GETTING PERSONAL With Nick Bourikas, Canadian Sound

This profile originally appeared in the June/July 2019 issue of WiFi HiFi Magazine

In a half-dozen interviews with industry luminaries, I have never before heard the sound of fingers on a calculator. It might seem cold, but not with this man. 

Nick Bourikas is President and CEO of Oakville, ON-based Canadian Sound Limited, a provider of audio, home theatre, and smart home solutions. I got to know Nick almost three decades ago, and if there’s a way to learn someone’s true character, it’s across the desk as a vendor. In Nick’s case, my memories were of innovative win/win ideas, swapping business stories, and constant learning. 

His signature connection with his calculator has a personal side. “Sure, I am a numbers guy, but I love to cook, drink wine, and live music, [and] I enjoy my home theatre.” He breaks things down, based on 168 hours in a typical week. “When I turned 55, I decided that I needed to spend more time investing in ‘Nick’.” He works out with a personal trainer four times a week, does yoga six hours a week, and walks his dog for an hour every day. That’s 17 hours a week. About 11 hours is for mundane tasks and 56 for sleeping, which leaves 36 hours for work and 45 hours for having fun with family and friends, and non-profit work; Nick is also President of the Oakville B.I.A. “That’s how my brain works. Everything is a number.”

Nick always knew he would be an entrepreneur. In 1977, at the age of 16, he promoted rock bands. “I had credit cards. We’d buy the band’s services and sell tickets, liquor, and implement security. On a weekend, I could walk away with $10,000.” He booked some of the premier bands of the day, including Goddo, LoverBoy, and Platinum Blonde. “My mother was a hairdresser in Scarborough. Platinum Blonde used to practice in the basement of my mother’s shop.”

Nick never saw himself working for someone other than himself, and he knew it was going to be cars or audio. He studied business at Ryerson University in Toronto. While attending classes, he started automobile wholesaling. “I’d buy a sweet ride, drive it for a couple of weeks, then flip it, make $1,000, and do it again.” 

His love of cars and audio traces back even earlier. “My first car was a ’68 Mustang Fastback 2+2. My parents didn’t even know I bought it because I was 15 at the time and didn’t have a driver’s license yet. The big car speaker maker of the day was Jensen, but I wanted more. So, I pulled out the back seats and installed Telefunken home speakers. I used a Concord head unit. It sounded pretty good.”

When he finished Ryerson, nobody was hiring presidents. So in 1986, Nick took a job with HiFi Centre on Kennedy Rd. in Scarborough and quickly began winning every sales contest. The owner had 24 stores and he gave Nick the first franchise. “I took cash advances on all my credit cards, and never looked back. It was a great opportunity as I was with more experienced businesspeople, and the Ryerson education helped as well. The audio business was all hobbyists, so a little business knowledge went a long way.” Nick invested in further education at Queens University in 2008 and obtained his Masters in Business Administration, which he feels helped him steer Canadian Sound through big changes.

His first location was in Toronto. “We started off being a box-mover; VHS machines, microwaves, hand-held telephones. At one point, we were Panasonic’s largest single storefront in Ontario. Then the world changed and Costco moved in and ate our lunch.” Nick realized they needed to go up-market and focus on car audio and things that require labour. It was then that they became an AV specialty store, and in 1991, Bourikas parted ways with his franchisor and launched Canadian Sound Limited in Brampton, a Toronto suburb. 

He counts among his mentors and influences East Hamilton Radio’s Ron Taillon, sales pro Zig Ziglar, and Bay Bloor Radio’s Mark Mandlsohn. “I knew Mark as my newly-married next door neighbour on Blairwood in Agincourt, long before I was in the industry. After I became a retailer, Mark would pull me aside and make suggestions and recommendations, and he still does to this day.”

Canadian Sound purchased an historic house in the affluent community of Old Oakville as a showroom and office. Over time, Nick learned that many customers buying on spec or referral would come in to listen and then buy online, so he reduced inventory. The clients really wanted expertise, so he implemented more training and invested in tools the team needed. “Clients don’t want to pay for museums. So we leased out the bottom floor of the house to a custom furniture design firm. There was a business advantage over and above the sharing of costs. We sold to the same clientele. Our customers also bought furniture. And the designer’s clients needed audio, video, and automation. It was a good arrangement.”

Family is also very important to Nick. “As I look around my office, I have countless pictures with my youngest son, Thomas. I coached his hockey team since he was 9 years old. We had a slew of championships together. It was a big part of our lives, and to be honest, I’m kind of missing it these days. He’s just turning 18 and has decided to pursue football. That’s his dream. He’s playing for the Oakville Titans, and I was watching him on the weekend and he’s looking good: 6’4”, 240 lbs.” Nick’s daughter, Francis, graduated from Western with a law degree and now works with a tech start-up. His other son, William, an Ivey grad, is a CPA and works for Ernst & Young. Both live in Toronto. “Their lives are full. And as the kids grow, I have more time with my wife of 20 years, Jennifer. I met her through the business as well. She was my advertising representative with the local paper.”

Nick also invests in public companies, he notes, as his calculator is busy again calculating returns. 

“I’ve chosen to work on Sundays because I can get a lot of work done without interruption. It’s a different kind of work I get done. My day off is Saturday when I visit my parents, sometimes joined by my wife or kids.

“I am so thankful that I got involved in this industry and consider myself blessed. We sell sexy, glamourous stuff. And for the most part, our careers are relatively stress-free without life or death situations. We sell fun and excitement.” 

Listening to Nick’s calculator again, a great lyric from Rush’s song The Spirit Of Radio popped into my head. “All this machinery making modern music can still be open-hearted.” And in my experience, Nick’s calculator has always been used to measure very human values, so everybody wins.