbers.

For instance, its largest installations globally are Bali Waterpark in Fushun, China, and Wet & Wild in Sydney, Australia.

Waterplay’s annual sales are between $25 and $30 million.

The company also has a playground equipment, park bench and park tables division called Rectec in Delta.

The average water park installation is worth $55,000 and includes four or five ground sprayers and four or five stand-up features.

The features can be mixed and matched or stick to a theme such as kaleidoscope, revolutions, nature, nautical, seaside, cirque and grasslands.

Water parks can be scaled to be indoors or out, a big, sprawling family attraction or squeezed into a small urban park for smaller kids.

Waterplay also tries to be a one-stop operation. It also designs, assembles, sells and installs the equipment that pumps, treats and recycles the water used in water parks.

Waterplay also has sales people and dealers all over the planet.

While White loves the business, it isn’t one she ever imagined herself in.

She’s an accountant who previously worked in corporate communications in the family business, Vernon-based forestry giant Tolko.

“Waterplay’s founders had the same tax accountant as Tolko,” said White.

“When they were looking to sell, the tax accountant brought up my name as a possible new owner. I’m glad he did.”