Initiative celebrates journey from Vancouver start-up to international home renovation products leader

VANCOUVER, B.C. (Sept. 7, 2023) – Twenty-five years after launching Peak Products as a small Vancouver start-up with just one product, Peak Products founder and CEO John Gross today celebrated his company’s remarkable growth into an international home renovation and outdoor living products leader, and one of The Home Depot’s suppliers, with the launch of a new award for students at Simon Fraser University’s (SFU) Charles Chang Institute for Entrepreneurship.

John Gross launched Peak Products in 1998 after graduating from SFU’s MBA program the year before. From modest beginnings in a small apartment with a fax machine, Gross has grown Peak Products to where it now offers 21 major lines of home renovation and outdoor living products and more than 1,000 individual products, sold exclusively in The Home Depot stores throughout North America. Along the way, Gross has become a successful business leader and philanthropist who is now sharing his experience and knowledge with a new generation of budding Canadian entrepreneurs.

In support of students at SFU’s Charles Chang Institute for Entrepreneurship, Peak Products will provide ten annual grants of $25,000 to be named the John Gross Start-up Experience. The opportunity will be open to high-potential entrepreneurs or venture ideas at the undergraduate or graduate level, selected through a competitive application process. The first recipient is expected to be named this month (September 2023). In addition to the financial support, Gross will provide the recipient with valuable one-on-one mentoring.

“I am delighted to congratulate our distinguished alumnus John Gross on his success as a business and community leader. We are immensely proud of John’s accomplishments, and I am particularly taken by his passion for serving customers. We are most grateful for his generous support,” said Dr. Ujwal Kayande, Dean of SFU’s Beedie School of Business. Added Dr. Sarah Lubik, Executive Director at SFU’s Charles Chang Institute for Entrepreneurship. “The Chang Institute is dedicated to helping students realize their entrepreneurial mindset and create their own opportunities and impact. This paid start-up experience will provide critical support and experience for young entrepreneurs at a time when many promising ventures stall because many students don’t have the resources to focus on their ventures, needing to work for someone else instead. John’s generosity will help ensure more students can pursue their entrepreneurial dreams.”

Unlike most of his MBA classmates who had undergraduate degrees in business-related fields, Gross had a piano performance degree from the Cleveland School of Music. His MBA experience was a humbling one that instilled in Gross some valuable lessons that became the foundation of his corporate philosophy and business success.

“I thought I was going to be the smartest guy in the class and soon felt like maybe the opposite was true,” says Gross. “That actually helped me tremendously as it instilled in me a great sense of humility and the work ethic I needed to keep up with the program. As an SFU MBA graduate, it’s an honour for me to come back and do this 25 years later because I'm so grateful for everything I learned at SFU.”

Gross’ journey as an entrepreneur began just a few days after graduating from SFU in 1997. After weeks of scouring local newspapers for a business opportunity, he came across a tiny ad offering high quality overseas manufacturing at low prices. Despite having just written his thesis on a local building products company, in which he dismissed the idea of overseas manufacturing due to high transportation costs, Gross called the number. On the other end of the line was an electrical engineer from Beijing who’d been trying to get new products off the ground in North America without success.

Rather than trying to get a new product off the ground, Gross figured they should find a product that was already available and make a better version at a lower cost. He decided his first product would be a post holder for 4x4 posts and convinced a Lower Mainland manufacturing company that he could provide them with better post holders than they were making, at a much lower cost. When he delivered his first shipment, they immediately stopped manufacturing them and made Gross their supplier.

Gross eventually set his sights on The Home Depot, which in 1999 only had a couple of dozen stores across Canada. After months of sales calls, he finally received a call from the store in Nanaimo, where the manager was looking for a better post holder, one that could stand up to West Coast weather. In a pattern that would repeat itself many times over the next 25 years, Gross and Peak Products acted quickly to take advantage of an opportunity left open by the competition.

That first $50 order from The Home Depot generated a $5-profit for Peak Products. On the vendor application form Gross signed in 1999 were the instructions to always ship 100% complete and on time. It’s a commitment Gross and the Peak Products team took to heart. Despite hurricanes, flooding, COVID, transportation strikes and other calamities, Peak has never short-shipped an order, even delivering by plane if necessary.

“Whether it’s related to product design and quality, service, delivery, or anything else that truly matters to the customer, in any business, you’re always going to find competitors who have forgotten the customer is king, and that's your opening as the little guy,” says Gross. “Our success is due in large part to our innovative products, which we believe are much better than the competition’s. Maybe even more important though is our passion to serve the customer, always look for ways to do better, and never take things for granted. To become and stay successful in business, you have to wake up every day and try harder than you did yesterday. One of the greatest risks to any company is losing that sense of humility.”

From launching with a single post holder in 1998, Peak’s product line has grown to over 1,000 products, including everything from metal railings, fencing, deck products and gutters, to doors, window screens, gardenware and much more. Its products are sold in nearly 2,200 The Home Depot stores across Canada and the United States, with many individual stores displaying over 100 lineal feet of the company’s products. Its lines are also offered throughout Australia and New Zealand though a partnership with the home improvement retail giant Bunnings. To meet the growing demand for its products, Peak Products manufactures its products in Calgary, Mexico, Asia, and a growing number of countries around the world. It also has large distribution centers in Calgary, Richmond Hill, Seattle, St. Louis and Australia.

The humility that infuses Peak Products’ corporate philosophy is also behind its generous support of numerous charitable causes. As a company dedicated to helping people make their homes and outdoor living spaces attractive, safe and durable, Peak Products’ primary philanthropic partner is The Home Depot Canada Foundation, whose mission is to prevent and end youth homelessness in Canada.

In recognition of the care his father received from British Columbia hospitals as he battled illness in his later years, Gross and Peak Products have also provided millions in donations to organizations such as Vancouver Coastal Health, UBC medicine, Delta Hospital + Community Health Foundation, VGH + UBC Foundation Hospital Foundation, Fraser Health, St. Paul’s Foundation and Surrey Memorial Hospital. Gross is also a long-time supporter of the Vancouver Recital Society, Habitat for Humanity and the University of British Columbia.

“When I think about the future, the opportunities for Peak Products have never been greater,” says Gross. “We have the best team in the business and an incredible partnership with The Home Depot, the world's largest home improvement retailer. Based on our first 25 years, which have been amazing, I believe we have the potential to become a billion-dollar company in the not-too-distant future. No matter how big we grow, however, you can rest assured that we will never lose our sense of humility or forget that we exist to serve our customers and our communities.”

Greg Descantes