When Chantal Belisle set out to find a quality play structure for her son, she had no idea she would find a great business opportunity in the process.
“My son was soon to be three and I was looking for a play structure,” Belisle says. “I wanted something that he wouldn’t outgrow, something that would be safe and last a long time.”
Searching the big-box stores, Belisle couldn’t find a product she liked; the offerings seemed flimsy and the brands didn’t have a long-standing presence.
Determined to find something better, she decided to drive down to Kingston to check out a company called Rainbow of Ontario, a division of Rainbow Play Systems Inc., which is based in the U.S.
“I was really impressed,” she says of the products, adding that Rainbow Play Systems has the largest playground factory in the U.S. and has been in business since 1985.
“The play structures were so solid and strong, built with 4×4 beams and 6×6 beams; there’s no weight limit and the structures do not move.”
In fact, the massive solid-beam structures are “adult friendly” so moms and dads can enjoy them, too – and parents can climb up to help their little ones. Built with redwood or cedar, the play structures are modular and expandable.
They are also fully customizable – offering fun add-ons like swings, monkey bars, climbing walls, picnic tables and sandboxes.
Belisle invested in a play structure for her family, and her little boy loved it from day one.
“When my son was really young, we had the rock wall,” she says. “He would climb up one or two rocks and then come down; even very young kids find something to do with it.”
Thrilled with her purchase, Belisle decided she wanted to make Rainbow Play Systems available to other Ottawa-area parents.
“Here I had the opportunity to stay home, sell a product that I really believed in and provide a really great product to people in Ottawa,” she says.
In 2013, Belisle opened Rainbow of Ottawa (rainbowofottawa.ca). She manages the sales and marketing of the products while her husband, Stephane Belisle, does the installations. The play structures are set up in the huge background of their home in Navan – 25 minutes from downtown Ottawa – so that customers can see exactly what they’re getting.
“Last year we had six of them set up,” says Belisle, adding customers are encouraged to bring their kids to test-drive the play structures. “I believe in trying something out before you actually buy it.”
Often, customers will visit several times – and request multiple quotes from Belisle – before finally deciding to buy. She believes in a no-pressure approach, and understands it’s an investment, with value packages starting at $2,000 before installation. This year, she has also added Vuly Trampolines to her product offerings, with a starting price of about $600.
Belisle loves the work-life balance she has found since becoming a Rainbow dealer.
“Working from home gives me the flexibility of throwing in a load of laundry, doing dishes or preparing dinner during my business hours, when I’m between customers or it’s quiet,” she says. “That allows me to be relaxed and laid back during my weekends, and enjoy my time with my son and my family.”
During the quieter months – from October to about March – Belisle volunteers at her son’s school, serves as a member of the school committee and occasionally works as a lunch monitor and supply teacher.
“I get to spend a lot of time with my son and I’m doing something that I love doing – I love helping parents and helping kids,” says Belisle, adding that seeing a child excited over their dream swing set is one of the biggest perks of the job.
“They’re so happy – the smiles on their faces just melt your heart.”