Congratulations on your Retirement Kirk!
Kirk Thomson, youngest son of Can-Am founder Andy Thomson Sr., retired as Vice President and Sales Manager at Can-Am RV on December 31, 2021 after a 35-year career at the dealership. He and his wife Catherine live on a 4.5 acre property near Talbotville where they maintain a century home, extensive gardens and their own 2015 Airstream Classic.
We took the opportunity to chat with Kirk about his time with Can-Am and his decision to retire.
When did you first start working at Can-Am?
I was 7-years-old when Dad first started the business. I was probably 10 when I started helping with cleaning trailers, sweeping the shop and tidying the store on weekends and holidays. I worked there and at McDonald’s throughout high school and full-time during summer holidays. After I graduated from Ryerson University with a degree in Business Marketing, I worked for Nesbitt Thomson in Toronto until the stock market crash of 1987. I was working crazy hours and not earning enough to pay the rent so I called my sister Nancy and she said, “Come home. We need a Service Writer.” So I packed up, moved home and started working at Can-Am full-time.
What other positions have you held at Can-Am?
As a business owner, you get to do everything. I’ve driven tractors, detailed RVs, delivered units and gone to pick up parts. Over the years I’ve worked in almost all of our departments, including parts, sales and the business office.
Which of the positions did you enjoy most?
I would have to say I am best-suited to sales. I enjoy the chance to talk with people, listen to their ideas about travel, where they want to visit and the adventures they’ve had to date. I always found selling our products easy because I believe in the product lines we carry and I have been an RVer since I was a child. One of the great things about our business is the opportunity I had to try so many different RVs, from 39’ fifth wheels to 17’ Alto travel trailers, learning the pros and cons of each. Can-Am always encourages staff to borrow a trailer for their holidays so they can truly understand the joy and freedom that RVing brings.
What was your favourite trip in an RV?
Wow—there have been so many that I really loved. Catherine and I toured the western half of Newfoundland in an Airstream Interstate which was breathtakingly beautiful, and learned what that East coast hospitality is all about. Great people, I am looking forward to going back.
We also did a trip through Quebec and had an amazing time on the north shore in Tadoussac-Les Escoumins area. It was amazing camping above the St Lawrence, seeing seals, whales and incredible views. Now the trip to the Hudson River Valley area of New York State was great, same with our trip to Saskatchewan to see my niece get married, but there was also a trip to the Okanagan, and Iroquois Falls.
My latest trip is the only RV vacation that I have taken on my own. It was actually a good experience as I had just announced my retirement. I towed with a Dodge Durango and 30’ Airstream Classic on a 9,000-km trip from Vancouver down the Pacific Coast Highway to San Diego. From there I went to Phoenix then Austin. This time allowed me the time to enjoy the majesty of the coast, the world’s best zoo, the beauty of the desert and the culture of Austin. This time gave me a chance to reflect on my life and what goals I have for my retirement. I was constantly thinking how wonderful it will be to share these places with Catherine in the near future now that we have the time together.
So why did you decide to retire?
Well there were a lot of reasons for it. The big one was that my Dad died at age 61, only 3 years older than I am now. I have lost some good friends in the last year and serious illness has struck some other important people in my life. It made me think about how I wanted to spend my time. I feel that I’ve hardly seen the world. I really want to travel not only in our trailer here, but I would love to spend some time in Europe, Australia and the Far East. I actually have done some research on Africa and there are some places there that look incredible too.
Andy and I have worked 6 and 7 days a week for so many years and I was getting really tired and burnt out. The COVID situation added a lot of extra pressure with staffing challenges, parts challenges and of course inventory shortages. Customers were for the most part very understanding and we did our best to try to accommodate them, but it changed the dynamic. I am very fortunate that my brother Andy has retained his passion for the business. He likes the long hours and wants to continue the legacy.
I am also grateful Can-Am employs a wonderful crew in whom I have a tremendous confidence. Even though I no longer own Can-Am, it’s in my blood and I want to make sure it continues to provide an exceptional experience to our people—our customers, our employees, our suppliers and business partners.
Do you have a favourite memory from work?
Lots! There are so many. I guess the trip I took to Airstream with my Dad when I was 17. We’d never spent much time together, so this trip was memorable. We drove to Ohio in Caprice and I brought back a new Airstream Classic motor home while he towed a 31’ travel trailer. I am still amazed that he let me drive a new motorhome, worth about $170,000 in 1980. He did, however, remind me that the deductible was $5000 and it would be paid out of my $1.75-an-hour pocket.
I also have great memories of customers who were so excited to be embarking on an adventure. People who had dreamed of this all their lives and we got to help them realize their dream—that never gets tired. Some of those customers became great friends over the years and we travel together to this day.
Supplying an Airstream trailer and Volkswagen Jetta to The Nature of Things was interesting. I got to spend about three days with David Suzuki and his daughter Sarika. At one point they towed an old 1961 Pacer with Andy’s tandem bicycle for a promo clip. I was a little worried that I might get them killed riding the bike with a vintage Airstream in tow, but it was no problem. They were lovely people and thoroughly enjoyed the adventure.
The charity work also brought me a tremendous amount of joy. Doing the Ice Bucket Challenge and having the loader pour 6 yards of ice water over me was…ah…memorable. The trailers we supplied for kids for the “Make-A-Wish” foundation is another great memory. One little boy would not let go of my hand the whole day he was so excited. Supporting the Bethany’s Hope Foundation with Rock the Park and auctioning off trailers at their Gala each year was fulfilling. Dave and Lindey McIntyre are exceptional role models.
When COVID first hit, Can-Am lent out trailers to front line workers so they could isolate to keep their families safe. It was a huge undertaking but we were so glad we could do it, as did many other dealers in our industry. Our technicians prepped the RVs and I delivered them. I have to say I was very proud of all the people involved.
So what are you going to miss about work?
Getting a paycheque! Seriously, I will miss the people the most, but since my return from the big road trip I have been at the office about 4 days a week helping out when needed.
You talked about retirement goals. What are they?
I have a lot of interests. Of course travel is at the top of the list. I have been invited to go sailing on my friend’s catamaran in the Mediterranean and may help them with an Atlantic crossing if they think I am more a help than hindrance. Catherine and I are planning a trip to Scotland and we would like to do a west coast trip in our Airstream, visiting people along the way. My travel goals are pretty extensive and will take a long time to complete. I’m good with that.
One of the best things about retirement will be having the time to invest in friends and entertaining.
I have physical goals and love to bike, so I am going to spend a lot more time doing that and spending time in the gym. I would like to learn how to play guitar, but I doubt I have the required coordination.
I also have had a lifelong obsession with alternative energy, so I am going to be working on my experimental trailer to eliminate the range issues when towing. It might be a stretch, but it will be fun learning, failing and trying again.
I also was given a bunch of “goals” to do around the house, though I am not sure how edging a garden is a goal.
Any last words?
UGH! Do you know something I don’t?
I just want to thank everyone for their support and putting their trust in us over the years. I really appreciate all the people that made my career at Can-Am an incredible life experience. My brother Andy, my Mom and Dad and my sister Nancy have always helped and guided me in so many ways. I want to thank the people that work at Can-Am who have taught me so much and who put up with me at my lowest and encouraged me to be my best. The biggest thanks is to my wife Catherine. She is my sounding board, my inner voice, I truly admire her and seek her council daily. I am thankful every day that she is in my life. I also appreciate all that she has done for me over the years when I’ve been tied up at work--especially edging the gardens.