The founder of
Bells of Steel
Want to hear my life story? Then scroll on!
You can also check out the below media links of various podcasts/articles I’ve been in. I do love the sound of my voice, so if you’d like to host me on your podcast or blog, email firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject line as “Attention Kaevon” and I’ll get back to you!
My Origin Story
I like to say strength is in my DNA. My grandmother’s maiden name is Pahlvani, which loosely translates to “strongman.” Her brother, my great uncle, owned a “house of strength” in the ancient city of Isfahan, where men would gather and swing traditional heavy clubs and exercise in ancient methods. And my other great uncle competed in Olympic lifting before the invention of bumpers.
On the other side, my Polish Grandfather and Ukrainian Grandmother had met in a Nazi slave labour camp during the war (Ostarbeiter) and managed to survive the camp’s brutality and lucked out getting on a refugee boat instead of facing further persecution under Stalin’s regime ( Ostarbeiter were considered traitors by the mouth breathing government) after the war to their new life in Canada.
Most of all, my strength came from my mother, who raised me, my brother and my sister by herself without a dime of child support, relying on meagre welfare cheques and her skills as an artist to get us by.
My mum instilled the four pillars of my entrepreneurial success throughout my life, and these lessons guided me to my present-day success:
Mumsy and I in the 80s at the McDonalds caboose. R.I.P. mum!
Before I moved to Victoria when I was 12, I had never played sports other than gym class, there wasn’t much for programs in my area, and we couldn’t afford a car. But in the green grasses of Victoria, B.C., sports were everywhere.
I’ll never forget the first time I touched a rugby ball; I didn’t even know the sport existed until I played in my grade 8 gym class. A former Canadian national team coach, my teacher spotted my talent and encouraged me to join the school rugby team.
That year, my older brother graduated high school and left home, and with my father out of the picture, I officially became the man of the house. I knew if I were going to be powerless with money, I would develop a powerful body to keep us safe. Coupled with my new passion for rugby and my obsession with the WWE, I began lifting weights using my mother’s old pneumatic rowing machine.
The following year, my rugby coach made the silly decision of cutting me and my future team Canada Captain Phil Mack, from the junior high school rugby team.
I was devastated, but this ignited what I now like to call my “hyperfocus.”
My entire life became dedicated to making that team. I began training for HOURS every day, with absolutely no idea what I was doing. I even joined the cross country team with my now business partner Bryan to get my cardio level up.
Well, the hard work paid off, and I made the team the following year, going on to win the provincial championship in my senior year, a massive upset and the highlight of my sporting career.
Keep an eye out for player 1; I’m so fast you might miss me.
With the obsession of being a better athlete, positive male role models from my coaches, and holding down a part-time job at the gas station, I managed to lay the foundations for breaking the cycle of poverty and intergenerational trauma.
After the season was over, I graduated high school, and the brevity of my situation dawned on me; there were no scholarships or opportunities for rugby, and welfare stopped cutting checks once you hit 18. Most of my money from my part-time job at the gas station supported the household.
I was fucked.
My brother bought me a 1-way flight to Ottawa to start my adult life; I got a job as a commercial roofer labourer and spent the most brutal summer of my life earning a bit of cash.
Becoming depressed and having left all my friends behind, I moved back to Victoria and got an apartment with my best bud. Having worked on the roof all summer for 14 hour days, I hadn’t hit the gym much. So there I was, weak, broke and depressed, working at a gas station full time with no future ahead of me.
That was until I met my mentor and close friend, Brian Wall. We had gone to school together, but I didn’t know him; he had transferred schools a few times. I heard rumours about him. He’s the most jacked dude in Victoria.
Then I bumped into him at a party, and he was, in fact, the most yoked person I had seen in real life. Like something out of a movie, I went over to him and introduced myself, and he gave me his phone number and told me if I wanted to get big to call him.
Me and Brian on my wedding day circa 2016, R.I.P. buddy!.
My life was back on track,
thanks to Brian.
Brian took me under his wing and started teaching me how to get big and strong, teaching me compound free-weight movements like squats and deadlifts (I had already benched 265 in high school, bro), and introduced me to what I like to call “poverty bulking.” Boiled eggs, cottage cheese, oatmeal with just cold water on it. In a few short months, He helped me become the biggest and strongest I had ever been in my life.
Still working at a gas station, a regular customer came in and noticed all my gainz. He suggested I call his friend who owned a nightclub to get a job as a bouncer. I had only turned legal drinking age (19) a few months ago and had barely even been to a bar.
I got the job and started working at “the joint” right next to Montys, the local strip club in a dive hotel.
Shortly after, I ended up working with my mentor Brian at “the one lounge,” a notorious nightclub that only hired Victoria’s most enormous gym rats to operate the door.
With my newfound confidence, I applied to my local community college; I had almost not finished high school and had no idea how the post-secondary education system worked. I got in, quit my shitty day jobs, started bouncing full time at night while going to school full time during the day and even started playing rugby again.
This is where I built upon my foundation of business success.
I learned to sell; I was a master of creating demand by making fake line ups and having patrons pay to “cut the line” and when it was busy, making sure I got top dollar for those looking for quick access, and of course, making people feel special.
I refined my interpersonal skills at the front door. I became comfortable with confrontation, ejecting unruly patrons with my words instead of fists.
And of course, I made more money than I ever could have pumping gas and got myself an education.
While my life was finally in the right direction, and things were going as good as they could be, I received a call one day from my estranged father.
I hadn’t seen him in 8 years, he had moved to the U.K. and started a new family, and I had three half-siblings there.
He offered to fly me out there to work for him, and he, in exchange, sent me to university. I didn’t believe him but said yes anyway. To my surprise, a ticket showed up, and I was on a flight a few weeks later to the U.K. to start my life over.
Until now, I had only ever been to Ottawa and Victoria. The only other places I had visited were rugby trips and had never been outside the country.
I managed to get into business at a great university in Exeter, U.K., where I continued to layer onto my foundation and decided for fun (and for girls) to get as lean and fit as possible while living there.
I ended up staying for 2 years, when again, in 2008, the financial crisis hit, and I was on my own again.
Euro-trash kaevon circa 2008, Athens.
The Foundations of Bells of Steel
With a 1 way ticket to Canada and a few hundred bucks from a summer internship, I decided to head to Calgary. I had never been to Calgary, or Alberta for that matter, but I had heard from my Victoria friends that it was a new money town, oil was booming, everyone was hiring and as long as you worked hard and there was money to be made.
I flew to Victoria to see family and friends, then hitched a ride on craigslist to Edmonton to stay with Bryan (my now business partner), then headed to Calgary.
I crashed on a friend’s couch, and within three days, I got the highest-paying job I ever had at a fitness equipment store. I had posted an ad on craigslist “free room rent in exchange for me to be your in-house personal trainer.
Although I wasn’t a perfect trainer, my roommate was kind enough to let me stay for free
until I got on my feet. He’s a good man, and if you ever need to buy a house in Calgary, here’s his realtor link.
It was here I caught the bug for strength sports. See, before now, unless you were lucky enough to live near a hardcore gym that knew about actual strength sports, the only workout-related programming media was what you would see in bodybuilding magazines.
Now, for the first time, I owned a computer, and with the rise of the internet, programming as an alternative to bodybuilding methods was becoming mainstream. This is in 2008; there was one gym in a city of 1 million that had bumper plates.
But I was hooked.
Initially, it started with kettlebells; then through a forum post, I connected with a guy who introduced me to an Olympic lifting gym in Calgary with an ex USSR weightlifting coach from Armenia. I joined up and started getting deeper down the rabbit hole.
The guy who introduced me then invited me out to train at his gym, Unparalleled. A hardcore powerlifting/Olympic lifting gym churning out world champions from their gym in the basement of a strip mall in Moosejaw, SK.
I trained and competed in Olympic weightlifting and, gradually, strongman. I had nowhere to get the equipment. I talked to my boss at the fitness store and told him we had to start carrying bumper plates and kettlebells. He was not interested but offered to let me order from his supplier in China and share space on his containers.
Now, this was way back in 2009; Alibaba was like the wild west. The chances of you getting scammed were pretty high, so this was a fantastic opportunity.
My first (and only) Olympic lifting competition, 2008
On February 5th, 2010, I placed my first P.O. for $3700 with a mix of student loan money and savings from my summer bouncing gig at the notorious Calgary Stampede
I began selling the gear out of the back of my $500 1991 Ford Festiva directly to my network of fitness people, as well as on craigslist.
Shortly after, a friend of mine introduced me to BigCommerce, and on July 18th, 2010 first e-commerce transaction. I did about 150K in sales in my first year and moved into a 3rd party logistics centre in 2011.
My first online order ever.
Around this time, a small community of like-minded athletes and I decided to rent a space to run a gym to train in strongman, powerlifting, kettlebell sport, and Olympic lifting. One of the original members continued the idea after I left Calgary and opened The Strength Edge.
B.o.S. Facility 2010.
My first strongman competition.
Calgary Festival of Strength Interview.
Building and sharing this community led to more community events; I hosted and ran Alberta’s largest strength sports festival for two years, which helped grow strength sports.
Of course, marketing before Facebook ads existed.
Soon after, I graduated, quit my day job at the fitness store and went full time with B.o.S. during the day and as a head bouncer at a local hipster bar at night.
Business was good, but up until now, I had just considered it a side hustle that would build my resume for my eventual corporate job. My girlfriend (now wife) and I decided to backpack Asia for five months as one last huzzah. I kept running B.o.S. from the beaches of SE Asia (can you tell I read the 4-Hour Workweek?), and it continued to grow.
When we arrived back in Canada, I began applying for my corporate jobs. The problem was no one wanted to hire me. I realized no one in this world saw my potential as much as I did. So I said fuck it, I’m going all in, and I did one more bouncing stint at the 2012 Calgary Stampede, and
I’m going all in, and I did one more bouncing stint at the 2012 Calgary Stampede, and
After a few more years, I ran into the most common of all problems of any eCommerce entrepreneur; I couldn’t get any financing. I had terrible credit and no parents to co-sign anything for me. My now-wife was generously letting me use her line of credit, but the banks wouldn’t touch me and the alternative lenders like there are now did not exist. I was spinning my wheels at $300k in sales, and I couldn’t budge.
My close friend and now business partner, Bryan, agreed to loan me money as a rotating line of credit. In 2015, he bought half the company as a silent partner, providing a much-needed cash injection and acting as a general adviser.
Me and my wife circa 2012 at the full moon party in Ko Pha Ngan Thailand.
Calgary Stampede 2012.
Me and Bryan (right) on our European backpacking trip in Oxford, U.K.
While running the company remotely (at this time, we were still using a 3rd party logistics centre in Vancouver), I decided I finally had the time, income and flexibility to make one last crack at going somewhere with rugby.
I trained hard and played with some top clubs like JBAA (my home club), Burnaby Lake and even a brief stint in Santa Monica, where I co-hosted an episode of Conan O’Brien.
Finally making strides at age 30 and heading the direction I wanted, I was diagnosed with asthma and had a much-needed inhaler prescribed to me finally helping my conditioning. Unfortunately, after a long career of injury-free rugby, I got my comeuppance, my first-ever significant rugby injury came that year, and I tore my bicep.
Burnaby lake beardos take home the championship.
Winnipeg Wasps Rugby.
My wife finished her physio degree and had been offered a job in her hometown as the physio at the hospital. Her parents had an extra house on the homestead that they gave to us to fix up and plant our roots. I realized I was just not good enough to make the big leagues, retired from rugby, and moved to our home on a farm. It was a win-win, and I knew I could start a family and have a place to call home while not having to worry about defaulting on a mortgage and continue to take big risks with the business.
The salt flats of Bolivia.
Our home in rural Manitoba circa 2015.
Shortly after we got engaged, and instead of opting for a fancy ring, I took us backpacking in South America for two months while my bicep healed instead.
Now, 30 years old and no more competitive sports, I began to hyper-focus on Bells of Steel. Every year was a record-breaking sales year than the last, we moved the operation back to Calgary, and I opened my own warehouse in 2018, after 8 years of running the company using 3rd party warehouses, and made my first ever hires in a 6,400 sq ft bay in Calgary and welcomed my first child to the world in the same year.
Graham (middle), the second person I ever hired (and still with us) and Ryan (the first-ever). In the old warehouse.
In 2019, I officially launched in the U.S. with a location in Indianapolis.
Having had such terrible experiences with 3rd party logistics companies, I wanted someone on the ground in Indy to help manage our U.S. expansion and any issues we had with the warehouse.
I started looking up and DMing hardcore gyms in Indianapolis on Instagram; lucky for me, Andrew, the owner of West Indy Barbell, a hardworking know-it hustler, responded and partnered together to become our U.S. Operations Manager and use his gym as a content studio for BoS.
In 2020, my partner and best bud Bryan quit his chemical engineer job and took a massive pay cut to come on full time with B.o.S. as the C.F.O. and help accelerate the company from a rag-tag group of meatheads into a trustworthy company.
Since high school, Bryan and I had been good friends; the way we met was an excellent metaphor for our skill sets and personality complementing each other. In grade 8 gym class, we were playing flag rugby.
Bryan, an analytical and logical man, had lined up in front of me to grab my flag, as were the rules of the game. Me, being a more gut-based person, never letting obstacles get in my way, proceeded to run him over and score the try.
But where our friendship truly blossomed was our passion for Magic: The Gathering. We spent many hours honing the craft and strategizing for one day what would become a core competency to strategizing for our company.
We worked together to get ready for the biggest year yet. We maxed out our credit cards, and Bryan maxed out his home equity line of credit.
We were ready for a big 2020;
little did I know just how big…
Present-day Bells of Steel
Although established in 2010, the company’s first eight years were mostly the same, primarily just myself growing a little company slowly. But in 2020, Bryan and I had positioned ourselves to take the company to the next level.
My personal life had been distilled solely down to family and work, and I was working around the clock with another baby on the way.
Although the Canadian side of things had been growing steadily, I had my eyes set stateside.
With a grant from the government to assist in the expansion, I booked a booth at the Arnold’s Sports Festival and flights to attend FIBO, the most prominent fitness trade expo in the world.
Finally had our booth at the Arnolds after 2 years of it being cancelled.
Then as you all know, the world changed overnight…
I was literally about to walk out the door to drive to the airport to go to the Arnold’s when I got the call from Andrew in Indy “they called it off because of the corona.” I couldn’t believe it.
Like much of the world, we had no idea what to expect, then on March 16th, we had the biggest day of sales we’ve ever had. Then the next, and the next, until our emails and orders were overflowing and very quickly sold out.
Although privileged to be one of the lucky ones whose business flourished under COVID, The next 22 months would become the most stressful and challenging of my entire career.
In 2020, the most significant challenge had become just simply getting inventory. Factories I had worked with for years, such as my weight plate factory, simply told us to beat it; they had more prominent clients to serve.
Any inventory we had got scooped up shortly after I got it in. Still, in our tiny 6,400 sq ft warehouse, we knocked a hole in the wall to connect the bay next door to try and keep up with the growth. In Indianapolis, our warehouse provider struggled but managed to keep up better with the demand.
It was just myself and a small team of 7 trying to handle a tsunami and me; we made it through the year, but by 2021, I was utterly burnt out, and things had not slowed down; in fact, we 3X’d in 2020, then 2X’d AGAIN in 2021.
After a chat with an eCommerce friend of mine, I had three options:
I took option 3, and as of March 2022, Bells of Steel has 52 employees, 30,000 sq ft building in Calgary, 15,000 sq foot in Toronto, 5,000 storefronts in Indianapolis and 2 – 3PLs, 1 in LA and 1 in Indianapolis.
Finally, this year I’m getting a chance to catch my breath. I even plan to take my first entirely offline vacation for the first time in 12 years, re-focus on my own training and spend some more balanced time with my family.
So what does the future look like? First things first, which are just to try and stabilize and optimize the growth achieved over the last two years. Although I had initially planned to expand to Europe, there is still way too much to accomplish here in Canada and the U.S.
My foreseeable future isn’t quite as exciting as my come-up: poopy diapers, Paw Patrol, playing with my little ones and just waiting for this pandemic to end. No plans at the moment to compete again, more so just focusing on health.
I spend most of my time coaching my team, on product design and developing wacky ideas to expand and improve the business. Product design is my true passion, and I have some absolute bangers lined up for 2022; hopefully, you agree!