Thom Christiansen | Crain's Houston

In this ongoing series, we ask executives, entrepreneurs and business leaders about mistakes that have shaped their business philosophy.

Thom Christiansen

Background:  

Valhalla Sport sells new and used hockey sticks and other equipment it buys from 20 different professional teams, including the Dallas Stars and feeder teams such as the Iowa Wild, the Rockford IceHogs and the Bakersfield Condors. The Houston company was started several years ago by Thom Christiansen, who was looking for a new occupation when he decided to leave the music business. The bass guitar player and singer had toured with various Canadian bands in the 1980s and 1990s, including Boulevard, Econoline Crush and Idle Eyes. The Canada native had always liked hockey, so he started buying excess equipment from AHL and NHL teams – half of which was new – and selling it on eBay, through Facebook groups and, most recently, on athletic gear purveyor SidelineSwap. Over the last year, his business has taken off, generating $700,000 in sales per year.

The Mistake:

Thinking one website or marketplace would be able to do everything.

I was a musician for 35 years, playing in different rock bands in Vancouver. But when I found out I was going to have a little girl, no way could I be on the road all the time. What did I like other than music? The only other thing was hockey, which I grew up playing. What could I do in the hockey industry?

I bought a small franchise that repaired hockey sticks but didn’t make much of a living from it. One of the teams I was buying from was moving to California, so I bought some of their equipment and sold it on eBay, which I thought I could make a decent living doing.

But I realized later on that if I have 100 hockey sticks on one website and sell 20 on it, I’m still left with 80. Then I discovered more places I could sell my equipment, including SidelineSwap. My sales have almost doubled.

I realized later on that if I have 100 hockey sticks on one website and sell 20 on it, I’m still left with 80.

The Lesson:

Don’t put all of your eggs in one basket. I started with SidelineSwap in late 2016, so all of last year was kind of a learning curve. I didn’t put a lot out there at first and we didn’t get it fully up and running for two months. But then we saw sales start to creep in. I've had to expand our warehouse, which is now 60 by 40 and has an overflow of another 1,000 square feet.

It’s been difficult to find people in Houston who know much about hockey [the city doesn’t have a pro hockey team anymore] and there are so many things you have to know about each item. So I basically do everything myself, which is why I work 12 to 14 hours a day. I wouldn’t want to sell through my own website. For me to start one, it would cost $3,000 to $5,000 per month.

I don’t really perform anymore. If you do anything for too long, you really start to hate it.

Photo courtesy of Thom Christiansen.

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