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The business of sneakers: Q&A with teenage entrepreneur Noah Vitale

The Vitale Kicks logo designed by Noah's big brother, Nick Vitale.
The Vitale Kicks logo designed by Noah's big brother, Nick Vitale.Courtesy of Vitale Kicks

There’s something unearthly magical about owning a pair of limited-edition, rare or highly sought-after sneakers.

It comes the minute you crack open the lid on the quality-crafted shoebox, peel back the uncrinkled tissue paper and lay your eyes on your fresh new kicks (don’t even get me started on the glorious smell of new leather, mixed with rubber and Velcro!). Pretty close to heaven, right?

One person who knows this exact feeling is Noah Vitale, a sophomore at Los Osos High School in Rancho Cucamonga. The 16-year old has found a way to capture that piece of sneaker-heaven and bring it to sneakerheads all over the globe through his upstart company, Vitale Kicks.

Not only is Noah an honors student, maintaining a 4.5 GPA and member of the Grizzlies’ soccer team, he’s also a consummate professional who can be found hours before school starts at his desk filling out orders, answering customer emails and searching for exclusive sneaks for a fanatical subculture of sneaker aficionados.

In just six months time, Vitale Kicks has earned over $250,000 dollars in gross sales, thanks to a low-supply-high-demand market and a lot of hard work and commitment from Noah.

Recently I sat down with the young entrepreneur to chat about how he turned his own sneaker obsession into a thriving business.

Quesiton: I love your company logo. Who designed it?

Noah Vitale: My brother Nick designed it. He’s 18 and a senior at Los Osos. We sat down together one day and just put it together. People seem to like it so it worked out really well.

Q: So what exactly is Vitale Kicks?

Noah: Basically it’s this - Nike and Jordan brands will release a series of limited shoes whether its shoes from Air Jordan or Nike Running or anything like that. And because they’re limited, there will be a huge demand for them.

So we find a way to buy them from retail stores and then mark them up once we have them in our hands. So, say we have a shoe that retails for $160 dollars, and it’s sold out in stores all across the United States. We’ll take that shoe and sell it for maybe $230 dollars on our website.

We can do this because there’s such a huge demand and you can’t go into a retail store and buy them. So, the only choice is to buy it from a so-called reseller, which is somebody like us.

Q: So, if Nike drops a limited edition Air Force 1, and I don't want to sit in front of Undefeated for two days, I can call you up?

Noah: Yeah, exactly. We actually have people who do sit outside of stores on release day and then once they get the shoes we'll sell them a little bit over retail. So yeah, definitely any type of shoe like an Air Force 1 we can do the same exact thing.

Q: As a consumer, I think that's worth the mark-up right there because who has the time to sit in front of a store for days?

Noah: Yeah, definitely.

Q: So do you employ people to sit out in front of stores?

Noah: Yeah occasionally we do. I'll pay friends say $20 bucks for one night to camp out with us. That's just one of the many ways we're able to get the shoes.

Q: What are some other ways?

Noah: We buy them online and direct from retailers like Footlocker or NikeTown. We’ll enter raffles. They're not the easiest to get. It's a complicated process. Over time we’ve built up friends and a network of people like store managers and such.

Q: It actually sounds fun.

Noah: It is fun because you’re meeting new people and it's thrilling every weekend to try to get as many shoes as possible and at the same time I’m with all my friends. It’s a good experience, along with making a good profit every weekend.

Q: So basically, you've created a business from your hobby.

Noah: Definitely, because it all started with an interest in these type of limited-edition shoes. And then realizing that there was a big potential opportunity to create a business and make a little money.

But it all originated as a hobby of collecting and wearing these shoes. So, it definitely is a business and a hobby at the same time.

Q: When did you start it and how old were you?

Noah: Well I was 15 years old and I started the business in April of 2013.

Q: Do you remember the exact moment the idea sparked?

Noah: It started when my father and I were outside of a Finish Line one night, where they were doing a raffle and we were able to pick up two pairs of Air Jordans.

As soon as we walked out of the store a few people stopped us and offered us a huge $150 dollars over-retail for them. We were like, ‘Wow did that really just happen?’

It motivated my dad too because usually when you tell a parent about doing something like this they would say, “Nah, there's no way! You can't go buy a shoe that's in a store and resell it for more.”

But as soon as somebody on the sidewalk stopped my dad and said, "Hey, I'll take those for $280 dollars right now," I think that really kind of lit the spark for everything.

Q: It really helps to have your dad on your side doesn't it?

Noah: Yeah it definitely did help to have my dad on my side. When someone my age is starting off they're not going to have the revenue to be able to buy 100 pairs of shoes. So having my father to help me out (and his credit card) was definitely a big help.

But, my parents are always supportive of whatever I do. When I told my dad I wanted to do this, he was all for it because when I was a younger kid I had another business and he saw how well I did with that.

Q: What's the most expensive shoe you've sold?

Noah: Nike has a foundation with Doernbecher Children’s Hospital in Portland, Oregon. At the first of the year they released a shoe called the Nike Air Doernbecher that retailed for $250 dollars and we sold it for $1300 dollars.

So that was a very large profit. It was kind of tough to find a buyer so when we found one for that price it was satisfying. And we were able to get a couple pairs of those. That was definitely our biggest sale.

Q: What’s been the most interesting shoe you’ve sold?

Noah: We're working on that right now. We have a shoe called the Nike Air Yeezy which is a collaboration between the hip-hop artist Kanye West and Nike. The shoe retails at $250 dollars and it’s currently reselling on an average of about $4,000 to $5,000 dollars.

We have one pair in our hands right now and we're just waiting to find the right buyer who will pull the trigger. But that's definitely our most valuable shoe that we've ever had.

Q: How do you go about selling a shoe that's worth so much? It sounds almost dangerous.

Noah: Right! We've had it in our possession a little over a month and the challenge with a shoe like this is you need to be careful about how you sell it because with such a huge demand, it's dangerous to meet up for a shoe that's worth $4,000 dollars.

So you have to be careful. But we're definitely keeping it safe until we find the right buyer. That will be nice once we let that go.

Q: Nice payday! What do you generally do with the profits you earn?

Noah: I’ll occasionally buy myself clothes but most of the money is put away in my bank account and saved up for college.

Also, I just bought myself an Audi. So, that's one helluva first car for me. But other than that, I just put it away for college.

Q: How amazed are you when you sit back and see the success you've been able to create from reselling sneakers?

Noah: It’s amazing. When I was driving home from buying my Audi, I was just thinking, 'Wow! This thing that I’m doing has resulted in me having this car.’

It’s just great to see hard work pay off.

Q: What do your friends think about Vitale Kicks?

Noah: You know my friends are actually the ones that I'll bring with me to pick up shoes and I’ll pay them for coming with me.

I'll text them some nights and say, ‘Hey you guys down to go to Los Angeles with me this weekend to pick up some shoes? I’m paying everybody so-and-so amount of dollars.’

And sometimes, they don't even want to be paid because it's just a thrilling experience to go down to these populated areas and to be around these people who are crazy for sneakers. And it’s fun to walk out of the stores with exclusive shoes and everybody's looking at us saying, "Oh look, look, look, they got this or that."

So my friends have definitely helped me be where I am today and have been a source of support and have helped me throughout it all.

And the best thing about it is, some of my friends have actually started their own sneaker reselling businesses on a smaller level. It's cool to see that influence spread throughout all the group of my friends and to see them have success too with what they're doing. Sometimes they'll ask me for help and I'm more than happy to help them.

Q: Are your customers surprised when they find out that you're a high school kid?

Noah: Well, I only tell people I’m close to but when I do tell them I’m 16, they’re very surprised. If anything they think it's really cool that someone younger than them could be doing something like this.

Q: The testimonial page on your website is just photo after photo of super-stoked people showing off the shoes they purchased from you. How satisfying is that?

Noah: The customer appreciation is pretty cool. That's one of the best parts is to see the customer testimonials. They’re really a big help to our company and its rewarding when we get those back.

Sometimes we'll even give out discounts if customers post a testimonial because that attracts a lot of other people who haven't purchased from us. People will look at that and say, “Oh those guys are legit – they know what they're doing.”

Q: What's the biggest challenge you’ve faced as a young entrepreneur?

Noah: My biggest challenge is maintaining school and the business at the same time. I'm taking all AP and Honors classes and hold a 4.5 GPA. When I get home I usually have 3-hours of homework and when I'm playing soccer I won’t get home until 5 p.m.

Then I’ll have 40,000 people on social media that are emailing and contacting me about their order or about the shoes that are coming out and asking if I'm getting certain shoes. So that's definitely hard trying to balance all of that.

But I think I've kind of found that balance. I take time out at a certain hour to reply to emails, to get back to customers, and to post up on social media. Then of course, I take out other time to do school work and other things that are more important.

Q: Time management is definitely a skill isn’t it?

Noah: Yeah, it's something I've learned to do.

Q: What are your plans after high school?

Noah: I don't know what college I want to go to yet, but I plan to go right into a 4-year school. I also plan on hopefully running multiple businesses when I'm out of high school.

But I definitely will go to college with either a Business or Computer Science Major and hopefully have other businesses on my hands at that time.

Q: Who are some of your influences or people who have inspirited you?

Noah: I would say an entrepreneur like Mark Cuban. Or if you watch the show Shark Tank, all those people on there. It’s inspiring to see how successful they are and how they're able to help people out with businesses and stuff.

Q. Ever think about taking Vitale Kicks on Shark Tank?

Noah: Not really. You know, there’s over 10,000 people who do the same exact thing as Vitale Kicks. It’s not like we’re some unique thing. We’ve just found a way to be successful.

Q: What have you learned is the most important aspect of creating a successful at-home business?

Noah: How big social media is in terms of how it can help a business. I started a year ago with one follower on Instagram and now I have over 40,000 followers. Social media has really helped grow my business and it’s definitely one of the most important factors for any business these days.

Also the importance of good customer service is huge. Like I said earlier, because the shoes are so expensive, people are sometimes afraid to spend so much money. I would be nervous too if I was spending $400 dollars or more. When you communicate with a customer, you’re making them feel comfortable about their purchase.

So, without a doubt social media and good customer service are the two most important things in having a business.

Q: A lot of young people think about starting their own business or doing something entrepreneurial like you. What kind of advice would you give a young person who has a really good idea and wants to take it to the next level?

Noah: I would tell others to look around and see what other people are doing. Because when I was starting the business, I looked up to other resellers and learned from them. So one of the most important things is to take advice and learn from others and build upon that.

And also, never be afraid of just getting started. Get out there and get it going. Because you can have so many thoughts when creating a business and be thinking, “I want to do this and I want to do that.”

But you just have to go and do it. Eventually it all works out.

So my advice would be learn and take advice from others and believe in yourself and don't be afraid to just start. Take a chance and just start.

Q: Just do it! As the famous shoemaker says!

Noah: Exactly! Just do it!

To learn more about Vitale Kicks and to take a look at their extensive collection of limited-edition shoes, check them out at Vitalekicks.com. And connect with Vitale Kicks on Twitter and Instagram.