The Part-Time Money Podcast is back, baby!
In this episode I speak with Jim Vitale, owner of Vital Hockey Skills (get it?), one of the premiere hockey
schools (camps and private coaching) in Toronto, and one of the fastest growing in North America!
Jim is a classic part-time entrepreneur, as he’s a school teacher full-time and Vital Hockey Skills is something that he’s developed on the side over time (since 1996)!Jim’s aspiration is to be able to potentially run the hockey school lucratively full-time and slip out of teaching quietly. Although as you’ll hear in the interview, he’s got plenty of reasons to remain a teacher.
The company has gone from losing $3,500 in their first ever hockey school to a six-figure business that now operates in affiliate partnerships, joint ventures and is prominent in SEO!
Listen to the Podcast
Highlights from the interview with Jim:
0:50 – Jim’s early experience with Eastern Bloc hockey skills led to teaching hockey on the side.
1:40 – Jim explains his full-time teaching career and how that relates to his hockey business.
3:15 – Jim’s entrepreneurial background and what gave him confidence to do what he did.
4:30 – Packaging up your teaching skills into a sell-able service or product.
5:55 – Jim talks about his staff.
6:30 – The business started in 1996, but got serious in 2000.
7:20 – It’s all about the branding. Jim’s videos.
8:25 – Jim’s website attracts customer from all over the world.
10:05 – The pricing structure of Vital Hockey Skills.
10:45 – Jim shares his revenue and take home figures.
12:20 – How Jim was able to go on after his first camp that was a financial failure.
14:15 – Handling scheduling and other administrative functions.
15:25 – Choosing to stay with his full-time job, for now.
16:45 – Managing his time (family/business balance).
18:20 – Moving into affiliate sales and joint ventures to scale/diversify his business.
20:40 – The keys to Jim’s success.
21:55 – Thing Jim wishes he would have done earlier.
23:33 – Jim’s next plans and what he’s excited about.
Mentioned in the interview:
Google Hangout with Jim Vitale:
After a year away, I’ve decided to bring back the podcast. I’m making it easy on myself this time: no fancy intro or editing (yet); I simply record the interview over Google Hangout, extract the MP3, and load it up for you guys. I’ll also be posting a transcription with each episode. This will allow me to continue bringing you these great part-time money stories without burning out on the process. Thank you so much for listening!
Transcription: Just click show
Phil Taylor: It looks like we’re live. Hi everyone. Philip Taylor here with the part-time money podcast and today I’m here with Jim Vitale, owner of Vital Hockey Skills, one of the premiere hockey schools in Toronto and one of the fastest growing in North America. He’s a school teacher fulltime and Vital Hockey Skills is something he’s developed on the side over time. Jim’s aspiration is to be able to run the hockey school fulltime lucratively one day and slip out of teaching quietly, hopefully. His company has gone from losing $3,500 in it’s first ever hockey school, to a six-figure business. So, welcome Jim.
Jim Vitale: Thank you very much for having me Phil, I’m happy to be here for sure.
Phil Taylor: Alright, so the first question I’d like to ask is what made you decide to make some part-time money?
Jim Vitale: Well, I was fortunate enough to train with some pretty good people. I hung out with the Ukrainian National Team there for awhile and learned some really Eastern block hockey training methods and I’ve been teaching it since I was young, mainly for about $10.00 an hour for my dad’s clients and stuff. I’d go out and run the skates and then, just over time, it got so busy that it just kind of made me raise and eyebrow and say, “Maybe this is something that could be a business.” And, just like anything, when the money is there you realize, “Hey, demand and supply— let’s go for it.” I just started doing it on the side, became a teacher and it has been an amazing experience. I’ve never looked back since.
Phil Taylor: So your fulltime gig now is still teaching, is that right?
Jim Vitale: Yeah, yeah, I teach high school Science.
Phil Taylor: And do you coach there as well?
Jim Vitale: I coach on the side in the GTHL in Toronto here. It’s one of the best leagues, probably in the world, for minor hockey.
Phil Taylor: Awesome. Is that part of the school?
Jim Vitale: Yeah, it’s part of the development, so every year as part of the hockey school I’ll take on a team. This team I’ve been with for four years now, and there’s development fees incorporated into the budget for that so it works out well.
Phil Taylor: How long is a semester of the school?
Jim Vitale: We just finished our first semester last week, so you’re looking at September to January and then basically February to June.
Phil Taylor: Okay, so you do that twice a year with a whole new crew of guys?
Jim Vitale: Yes, basically. You’ve got your Christmas camps, your March Break camps, your summer semi-privates which are full-day camps and then we do pre-season stuff. Then by the time the end of August comes you’re doing the boot camps with the teams and getting ready for the next season.
Phil Taylor: I see. So it’s all camp-based that you’re offering?
Jim Vitale: Well, yeah. There are a lot of private lessons that kind of go through it. I mean, there are some of our better clients, more VIP people that commit to full-year training. We have a curriculum of skills that we take them through and levels that we want them to pass.
Phil Taylor: You mentioned that the demand for your services helped to generate the business idea. So, did you have an entrepreneurial background or was your family in the business? I mean, what sort of helped push you over the edge from not only doing the teaching world, but doing this as well?
Jim Vitale: Well, my dad was always and entrepreneur. I watched him launch from 1980 to 1990, the most successful video stores. I mean, I remember him selling skids of VHS tapes and Beta tapes and stuff like that. I just watched him do his thing and I always wanted to be a business man. Once I saw that there was a lot of interest in the techniques I was teaching, I looked around— even remembering from growing up myself, there just was nobody teaching it, so I realized I had a really unique product. And, you know, at the end of the day it’s not all about making money. I saw the progress I was making with the kids and the difference I was making in their game and you just couldn’t put a dollar value on that. I just enjoy it so much.
Phil Taylor: How did you start to formulate the idea of the business part of it? Obviously you wanted to go out there and teach kids, but how do you package this up into something that’s sellable and that you can do over and over again?
Jim Vitale: At first it was haphazard. People were calling and I’d just go out, but then once you get too busy you’ve got to say, “Okay, where do I go from here?” I remember there was a university buddy of mine who gave me a book that talked about the 20-80 rule— where 20 percent of your people give you 80 percent of your business. I started thinking about that and decided it was time to really cater to and structure something so that we could lock in more of these VIP people and really move into a product-based thing instead of just once in awhile meeting these kids, trying to get them into something long-term where, not only is the money coming in, but they’re also improving a lot. So, you could basically put your signature of their back and say, “Hey, this kid trained with Vital Hockey.” It was after that point that we started thinking about how gymnastics and swimming have curriculums, so I wanted to start putting a level-based idea to it where people really have to— well, to get to your Thursday night session, they’d have to pass what you’re offering on Tuesday night. All these ideas just started flowing from other models. I just looked around to see what else has been successful in sports— in Canada anyways, and I just started modeling after them.
Phil Taylor: Alright, so are you still on the ice teaching, now?
Jim Vitale: Yes, yes, we have probably about two or three hours a night of private lessons. There are team sessions that we do on weekends. And, of course, my hockey team and stuff.
Phil Taylor: That’s great. And do you have any staff right now?
Jim Vitale: Yeah, we’ve got a crew of guys. When I’m ice they’re doing their thing. Again, then you start bringing your model into that, right… How do you get it from Jim Vitale is Vital Hockey to Vital Hockey is a product? That was a big step that took us into everything we’ve been doing with out SEO and really getting noticed on Google and all that kind of stuff.
Phil Taylor: Right. Let’s back up and talk dates really quick. When did you make the decision to start doing the business?
Jim Vitale: Well, Vital, believe it or not, I was young and it was 1996 and I was doing these little $10 sessions when my dad said, “Why don’t you just open up a bank account?” So he took me down to the registration and registered the name Vital Hockey for me. From there I think I probably got really serious in about 2000. You know, once I got back from university, back to Toronto and realized the demand was still there, I was like, “Wow! These people have been waiting around for a couple of years!” I got really serious then. But I didn’t really realize it was all about branding until about two years ago. That’s when I realized you could back-link the heck out of your site. But, until you start offering expert information and really start showing people that you not only know what you’re talking about, but that you really want to help them and want to spread your knowledge, people aren’t going to want to listen.
Phil Taylor: So, talk about some of the ways you’ve been able to do that for the business?
Jim Vitale: I’ve got a good sense of humor and love posting funny stuff on Pinterest, really unique stuff. I just posted something where this guy made a Stanley Cup out of a bunch of broken hockey sticks, so cool little things like that, that you don’t see everyday. I’m a sucker for that personally. I love looking for stuff like that. And I find there’s a group of people out there just like me, so you get more of your fan-based people like that. Then you start spreading tips and doing videos. Like, I’ll find an NHL drill that people are raving about and I’ll go on the ice and break down how to do it step-by-step. Next thing you know, I’ve got about 4,000, 5,000 hits on YouTube.
Phil Taylor: Awesome.
Jim Vitale: So, little things like that just started building this brand. Right now we’ve gone from having a list of about 220 people, all from Toronto that I’d just hoped would come out to the next camp. Now, most of the people that are coming are people from out of town. Like, a guy from Holland just said he wants two of his boys to come for three weeks this summer.
Phil Taylor: Wow!
Jim Vitale: Yeah, we’re getting orders from all over the world now. It’s great. It’s really, really rewarding for something I didn’t really mean to do. I just really wanted to get information out there.
Phil Taylor: That’s wonderful. And the website, when did you start the website?
Jim Vitale: The website started in 2002, 2003 and it was—if I showed you pictures of the website you would be, like, wow… I mean, half the links didn’t work but I met a gentleman named Jeff who runs In-view Marketing and he helped me really see the value in what was going on and he turned it into a WordPress site because it was based on Drupal and it was hard to manage. WordPress is so much easier. Then again, I just took the reigns and took off myself. I did a lot of reading… You know, guys like Schumacher stuff like that. I just read their stories and it’s amazing what you can do from home.
Phil Taylor: That’s great. You’re kind of an Internet geek then a little bit?
Jim Vitale: I’ve become that, yeah. Because I’m the type of guy that, if you’re going to pave my driveway I’m going to sit there and watch you do it because I’ll have a lot of questions afterwards, right? So, if I’m going to optimize my site we’re going to be having some good discussions. I think Jeff’s kind of hoping I’ll quit hockey and start doing the SEO stuff to help him out, but probably not.
Phil Taylor: If I were to go to your website and sign my kid up for a camp, just like the gentleman from Holland, what would I have to pay to participate and do the camp?
Jim Vitale: A general camp— I’ll tell you, the going rate for private lessons are about $120 an hour. The going rate for camp is about $30 an hour, and that’s a camp that has about 25 kids in it. The going rate for a semi-private lesson which is has about 4 to 6 kids, is about $40 to $80 an hour. So, if you were to sign up for a regular camp it would be about $250 for the week.
Phil Taylor: Oh, that sounds great.
Jim Vitale: Yeah, you know, you get the jersey and some promotional stuff. We’ve got great sponsors that always load us up with stuff. We’re giving little pucks away and shirts and stuff.
Phil Taylor: That sounds very reasonable. Now, if you don’t mind sharing, what total revenue did you do in 2012?
Jim Vitale: In 2012, probably close to $140,000.
Phil Taylor: And take home from that, if you don’t mind sharing?
Jim Vitale: Take home you’re probably looking at about $105,000 to $110,000 because, I mean there’s— because you’re mixing a together a whole bunch of different services. We have affiliate partnerships too as well. So, off the top of my head… I’m trying to look at how all of these things come together into the melting pot. But, yeah, you’re probably looking— I cleared just over $100,000 last year.
Phil Taylor: That’s great!
Jim Vitale: Yes, it was unreal. You know, supplement to a teaching salary with a great pension and with something I love doing. There’s nothing better than seeing a kid fall 100 times and then see him smile the one time he gets it right. Like, you can’t put a price tag on that.
Phil Taylor: That’s great. So financially this has been great for you in your life?
Jim Vitale: Yeah, it’s just crazy how— When I look back, it’s funny because some of the guys I started out with, their kids are all older now, but they’re stilling coaching, still hanging around saying, “Hey, Vitale, you going to come out and do my practice for $10?” and I start laughing, right. It’s just funny the way it goes. The first camp I ran, I think I lost $3,500, $3,600. Only three kids showed up and I rented a whole week’s worth of ice. I still had a stack of jerseys— I can still see them on the table— and only three kids showed up!
Phil Taylor: Wow, so what kept you going after that?
Jim Vitale: Well, I think I had some really good parents early on that believed in me. Guys like Mike Cammalleri’s dad. When I first started they stuck by my side. He plays for Calgary now. And guys like PK Subban, these guys really stuck by my side and brought the kids out. It was just guys like that that made me say, “You know what? The money will come.” I’m not too worried about it. I’ve just got to stick with why I’m doing it. It’s funny, you go to these TED TV talks and you read all about the ‘why’ and I realized I was doing it for all the right reasons. I think I was projecting that ‘why’ and I think that’s why a lot of people came. I just happened to bump into like-minded people who agreed with my philosophy of coaching and the money just came afterwards.
Phil Taylor: That’s great, that’s great. That’s a wonderful prospective on that. I’m sure those three kids that came to that first camp— it was probably an epic experience for them.
Jim Vitale: Well, one of them works for me now. One of them is playing in the OHL and one of them quit hockey. But it’s so funny— the kid that works for me, I’m skating next to him and I remember when this kid was, you know, when I was pushing him on a chair, right? And there are other guys that I’ve skated with along the way that have opened up their own hockey schools.
Phil Taylor: That’s great. So, when did you formalize the business? Well, you’re in Toronto so maybe I don’t understand maybe the business structure there…
Jim Vitale: Like I said, my dad helped me register when I was young but I honestly haven’t really incorporated it yet. That’s my next step. But everything else, like having a tax number and stuff like that— that all came just before 2000. In Canada, unless you’re making more than $30,000 a business basically claims a loss. Once I started making more than $30,000 it was time to make sure everything was registered the right way.
Phil Taylor: A lot of people who start businesses like you, where you’re the actual artist or the person on the floor with the kids or with whatever it is, the back-end stuff maybe doesn’t appeal to you? The administrative work, doing the accounting of the business… Do you do all of that yourself or do you outsource that? How do you handle that?
Jim Vitale: Scheduling and calendar is handled by someone else. I still keep control of the numbers in terms of the funds and stuff like that and for the revenue— I’m the accountant I guess. But other than that, we’ve basically got instructors working the camps, a guy that’s working the scheduling and then people that are working on the SEO with me. So, like I said, for a guy who used to show up to a rink with just his hockey bag, all of a sudden I’ve got this kind of thing going. And it’s all been part-time. I’ve been teaching since 2001, 2002, so it’s just all on the side.
Phil Taylor: What’s been keeping you from making the leap at this point? It sounds like your income is at a level where you could potentially make the leap.
Jim Vitale: Well, there are two things. In my situation, one is that I enjoy teaching. Like, when I’m in front of those kids teaching Science— that’s part of it. But the second thing is, what do you do when the kids are in school? I mean, from 9:00 to 3:00 the kids aren’t able to skate anyways, so I don’t want to be one of those guys who wakes up at noon to mossy on over to the rink. I mean, the early bird gets the worm. I’m up, doing my workout and heading off to something. And, it’s a great pension too at the end of the day. It’s always something to fall back on. I think part of me— like with my dad’s business, he ended up getting epilepsy when I was younger and I watched him go through the whole crash of that business. I’m not sure if he managed funds properly, but there wasn’t much left considering how lucrative it was. Having a pension to me means a lot as well. So, I think that’s part of it is making sure I have something to kind of fall back on.
Phil Taylor: That sounds perfect. If you’re happy doing it and it creates the diversity, like you said, and it doesn’t get in the way of your business, that sounds excellent. I guess that sort of explains some of the balancing act that you’ve been able to do. But obviously with a growing business like that, maybe your nights and weekends have been starting to get busier and busier. So, how have you been able to manage having both a full-time gig with teaching and trying to grow this business?
Jim Vitale: It starts off with a great wife, I’ll tell you! I have a very understanding wife. But, when the bell rings at 2:15, by 4:00 I’m on the ice. I think a lot of it has come from the supplementary income that’s been coming in from our affiliate partnerships and things like that. That’s been really letting me reduce the need to say “yes” to every single lesson. Now we focus on the 20 percent that are going to be there to actually develop. You know, these people who call saying, “Hey, can I have a lesson this week?” and you don’t see them for 4 weeks— I can’t put my name of that kid’s back because he doesn’t represent what we’re teaching because there’s not enough repetition for him to actually learn anything, right? So I kind of tend to shy away from those types of people. I just have certain ones and I free up my nights for my family now. Like I said, everything’s been really working well since we’ve been focusing on joint ventures and affiliate partnerships. One of the guys has a huge following on how-to hockey, Jeremy Rocky. He and I are going to be working on a DVD series, a How-to Hockey DVD series and we’re going to be having that for sale. I’m sure that will do very well because it will just be loaded.
Phil Taylor: Right, right.
Jim Vitale: Little things like that.
Phil Taylor: Right. So, talk me a little bit more about affiliate relationships for people who might not understand what you mean by that.
Jim Vitale: Basically, because we put out so many skill videos, companies start emailing us saying, “You know what? You’re doing that power-turn by those pylons are kind of crusty. Why don’t you use this product instead?” And they would send it and I would try it out—a couple of them were a little too gimmicky and I wouldn’t want to be associated but some of them are really good, so I said okay. I had no idea what I was doing. I’m just making these videos and then I’m sending them off to these companies and they’re posting them on their site. The next thing you know, my traffic’s gone up 600 people per week and I’m wondering what’s going on. Then I realized if I’m getting the click-throughs on that 8 percent, 10 percent later, you know, I’m showing how to use the product so it’s really convincing people to want to go out and buy it. So, why shouldn’t I be compensated for driving that funnel toward that company? You get one on-board and all of a sudden it’s keeping up with the Jones’. The next company says, “Well, if he’s doing that for them, let’s get him doing that for us.” As long as you’re producing for them and you’re driving them the traffic and they can see an auditable increase, it kind of takes care of itself.
Phil Taylor: I see, I see. So, it’s the affiliate product relationships then that work well with the demonstration videos you’re already doing?
Jim Vitale: Yes, between that and joint ventures with the guys— the maze of people who are already getting thousands of follows and stuff like that— just supporting each other that way. I mean, that’s not a financial way, but it’s a way to generate traffic. At the end of the day it’s all about funneling people through a product. I mean, anyone can go watch a video but you have to make them want to buy it.
Phil Taylor: So this is an actual way to scale your business without having to do and X-number of more camps, right? I mean, you can only do— you can only be at so many camps and still maintain the brand.
Jim Vitale: The only thing is, at 30-some-odd years of age I can only get into a full squat, do a 360 and land on my outside edges for so many more years, right? I’m starting to hurt here, guys. But you’ve still got to be able to find a way to provide and produce in the industry without having to get out there and tear all the ligaments off your knees.
Phil Taylor: Right. I love it. That’s a great take-away for people in the same situation. Along the way, some of the keys to your success have been?
Jim Vitale: Having foresight. Not being afraid to listen to feedback. I’ve always been the type of person that with any relationship that ends, I want to take back how I was part of that, you know. I never want to say, “Hey, that person’s just foolish.” I always try to find a fault of my own that I can improve on. Always looking at what the better guys are doing and trying to model what they’re doing, trying to extend on what they’re doing. And I think generally, just caring enough about people— wanting to do it for the right reason. Like I said, the ‘why’ is very important. I know it sounds kind of cliché with all the TED talks and stuff, but they’re 100 percent right. Any successful business owner who has no idea about that little discourse on the ‘why’ versus the ‘what’ can look back and say, ” I’m successful because I’ve been projecting more of the ‘why’ than the ‘what’.” I think if your intentions are right, you’re willing to work hard enough and you love what you’re doing, people are going to find you. It’s leaving the grass green when you walk away from something and realizing it’s only green if you water it, right?
Phil Taylor: Yes. That’s great, that’s great advice. So, what about some of the mistakes maybe you’ve made along the way. Can you share some of those?
Jim Vitale: Sometimes financially I find that, you know, early on, especially since I was in my early 20’s when I was making a lot of money— you know, I really didn’t have the mortgage and all that with the family now, so maybe not managing the money properly. In the beginning I’ll admit I wasn’t even planning on doing any of the web stuff. I didn’t have the foresight at all. I was just thinking, “Hey, I’m the guy,” and people are going to find out what I do based on word-of-mouth. But, nowadays, word-of-mouth is the Internet. It’s the vehicle. And, especially with things like this, Google Talks and stuff— so, not being willing to use the technology and educate myself in the technology was one of the biggest things that could have led to a major letdown in the business, because a local list is only going to take you so long and so far. I was glad that I jumped onboard because the proliferation of hockey schools, especially in Toronto, is ridiculous. People don’t even know who to go to anymore because there’s just so many of them so having that expert view out there and the knowledge that you’re helping people really solidifies your place in the business. I’d definitely say, just keep an eye on technology and make sure you always look at what’s going on around you and try to extrapolate any data that shows what trend is taking place in your business. Because, before you know it, something successful can go right down the tubes with one change in the environment.
Phil Taylor: That’s right, you’re right. That’s good stuff. So what’s next for you?
Jim Vitale: I think just continuing on with the search engine optimization. For me it’s just a lot of fun just seeing the rankings go up. It’s also nice to see more and more people ask me questions and become a little bit more of an expert in the area. That means a lot to me because I know I’m getting my message out there. Also, one of the things that I’d really, really like to do is take this to an area where maybe I can help other guys, or ladies or gentlemen launch their own sports-based businesses. And, from zero to hero, be able to show them steps along the way.
Phil Taylor: Well that’s great. So, is there anything I forgot to ask?
Jim Vitale: No, I don’t think so. This has been a great been a great interview. It really helps me reflect personally and I actually really do— to anyone that’s listening, really recommend that you stop in and sharpen the saw once in awhile because you’ve got to take time to reflect on where you are. In the hustle and bustle of everything you just get caught up sometimes in the ego, and you think everything’s going so great that you kind of don’t see the piano hanging over your head. So, just make sure you stop and smell the roses once in awhile and make sure you’re always sleeping with one eye open because there’s always someone out there trying to make sure they’re topping you. That’s for sure!
Phil Taylor: That’s good, Jim. I appreciate it. Your story’s great and I appreciate you sharing it with the part-time money audience and I wish you the best of luck with the business in this coming year. I guess I’ll talk to you later?
Jim Vitale: Yeah. Email me your address, I’ll send you a hat. I’d love for you to get one.
Phil Taylor: Alright. Thanks, Jim.
Jim Vitale: Okay.