In every successful entrepreneur’s life comes a day of reflection, when they look back on their achievements after years of head-down hard labour. I was exceptionally lucky to have spoken to Pam “Trailblazer” Robertson on that very day.
Sunshine Tiny Homes, a tiny home builder on the Sunshine Coast of British Columbia, is one of the first tiny home builders in Canada. Its owner, Pam is a fearless trailblazer for the tiny home movement. It’s been quite the journey from then to now.
“I actually was just reflecting on the drive home, just going, “Oh, my goodness, you’ve made it. You’ve arrived at the place that you created in this vision for yourself. Literally, it’s all here!”
I had goosebumps when Pam said that because it’s the moment that every entrepreneur works towards. Indeed, this was a big day: a few days after the launch of the new website, Sunshine Tiny Homes passed a new CSA certification with flying colours and Pam hosted the first official meeting with her new team.
This is exciting for any company, in any industry. But you have to remember that Pam didn’t follow an established path to get there. With the tiny home industry in Canada being in its nascent stages, she had to figure it all out on her own. Here’s how it happened.
Step 1. Pam builds a tiny home and finds community.
I found it very interesting to learn that Pam did not come to tiny homes with a background in building. She was working in the construction industry as a health & safety professional when she decided to take the leap and build a tiny house for herself.
“You know, I was a single mom, doing all the things that I needed to do to survive and take care of my kids. I lived in that survival mode for 15 – 16 years. I took on a career in occupational health and safety, so I was surrounded by construction, but my hands-on building experience actually came from a long time ago when my mom and I dabbled in doing renovations, flipping houses, that sort of thing. I’ve always loved making things and seeing them come to life, but in my job, I didn’t get an opportunity to do that.”
“My initial interest in tiny homes came about because I was working at remote jobs or in rotational shifts, where I’d be gone for two weeks or three weeks at a time. One day, I saw a tiny house on my Facebook feed and thought, “This is amazing. I would be able to take my home with me when I’m on the job site. I wouldn’t have to live in those portable things with, you know, the guys right beside me with their noise and bodily functions!”
“Over more than a year, when I wasn’t working rotationally, I would come home and my mom and I would work on the tiny house. I started disassembling a travel trailer and stockpiling wood that I was salvaging off houses that were getting demolished. The project took forever because we would only have a few days at a time to actually build. Then, I would leave on rotation and plan, prepare, shop for materials while I was away. I would come up with ideas and, every time, I couldn’t wait to come home and start putting them in practice.”
“It was hard work and I was in a lonely place in my life. I felt so disconnected from the world with my rotational work. Now, when I look back on it, feeling like I was a part of the tiny home community that was starting to come together was the real draw for me.”
“I felt so disconnected from the world with my rotational work. Now, when I look back on it, feeling like I was a part of the tiny home community was the real draw for me.”
Step 2. Pam finishes one tiny house… and starts the next one.
Like Pam, many people have built or are building a tiny house for themselves. But most end there. You only really become a tiny house builder when you finish that first home say to yourself, “Yeah! I want to do it again.”
“I guess a compulsion is how I describe it. I was compelled to build a tiny home with an intensity I’ve never felt before. In the past, I would start things and sometimes not finish them. But with the tiny home, I just couldn’t put it down. I couldn’t stop until it was done.”
“I was compelled to build a tiny home with an intensity I’ve never felt before. I couldn’t stop until it was done.”
“I ended up finding out halfway through my first tiny house build that you can’t certify tiny homes after they are already built. I was told, “You’ll have to do it for the next one.” And I said, “Yes, that’s fine!”
When Pam finished building her first tiny house, the housing crisis started. Pam had a family member with three kids who was really struggling.
“I just thought, “Oh man, a tiny house would be perfect for her. Just a little bit bigger to accommodate her needs. Another compulsion rose up: I felt like I had to build a community. We decided to sell the first tiny house so I could move to the next project. After 12 hours on Craigslist, it was sold. ”
Step 3. Pam pushes boundaries and gets her tiny homes certified.
Over the next 5 years, Pam worked on building tiny homes, building a company, and building the tiny home community in Canada.
“I feel like we haven’t advertised for it, we haven’t declared anything, but what I’ve done is legalized tiny homes. Or, to put it another way, revolutionized mobile homes.”
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Sunshine Tiny Homes operate within CSA standards and have received CSA certifications. They are also working on others. There is a lot of thinking, reinvention and challenging the status quo that goes into that, however.
“Take the CSA Mobile Home certification. Did you know that mobile homes don’t have a size restriction? Mobile homes have made a certain reputation for themselves, but there’s really nothing that tells you they have to be low quality the way they typically are. There’s nothing that mandates the way they look, or the vinyl siding, or the terrible insulation. They don’t have to be slapped together in a day. That’s just where the industry has gone. So we’ve built a good quality “mobile home” that’s 10 feet wide by 41 feet long on a triple axle gooseneck trailer and used the opportunity to pass it through the Mobile Home certification.”
Every project for Pam means expanding boundaries and looking for opportunities to expand the definitions and applications of tiny homes. As a result, each Sunshine Tiny Homes model is CSA-certified.
“We’re also taking on a modular home application at the same time and doing the certification simultaneously. That’s a big undertaking, just keeping it all straight. It’s been a lot of work for my crew to keep track of the details and build to a slightly different building code for each certification. Everything is a little bit different. But my team, when they’re doing something new, they’re doing it like champs.”
“As we’re going through, we’re revolutionizing or modifying mobile homes. We’re throwing conventions out the window and kind of making stuff up here. And then, it goes through. It passes!”
Step 4. Pam is a leader and visionary for the tiny home industry
One of the things that struck me about the Sunshine Tiny Homes website is that “Dreaming” is listed as a company value along with commitment, excellence, loyalty, and collaboration. This is not a typical mix and, after speaking with Pam for a little while, I knew why “Dreaming” was there.
“I started doing this because I saw the need for affordable housing. I connect landowners with tiny home purchasers all the time – it’s just amazing to connect like-minded people that are still to this day in the same spot, thriving. We’re helping people who are displaced, and we’re helping people live their best lives because they choose to live this way. I really believe in collaborative living. And I believe in integrated communities. Instead of populating one high-rise building with people who have a low income, I believe in infill development where people of different incomes and backgrounds and life situations are intermixed for a better, more diverse community.”
“I started doing this because I saw the need for affordable housing.”
Pam also worries about the aging population and the strain that will need to be absorbed by the health care system and housing market. Here too, tiny homes can make a big difference.
“With secondary dwellings and tiny homes and modular homes in backyards, there’s an opportunity to keep our loved ones with us, to keep an eye on them.”
“I hold affordable housing close to my heart and I hope to one day move into a philanthropist role, when the company is doing well.”
It may not be a long wait for Pam, because she already has her eye set on a project helping a local foster parent while also highlighting yet another need for tiny homes.
“My friend fosters teenagers, primarily. She is an amazing spitfire of a woman. And, you may not know this, but when teenagers time out of the foster care system, there is a six-month waiting period before they get any kind of government assistance. They have to go out and make a life for themselves. Scary! My friend has some land around her home and she would love to have a couple of tiny homes in the backyard to serve as that in-between step where she can still keep an eye on the kids, but they’re learning to be more independent, to pay rent, etc. I’ve been advocating for her with her municipality and I would love to be the one to supply those tiny homes.”
Pam continues to be very involved in the tiny home industry as a whole.
“I love collaborating with people. I work with a lot of the leaders in the industry. I just love being able to call them up and say, “Hey! This is how things are going. How are they going on your end?” In an industry where things change instantaneously, all the time, it’s crazy keeping up with it all. You can’t do it alone.”
Step 5. Pam makes her clients feel honoured.
You’ve heard of companies serving their customers. Pam honours her customers. Correct me if I’m wrong, but this is not an experience available to most buyers of conventional homes.
“I feel like I’m the epitome of my ideal client: a woman living on her own, independently, and having the financial freedoms and the other benefits of the tiny home. My demographic is women my age, getting close to thinking about retirement, empty-nesters. I understand these needs.”
“Working with my clients. Figuring out who they are from the tidbits they drop in conversation and transforming that into their home. What an awesome responsibility that is. Honestly, I’m awe-struck every single time. I’ve been gifted with the knack for articulating what it is that my clients want and I didn’t know I had this gift until I started applying it. ”
“We’re booking well in advance now and I would love to scale and be able to serve more people. But when people call, they often say, “Well, we’re willing to wait.” Because they’re not just buying the home, they’re buying the experience. People want to be honoured, women want to be honoured. And if you think about it, how often do people get to build their own home? That in itself is a unique experience.”
“People want to be honoured, women want to be honoured.”
Pam honours her clients and we hope to honour the work that she’s done for the tiny home movement in Canada. On the evening of our call, after the first meeting with her new team, Pam was feeling like she could unload some of the burden of running her business and just look back and reflect on how far she’d come.
“It really was a revelation. I was thinking to myself, “Wow. I’m walking in what I’ve been praying for for years.” Honestly, at different points of the journey, I didn’t even think I could get here. I believe my prayers have been completely answered and all the hard work and dedication and efforts, it’s just starting to pay off and abundance is starting to pour out. Because it’s been a lot of work to get here. Basically, it’s been crazy.”
“All the hard work and dedication is starting to pay off and abundance is starting to pour out. Because it’s been a lot of work to get here. Basically, it’s been crazy.”