Bluewater Pipe-Soleno deal brings together family businesses

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Two of the original families of farm tile in Canada have come together in a deal that keeps the companies in independent ownership.

Soleno, owned by the Poirier family and based in Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu, Que., has purchased majority ownership in Bluewater Pipe, based in Huron Park, Ont.

Bluewater Pipe was founded by Tony Kime, and he and his wife Bonnie will continue to have an ownership stake in the business.

Why it matters: The push for increased yields has sparked a surge in tile drainage demand.

The Kime and Poirier families have decades of experience in farm drainage tile and that’s one reason Alain Poirier, president of Soleno, said he was happy to purchase a part of Bluewater Pipe.

“The first thing with this opportunity is the family name Kime,” said Poirier.

Bonnie and Tony Kime.
photo: John Greig

Tony’s father Grant Kime was one of the founders of Big O tile, a company put together 52 years ago at a kitchen table near Grand Bend with 10 farmers as investors. They were the first to make corrugated plastic pipe in Canada.

Big O grew aggressively through the 1980s and 1990s through increasing sales and acquisitions, before it was acquired by Armtec. The Big O name continues and has become the generic name in Ontario for corrugated plastic drainage tile.

Tony Kime said he wishes he could have reacquired the Big O name for his own latest foray into plastic drainage tile company ownership but, like many before him in the tile business, he created something new. Five years later, he said the business was ready for a new partner.

Poirier’s father, Marcel, started in the drainage business in 1958 and incorporated the business in 1973. It continued to grow, including the purchase of a drainage product manufacturer in 1982.

Seven years after that, the Lazure and Poirier families worked together to create the foundations of Soleno, and Alain was appointed president at age 28.

Poirier said one of the strengths of Soleno is that it is a family business, like most farm businesses.

“When we arrive on a job to put plastic pipe under the field, it’s possible to have a good conversation with the owner, with the family,” he said.

The company now has four business units and 500 employees based on nine sites. Its headquarters is at Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu.

During a video interview, Poirier took his computer on a tour of the company’s head office lobby, where a wall stretches to a vaulted ceiling and the wall provides a history of the company, from pictures of early tiling machines and wood tile to modern plastic pipe.

The company has also been a leader in recycling plastic into drainage tile, including using 100 million plastic containers. That makes the company one of the biggest contributors to the “circular economy” in Quebec, said Poirier.

Poirier said that Soleno doesn’t have a manufacturing plant in Ontario, so the Bluewater Pipe deal makes sense.

Michaël Poirier, Alain’s son, said that the plan is to leave Bluewater Pipe operations as they have been, serving mainly the agriculture market.

Tile drainage demand growing

Kime and Alain Poirier agreed that the demand for tile drainage continues to grow, despite a drop in the market 10 years ago.

At that point, farmers said their ground was tiled and there wasn’t need for more.

Then came yield monitors on combines, said Poirier, and farmers could see their yield rising and falling as they crossed tile runs. That’s led many of them to retile fields, at narrower widths, in between the old runs.

More expensive land also means that farmers are working to get more yield per acre to pay for that land, which means many are tiling land as soon as it is purchased.