Aug. 2, 2021

Entrepreneurs Over 40 Episode 12 with Bill and Esther VanGorder

Entrepreneurs Over 40  Episode 12 with Bill and Esther VanGorder

Episode Eleven features Bill and Esther VanGorder talking about their business centered around Nordic Walking and their Retirement Fails!
My Key Takeaways:
Bill and Esther were a great couple to talk to and they had a lot of great insight regarding busin...

Episode Eleven features Bill and Esther VanGorder talking about their business centered around Nordic Walking and their Retirement Fails!

My Key Takeaways:

  • Bill and Esther were a great couple to talk to and they had a lot of great insight regarding business.  I still cant believe that they have created a business centered around teaching people how to walk!  If they are retirement fails, we all should be so lucky.
  • One thing I learned from Bill and Esther is that it is never too late to follow your passion whether it is starting a new business or getting in shape.
  • Speaking of getting in shape, Nordic walking seems like the way to go with benefits like burning up to 30% more calories than regular walking. It increases heart and cardiovascular training up to 25%, helps with posture and the perception of exertion is 50% of what it would be normally because of the poles.  Bill shared that he is in better total shape now than when he was in his 40s.
  • Bill said the three criteria for choosing a business to run in retirement were that t should be something you can do, something you enjoy, and something that you are personally interested in.  He said that is the secret to any job really, especially one you do when you are older.  Nordic Walking just happened to cross off all three for Bill and Esther.
  • Because the VanGorders already had invested in their digital presence they were prepared when the pandemic hit and actually thrived.  They were not trying to play catch up and setup their website, start using social media, or learn how to do Online sales and Marketing.  None of this came naturally to them but they just buckled down and figured it out.  Ultimately everything is figure-out-able.
  • Both Bill and Esther got a lot of satisfaction from the knowledge that their business was helping to make people healthier and give their customers a better quality of life.
  • The VanGorders even have managed to get Nordic Walking into schools!  Bill did point out that one of his good friends, fellow instructor and most importantly, a school principal helped them navigate the 'unique' educational landscape.  When attempting to sell to schools or really any governmental entity it is good to have a guide that can help you to navigate the pitfalls.
  • Bill pointed out that they don't always charge for classes but that people are more likely to become 'invested in to the process' so to speak if they pay a little towards the class.  Its a paradox that people don't respect free even if it is of the same quality.
  • As Bill and Esther had pointed out, the Pandemic has really played havoc with the supply chains.  To combat that issue they have taken to carrying more stock than they normally would.  Because their business is subject to a customer's desire they had better have the poles in stock so as not to miss out on a sale just because the customer lost their motivation while waiting for their poles to come in.
  • The VanGorders don't feel like the market is saturated yet in North America, particularly the US.  People like to deal locally, no matter where they are.  Both of them said that they would be more than happy too discuss the business opportunities as they saw it for someone interested in bringing Nordic Walking to their area.  This sounds like an excellent opportunity and I encourage anyone that might be interested to reach out to take that next step and reach out to Bill and Esther.
  • Their number one piece of advice was figure out what you love and go do it!!!  It doesnt have to be running a business; it could be volunteering. They have found real satisfaction in running their own business.  It is good to know that they have another source of income coming in!

Now next week we'll have Joe Apfelbaum on discussing Mojovation, his High Energy series of books and LinkedIn Marketing..


Be sure to hit Subscribe in your podcast app so that you don't miss it or any other episodes.


Greg Mills: [00:00:00] Our guests today are a couple from Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada. He was the president and CEO of the lung association of Nova Scotia for 15 years before he retired, if ever so briefly. Prior to that, he was the Atlantic area director of the management resource center for the Y YMCA since 2008, he has been involved with CARP Canada's largest advocacy association for older Canadians serving as vice chair on the board of directors, as well as the current COO.

[00:00:31] She had a long and successful career, both as an insurance underwriter and in-house financial counsel. She is currently the artistic director on the executive board of the theater arts guild Canada's oldest, continuing operating theater company, as well as the treasurer of the Serving Seniors Alliance Co-op. Together they run a psychic entertainment company called Mind Miracles for over 50 years. And most recently have started Nordic walking, Nova Scotia. It was for this that they won the prestigious 2019 wise, 50 over 50 award. Without further ado, Bill and Esther VanGorder.

[00:01:11] Bill and Esther VanGorder: [00:01:11] Hi, Greg,

[00:01:13] Greg Mills: [00:01:13] Glad you could be here. Bill and Esther, can you take a few moments and fill in the gaps from that intro and bring us up to speed with what's going on in your world?

[00:01:23]Bill and Esther VanGorder: [00:01:23] What was supposed to have been kind of an in retirement part-time gig for a, for bill is become a full-time gig for both of us. Now. , Nordic walking has become extremely popular and, even though we thought the pandemic would pretty much knock the business out of the water, it's actually done the opposite because the one thing that people can really can keep on doing no matter what is getting outside and walking,

[00:01:47] Greg Mills: [00:01:47] That's great. Now, Esther, I believe you coined the phrase retirement fail.

[00:01:55] Bill and Esther VanGorder: [00:01:55] that's what she calls me.

[00:01:57]Greg Mills: [00:01:57] You want to elaborate just a little bit on that

[00:01:59]Bill and Esther VanGorder: [00:01:59] Well, bill tried to retire four times now. The first time when he retired from the lung association, it lasted about three. And then, uh, he got into, um, doing some consulting and some public speaking, and then he decided to retire again. And then he got into the human resources. And then Nordic walking came along and now he's gone back to work full-time with CARP. 

[00:02:24] So,  it's kind of like a adopting or taking home a little kitten and,  to look after it until it finds its forever home, but keeping it yourselves course, uh, Esther's done no better than me. Her idea was to retire from the pesky day job and spend a little bit of her time helping me run Nordic walking.

[00:02:45] And, uh, when I went back to work full-time as the chief operating officer for CARP, which is the same as the AARP, that a lot of your listeners will, will know just  the Canadian version. So I'm now the senior staff officer there and Esther is operating Nordic walking Nova Scotia. Full-time so she's, she's a retirement fail too.

[00:03:08] Greg Mills: [00:03:08] So what, what prompted you both to come out of retirement and  start Nordic walking?

[00:03:16] Bill and Esther VanGorder: [00:03:16] Well, I got involved in Nordic walking. I had been a, a runner all my fitness life, and my knees started to bother me and I'd heard it. Nordic walking poles and how they could help, uh, give you, uh, a full body low-impact workout that wouldn't affect your knees. So I tried it out and, uh, started to enjoy it.

[00:03:39] And then by very good fortune, Esther and I met the late Dr. Klauss Schwann Beck, who was the German,  former Olympic coach who actually brought Nordic walking to , north America initially to, Toronto Canada, and to, Miami, Florida, where he got group starting. We met him, he taught us out a walk properly.

[00:04:00] We had not learned well with the, technique being self-taught. And, I gave Esther a pair of poles for Christmas and the rest is history. Bill was a runner. I was never a runner. I was not into fitness classes or joining gyms, but I'd always been a Walker. , walked dogs when I was a kid and , that was my form of, keeping in shape. So when he gave me the poles, it was just, it was just perfect for me. So, uh, Klaus then asked us if I said he really wanted to get more instructors trained in. In Atlantic Canada, he trained us as instructors. And then, uh, we became instructor trainers under his guidance.

[00:04:45] And now we,  do all the instructor, instructor training for the four provinces in Atlantic, Canada, certified those instructors. And then,  about 12 years ago,  he asked us if we would become the distributors of the poles for Atlantic Canada, because he was located in Ontario was a long way away. So we became MI Atlantic Canada, distributors of Nordic at Nordixx brand, uh, Nordic walking poles.

[00:05:12] And, now we do that in addition to that,  Esther has grown us a very active online sales business. We sell our poles literally worldwide. We've had orders from as far away as Belgium, Israel, Hawaii, New Zealand, you just sent them. I just sent a pair of poles from New Zealand. Yeah, the lady got in touch and,  back and forth by email.

[00:05:37] And we, we told her,  where she could get them in New Zealand rather than pay the shipping costs, which were almost as much as the poles themselves from Canada to New Zealand. And she decided that, Nope, she liked ours.  Mainly because they were blue and you could replace the rubber feet. And I guess the one she could find the New Zealand, she said, you had, you couldn't replace the rubber feet.

[00:06:01] You had to buy a new pair of poles and that sold her so off they went. We have found just a tremendous growing interest and understanding. We've we produced a number of,  online videos on our website so people can, can look and see how to use them properly. Also allows us to explain that these are not hiking or trekking poles, Nordic walking poles.

[00:06:26] Nordic is not a brand. It's a style of pole. And,  our brand that we like happens to be the Nordics brand, but,  Nordic walking poles, our style, they have a special hand strap on them that allows you or cradle strap,  thumb hole strap that allows you to use the poles and let go of them at the end of your swing, which means you're using the whole upper body. They also have larger feet than the typical, hiking or trekking poles that just have a little round kind of nickel size,  rubber tip at the bottom. And of course, if you're pushing yourself along with those, you are just hitting the ground with the very smallest edge of that tip.

[00:07:08] Whereas Nordic, feet are made like a little rubber foot itself as, only with the, with the toes facing backwards and they re gain contact ,with the ground,  about one inch by two inches the entire time you're walking and. You know, everybody knows walking is good for you. In north America surveys show that over 70% of people say walking is their favorite activity.

[00:07:35] And Nordic walking is just a better way to walk, because not only are you using those muscles from the waist down, like you do generally when you walk, but because you're pushing the poles with every step, you're also using the 45% of muscles that are above your waist. So full body workout, low impact, you get your strength training and your aerobic training at the same time.

[00:07:59]Greg Mills: [00:07:59] OKay. Now, can you describe the Nordic walking itself for our listeners?

[00:08:07]Bill and Esther VanGorder: [00:08:07] Well, Nordic walking was originally invented in Finland by the,  national cross country ski team as summer training for their elite athletes. They discovered that it was such, such a good workout that they should share it with, with the rest of the population. So it's really to simplify it.

[00:08:27] It's cross country skiing without skis and without snow. It's,  just like regular walking, swinging your arms, the poles,  your arm is opposite to your foot. So it's that cross gait. And when your arm comes up with the pole, it plants right beside you on the ground and you push yourself forward with each step.

[00:08:46] And that engages all of your, your upper body muscles right down to the core. So if you think about, what a cross country skier looks like or a snowshoer   but instead it's somebody walking down the street or down a trail. Of course the beauty of it is, is walking up Hills for instance, is much easier.

[00:09:05] One of the interesting things about Nordic walking is what the researchers called the perception of exertion. The how hard do you think you're working? Because you're spreading the work out over so many muscles. It doesn't feel like you're working is as hard.  So people find it easier to walk and especially easier to get up Hills . When we go downtown, for instance of the theater or park at the parking garage, which is a few blocks below the theater, we always say in our way up that steep hill, oh gee, I wish we had our poles with us today. And I think if they let us take them into the theater, when we went, we'd probably take.

[00:09:45]Greg Mills: [00:09:45] You hit on a little bit about the perception of exertion. What are some of the other benefits of Nordic walking?

[00:09:52] Bill and Esther VanGorder: [00:09:52] Well, because it involves your upper body muscles.  It really improves your posture.  I have better posture now than I've ever had, and it gives you that upper body strength, , and core strength. So it's great for falls prevention, especially in seniors. If you stand  with really good posture, it's hard for somebody to knock you over.

[00:10:12] And it's also, if you do happen to, to start to take a tumble, you've got that strength to catch yourself and keep yourself upright. It's, great for weight loss, weight control burns 30% more calories than regular walking. It's been proven to improve and help mental health. It's kind of like that runner's high.

[00:10:33] That people talk about and getting those endorphins. I find it if I'm having a, a crabby kind today that if I grabbed my poles and go for a nice long walk, that I feel 10 times better when I get back. When I still have the pesky day job, I used to go out and walk 45 minutes on my lunch break.

[00:10:50] And if for some reason, my boss came down the hall and saw that it was my lunch break and I hadn't gone for my walk. He'd always stop at the door and say, aren't you going? Cause he knew I'd be crabby and, tired and cranky by three in the afternoon. So it's, it's a real help with that. It's been shown to help Parkinson's patients, give them the stability and there's something I don't understand the science, but there's something about having that pair of poles in their hands and concentrating on a technique that that really helps control the signs and the tremors of Parkinson's. High blood pressure brings high blood pressure down. Great for cardiac rehab.

[00:11:28]Osteoporosis and building, strength in the bones. We work cooperatively with the arthritis society, as well as Alzheimer's society because all of those,  organizations want their, their patients, their members to, to walk more.

[00:11:46] And by the way, I think point out all these things that Esther has been talking about. This is based on science. It isn't fitness fad of the day. There is reams of research. Most of it European because that's where Nordic walking has been longer than in, than in Canada. But there's, there's lots of research.

[00:12:04] In fact, if you go to our Nordic walking Nova Scotia website, you'll find,  a list of. 70 , research papers on all the areas that she's mentioned and the sources where you can go and, and look at them. So , when we quote any of the statistics like burning 30% more calories that's based on their,  research, that particular research was done on the states, by the Cooper Institute and then repeated by the Mayo, clinics.

[00:12:34] So it's that kind of quality research.

[00:12:37] Greg Mills: [00:12:37] Yeah, I hate to say it. Unfortunately most of America has become the control group for the research.

[00:12:45] So which one of y'all came up with the idea to focus on this? And did you both,  buy-in or did one of you have any misgivings about it?

[00:12:54]Bill and Esther VanGorder: [00:12:54] I think bill probably was the instigator. Esther's the one with the retail background. She grew up in a three-generation retail, clothing store family. So I don't think I can take a lot of the credit. I think we got into it equally. At the time I was still working full time, so it was, more Bill's company like to do the day to day then it was mine. And I kind of did the, the bookkeeping and all that kind of admin in the background and taught on the weekends. And now that's completely reversed. Cause I part time still do the, the marketing and the online digital,  work and Esther does all the, all the day to day work.

[00:13:35] So I think one of the things that attracted us to it was it's something we could do together. So that whether we were out teaching classes or in the house working, it was something that we could, could do it enjoyed and something we were both personally interested in. And I guess isn't that the secret to any kind of job, especially a job that you choose to do, when you get a little bit older ? that is, it's really gotta be something you believe in and that you do yourself.

[00:14:02]Both of us,  we walk, almost every day, five or six days a week. First thing in the morning, Esther, of course being the, the young, one of the team. I go out for about 45 minutes to an hour. She goes out an hour to an hour and a half every day. So, we practice what we preach.

[00:14:21] Greg Mills: [00:14:21] Yeah. Y'all are both in, in great shape. I'm 30 years younger than you, sir. And you are in better shape than I am. Right.

[00:14:30] Bill and Esther VanGorder: [00:14:30] Well, I can tell you, you know, because,

[00:14:32] Greg Mills: [00:14:32] that part out of the podcast.

[00:14:35]Bill and Esther VanGorder: [00:14:35] I was a runner and ran marathons, 40 years.  I'm actually in better total shape now than I was. Then I had great cardio and great leg strength in those days, but I was a one speed runner. My, my marathons were around three 40, which for anybody who knows those, hasn't really middle of the pack kind of, running and now because of the upper body work that I'm getting and the more regular, steps that I'm putting in that every week overall, I'm in better shape now than I was when I was your age.

[00:15:08] Greg Mills: [00:15:08] Okay.

[00:15:09] Bill and Esther VanGorder: [00:15:09] There's still time for you.

[00:15:11] Greg Mills: [00:15:11] yes there is. We're gonna, we're gonna make it a better, better time

[00:15:15] Bill and Esther VanGorder: [00:15:15] Good, good. It gets better as you go on. Believe me. It does. yeah. I never had upper body strength. I mean, I walked a lot. Couldn't couldn't lift things, couldn't carry things. And now we, we argue over who brings the big boxes of poles in from the car when they come from the post office, I'm just showing off for the neighbors

[00:15:40]Greg Mills: [00:15:40] What all does Nordic walking, Nova Scotia encompass, as far as your business model?

[00:15:46] Bill and Esther VanGorder: [00:15:46] We sell the poles directly. We also sell them through, sub-distributors and instructors. We also have retail outlets that we,  supply the poles to around, Atlantic Canada. As you know, we're talking to four provinces and  we've got people, working in the north, their own little Nordic businesses, right across right across all four Atlantic provinces.

[00:16:11] Esther, does the online sales too. And we teach classes? and we teach other people to teach, classes because there is a technique it's a simple, technique, but there is a technique so that you're really engaging all those upper body muscles in the safest way and the most effective way possible.

[00:16:31] Yep.  Before the pandemic, we were, traveling a fair amount around Nova Scotia and the other, maritime provinces, and, teaching classes of up to 30 people at a time, how to do the proper technique. It takes about an hour and a half. And by the time we leave, most people have picked it up.

[00:16:49] It's not a hard technique. Pretty much, if you can walk, you can Nordic walk, but, hopefully get back to that again in the late summer or the fall, depending on how things go, where we are.

[00:17:00] Greg Mills: [00:17:00] So you touched on that pandemic a little bit. , how you expected it to impact your business, but how has it actually?

[00:17:10]Bill and Esther VanGorder: [00:17:10] We've had the best. 12 months that we've had in 12 years. Like I said before, we, because we know that are going out and teaching and talking to people face to face was, was really what drove a lot of sales. We figured once we weren't allowed to do that, that we were dead in the water until it was over.

[00:17:31]But what happens is that, people still wanted to get out and exercise and the gyms were closed and the group group activities were weren't happening so they could get out and walk.  Nordic walking just gave them that extra workout.  It's become very popular with seniors. Even when,  things started to open up between the lockdowns, a lot of the older demographic,  were afraid to go back to the gym because.

[00:18:01] That's where a lot of transmission was happening. They weren't confident about it. So they, they wanted to be able to go out with maybe one friend one relative or on their own. And so that's driven the online sales. Christmas last year was,  pretty much insane. Yeah, I think the, the other thing that was maybe more good luck than good management, but I think we saw the potential coming was that we were ready for the digital world. We were ready. We have an excellent website and, the person who manages the website for us does an amazing job. Uh, we were familiar and knew how to produce our own videos and do our own instruction.

[00:18:42] I'd spent my, my, uh, career in, not for profits. I'm a certified fundraising, uh, director. And although I don't do fundraising anymore. Thank goodness. Cause that's tougher all the time. Uh, I, I do know. Yeah. How about back kind of sales? And I was surprised that I think it's one of the reasons that I've enjoyed the business part so much.

[00:19:04] I never realized how close, marketing in terms of fundraising was the marketing in terms of, of actual sales. The difference is when we're successful, when it's your own business, you actually get to reap the rewards. Whereas you're doing fundraising, somebody else's getting the eventual rewards of your work cars, wonderful thing to be doing, but that, immediate response.

[00:19:28] And one of the things I find about a lot of people, people getting into this kind of businesses is if they've been in a field, like not for profit or perhaps government, something like that, where they didn't personally get the feedback or the response, if they did or good or bad, they just tried to do their job to keep their boss happy when you're running your own business.

[00:19:50] If you do something right. You get the reward, if you don't, you knew it right away and there's no excuses, no hiding from it. And we like that kind of immediate, uh, reaction and response. I don't, I'm not sure everybody does, but I think that's, what's driven us in a lot of ways.

[00:20:08]Greg Mills: [00:20:08] It's good to have that feedback immediately.

[00:20:11] Bill and Esther VanGorder: [00:20:11] Yeah.

[00:20:12] Greg Mills: [00:20:12] and, you know, Esther  just point, well it's Bill's fault.

[00:20:16] Bill and Esther VanGorder: [00:20:16] Yeah,  I grew up in retail and I would never want to have a brick and mortar store cause I saw the, the hours and the stress  that it gave to my parents over the years, but doing it this way and it's something that you can see the difference in people when they've been Nordic walking, you know, Tell them about the lady you talked to last week.

[00:20:39]She came to one of our classes years ago and bought poles. She was, I think she called her morbidly obese. She was extremely overweight. That caused all kinds of other health problems as it does. I think she'd had finally had both knees replaced and maybe a hip. She called and said before she started with poles, she couldn't walk down her driveway to get the mail from the mailbox without being completely winded and overwhelmed.

[00:21:07] And now that she was using the pole, she was, uh, going out for walks for 45 minutes to an hour, almost every day. She lost a lot of weight, I think, over a hundred pounds and she felt fabulous. And her closing comment was thank you for giving me my life back.

[00:21:26]Yeah. Yeah. So when you, um, when you get a customer.

[00:21:32] Say something like that to you? That that's makes it worthwhile. Yeah. It's a lot different than, uh, than, um, two little girls in matching dresses, walking down the church aisle on Sunday morning that blended together well

[00:21:48] Greg Mills: [00:21:48] Okay.

[00:21:50]Bill and Esther VanGorder: [00:21:50] One of the nice things about our brand of poles, they actually, come with a two year guarantee and, and all the other name brand poles only have a one-year guarantee. I don't know why, but they do.

[00:22:04] It's very seldom. We get  any comments or  get them back. And they're so they are really simple. They do expand. You have to set them to the right height for your size, but there's really nothing to go wrong with them.

[00:22:19] A person has a problem. Usually I can fix it if I can't fix it, we just replace the pole. And that, that happens maybe 1% of the time.

[00:22:28] Greg Mills: [00:22:28] Now when y'all are operating, you know, full-scale pre pandemic and hopefully post pandemic. Is this a seasonal business or do you go year round through the winter time?

[00:22:38]Bill and Esther VanGorder: [00:22:38] The business goes year round. We kind of concentrate our class or group classes in the, in the spring and the fall, because starting in about. April mid April or so, the weather starts to clear up so people can get outside and they're looking to get things going for the spring over the summer.

[00:22:56] It's harder to get people out it's hot and they're vacationing with their family and kids are out of school. Then in the fall, once you hit September, it's full speed ahead till the end of the year, because, and Christmas is amazing.

[00:23:11] It's, it's hard to know what to get, uh, a parent or a grandparent because they've got everything they need, but I'm giving them a pair of poles is giving some cases, giving them their freedom back and, giving them some health benefits and a lot of, moms and grandmas moms don't want to use a cane because a cane means you're old.

[00:23:34] But if you give them a pair of Nordic walking poles,

[00:23:38] Greg Mills: [00:23:38] Yeah.

[00:23:39] Bill and Esther VanGorder: [00:23:39] So, uh, they'll use them even if they think, well, I don't need anything to help me walk, but they're, they're kind of cool around all their friends. So,

[00:23:48] Greg Mills: [00:23:48] Okay. So what ages do y'all serve or target? What is the general range?

[00:23:56]Bill and Esther VanGorder: [00:23:56] It's women from about 35 to 55 is kind of the, the largest demographic right now. But it's also a very popular with seniors, because it's keeping them mobile and active, but we also have,  about a dozen schools just in Nova Scotia that have classroom sets for the elementary schools because kids can do it too.

[00:24:21]If the kids start to get rainy in the classroom, they don't need to book the gym. They don't need to get the phys ed teacher. The teacher just gets them all outside, gives them a peer as whole. And they walk around the school a few times. You don't need any special equipment beyond the fo the poles.

[00:24:37] And what we've heard is that it's one of the few things that a lot of teenage girls will do, because they don't want to get hot and sweaty. They don't want to mess up their hair or wreck their nails, but this is just, you know, an excuse to go out and walk and chat with their friends. The other great thing with the, with age kids is there's always, those kids and I was one of them.

[00:25:02] I admit it. And, in school that they're the last ones picked  for the basketball team or the volleyball team. And they're not really into team sports and they can't do it very well. But they can do this just as well as anybody else can. So the kid with special needs or the slightly chubby child who, can't run and, and feels left behind can walk and keep up with everybody else.

[00:25:25] Just the same as the cool kids.

[00:25:28] Greg Mills: [00:25:28] Now was that something that y'all were instrumental in getting into the end of the schools

[00:25:32]Bill and Esther VanGorder: [00:25:32] We were, and we were very fortunate when we first got started in this. One of our very good friends was still teaching school and Jamie and his wife became,  Nordic Instructors. So I had Jamie. Because I don't have as much patience with kids as he does. I had Jamie to take with me  who had been teaching grade six and seven for eons,  who knew how to handle these,  these children.

[00:25:59]Then a friend of his was a school principal who also became, and still is one of our instructors and, looks after the Northern part of the province. With their kind of connections and expertise, the school,  business really did increase, , for it's. It's tough.

[00:26:16]As anybody may know, who's tried to deal with schools, the school boards. Nobody's quite sure where the decision making is, is that the teachers is the principals of the school board. Is it the city council?  It's a very,  difficult system to try to manage.  So having an insider in there is what it takes.

[00:26:34] The other thing that we were lucky to stumble on, and I'm not quite sure how it happened. Libraries, in Atlantic Canada and recreation organization, especially on prince Edward island have taken to buying sets of poles, ten, a dozen 20 or more. And they loan them out like library books, you bring your card, you pay to take them out for two weeks and use them, which is wonderful for us because it is an opportunity, for people who, want to, to try them and then, if they want their own, then we're happy to look after them.

[00:27:09] But it also means,  people who aren't able to afford the poles, even though they are very inexpensive, can't afford, them right now , are able to access them or  borrow them through those groups.  A basic set of poles for the whole set for everything you need, the straps, the feet, even a bag to carry them in , is about $60, US. All the else you need is a pair of good walking shoes and a jacket or not according to the weather. So it's a really inexpensive investment, to get into as a fitness activity. What else could you do for a one-time payment of $60? But there even people who can't afford that and they can borrow them from their local library.

[00:27:50] Greg Mills: [00:27:50] Yeah, and they can get a feel for how it works and see if that's something that they want to invest in.

[00:27:55] Bill and Esther VanGorder: [00:27:55] Exactly.  There are walking groups around,  some of them work out of the, out of the libraries or a lot of the trails associations that, , that maintain  the walking trails, have groups that go and they're excellent for,  new Canadians. Who,  are looking to meet people and get involved in things and improve their English.

[00:28:17]That doesn't cost them anything. They can go to the library, get the poles and , go for a walk with some, some really friendly people. Walkers tend to be a fairly friendly group. It's very social people love to chat. It's hardly seems like you're working out. So , there's all kinds of benefits to doing it that way.

[00:28:37] Greg Mills: [00:28:37] So going back, to a previous question with your business, y'all, don't charge for the actual instruction, unless you're getting a certification or is that incorrect?

[00:28:48]Bill and Esther VanGorder: [00:28:48] It depends on the situation. There are free classes that are often offered through organizations who all do all the setup and all the organizing and supply the space and everything else. We do find that for the classes that we offer, we have more success if we charge a minimum amount, five or $10 for our class.

[00:29:10] And if they happen to buy poles after the class, then they could take that amount off of that.  There are free classes available through the various recreation associations and that sort of thing. In terms of the business we find people, are more likely to, put their own investment into the whole thing if they pay a little towards the class. And of course we'd never turned anybody away because they can't afford the fee.  We've done classes  with food banks and support groups, like for all the, charities, .

[00:29:41]We're flexible and we find that's what works best  for us.

[00:29:45]Greg Mills: [00:29:45] Where do you all walk and do you have to get any kind of permits and how big are your groups generally before they become unmanageable?

[00:29:53]Bill and Esther VanGorder: [00:29:53] When we do a class, we figure we can each manage about 12 people on our own.

[00:29:59]If we're teaching. If we're just hosting a walk where we're just, getting people out and moving and maybe giving a few tips, we've had as many as 25 show up. Then generally. I'll take the, the people who are a little bit more fit and want to go faster, and Bill hangs back with the slower, slower moving folks. The old guy stays with the slow people. There you go. Yeah.

[00:30:22] Greg Mills: [00:30:22] No. No.

[00:30:23] Bill and Esther VanGorder: [00:30:23] Yeah. Of course we have to, anything, we start, we start up to do this summer. We'll have to follow the public health guidelines, which keeps at the moment would keep us to 10. In normal times, whatever they are,  we, we usually cap a class off if it's just the two of us at about 24 so that we can each take a dozen.

[00:30:44] Greg Mills: [00:30:44] Okay. That make sense. So,  you'll just walk around, around, Halifax

[00:30:51] Bill and Esther VanGorder: [00:30:51] it depends  if we're doing a class, then we need to walk out of the location that also has an indoor space where we're able to do the kind of the preclass the explanation.  People can sit down rather than standing for, an hour and.

[00:31:06] a half, but then, but the needs That outside space where we can take them for 45 minutes, half an hour to 45 minutes for their actual walking training.

[00:31:15] So that could be a park. It could be a parking lot, can be streets, depending on, we have done classes in schools, in churches, in funeral homes. they have nice auditoriums, you know, and they're happy to have the people come in and use their facility and see that they're not. Scary as people might think they are.

[00:31:36] So, we've done them  in fitness centers and recreations centers of course. And in that case, so we sometimes walk on the street sometimes in a park or a parking lot, sometimes on the trails when, when we've done classes. Over the local teacher's union building and they back right on one of the lovely trails that goes all along the shoreline, down the social or in Nova Scotia, we're able to use that, that trail with them.

[00:32:04] One of the things we try to do with our walking groups is every time we organize a group walk,  just people coming together to walk with their poles. We try to pick a new and different one. So people get to realize how many, really great, places there are to walk. And that's what our instructors do.

[00:32:23] The same thing,  all over Atlantic Canada . In fact,  our fellow distributors, instructors in other parts of,  of Canada  do the same thing is try to open people's eyes to the beautiful opportunities we have to walk outside and enjoy the outdoors.

[00:32:39] Greg Mills: [00:32:39] That amazes me that you'd have to open people's eyes because we took  a week long trip to Nova Scotia and it was just an incredibly beautiful place.

[00:32:50] Bill and Esther VanGorder: [00:32:50] Well, we're very lucky. It is unfortunately, you know, uh, sometimes sort of, you know, the prophet and his own country, people don't realize how, how good they have it now. Nice. It is because they're just so, so used to it.

[00:33:03]Because we haven't been able to travel and borders have been closed, that people are really learning more about their home province in their home area and,  learning what they can do without having to get on a plane or drive a car halfway across the country that we have that right here.

[00:33:20]Greg Mills: [00:33:20] You talked a little bit about it before, but the overall division of labor, let's go back to that.

[00:33:28] Bill and Esther VanGorder: [00:33:28] Um,

[00:33:30] Greg Mills: [00:33:30] As it currently stands.

[00:33:31] Bill and Esther VanGorder: [00:33:31] as it currently stands, I'm kind of the front-facing one, I guess I do all the, the phone calls and the sales over the phone and the internet sales. Bill's more in the background now. He's the, social media marketing expert. I don't know a whole lot about that, but he does, he does most of the marketing. I've been out now, for example, we just put our poles into a physio-therapy clinic here in Halifax.

[00:33:56] So I'll be going out in, in servicing their, their staff in a couple of weeks so that, uh, I mean their, their physio, so they know all about the benefits, but just teaching them about the poles themselves. What would you say? 75, 25 now? I think so. Yeah. It used to be the other way around. Yeah. Yeah, exactly.

[00:34:15] When we, when we teach a class, it's, it's pretty much 50 50, we've got, we've got script kind of in our heads that  we stick, we try to stick to, but we have a plan and build us part of it. And I do part of it and we throw it back and forth. 

[00:34:30]Greg Mills: [00:34:30] Now, do you all have any employees?

[00:34:32] Bill and Esther VanGorder: [00:34:32] Nope, No.

[00:34:33] unless, unless you count our instructors and the other rep as distributors and retails, or who are all working in the business, but , they're all independent, they're independent.  What we do is give them a lot of support, suggestions, encouragement, help them with their,  marketing and make sure they have all the information they need to, do the job they need to do to keep their, their own little business going.

[00:34:57] Greg Mills: [00:34:57] Okay.

[00:34:58] Bill and Esther VanGorder: [00:34:58] think you can count the cats. No, we work for them.

[00:35:02] Greg Mills: [00:35:02] Yeah, no, no. I saw a sign out walking earlier. Beware of the dog and the cat is shady too.

[00:35:09] Bill and Esther VanGorder: [00:35:09] Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. Well.

[00:35:13] my, my favorite of car says dogs have masters, cats have staff, and we're very much the cat staff. Absolutely. Yeah.

[00:35:23]Now that I'm working full-time for CARP, of course , it is just, it's a matter of time. I, I feel guilty a lot of the time that that Esther is having to handle as much as it is, but I'm enjoying my work with carp and will continue it for the foreseeable future.

[00:35:40] And we'll see how it goes. Yep.

[00:35:44] Greg Mills: [00:35:44] It sounds like you're enjoying it too. Esther.

[00:35:47] Bill and Esther VanGorder: [00:35:47] I am. Yeah.  I joke about not being. A people person, but, I actually do enjoy talking to most of the people who call up and they're,  it's not like they're calling to complain about anything they're calling for help. And I know I can give it to them. So it's quite gratifying when, and people have become, especially the last 15 months have become very conscious of supporting local.

[00:36:11] So when they call and find out, they don't know where we are necessarily, but find out that we are right here in Halifax, in Nova Scotia. And, they can even drive by and pop their trunk and I'll toss the, I'll put the poles and it's like, it's that? It's that simple. And it's, it's like dealing with your neighbors.

[00:36:28] So it's, um, get to meet a lot of interesting people. Yeah.

[00:36:32] Greg Mills: [00:36:32] I bet you do  how are you sourcing your poles?

[00:36:36]Bill and Esther VanGorder: [00:36:36] We get our polls from Nordics, Canada, which is run by Greg Bellamy in Ontario. And, he has them manufactured under, the German specifications . Greg has continued the company and they were originally designed under the German, specifications, with the same kind of, oversight that the Canadian standards association would have where they have the same German, certification.

[00:37:05] So there are very high quality,  pole , Fortunately for us because they're not a name brand they're, you know, all of the cross country ski people make genuine Nordic style poles too. But,  they literally cost more than, than twice as much. One, one pair poles?

[00:37:24] that we have that sell or that we sell for 79 95.

[00:37:29]The similar pair of the brand name in the stores is $170 a pair. In fact, that was a year ago. I wouldn't be surprised to see. It's probably gone up a little bit. So we're really fortunate that we've got that source of them. And, there has not been any , problem,  with, delivery.

[00:37:47] I think one of the things that we've learned and I talked to him a lot. Other people in different business is that, on-time ordering is kind of gone by the boards with the, pandemic and people are learning once again to stock up ahead and have stock so that you're not waiting for the next delivery.

[00:38:08] And Greg is doing that nationally. We do it here. , our warehouses, our basement, we keep, a stock ahead so that we're able to fulfill all the orders they come in, even when there are extra. I mean, this, this week, Esther had one order for 20, uh, 20, 45 sets, 45 sets of poles, another order for 12 sets of poles and another one for almost as many.

[00:38:35] And that was just this week. So you've got to make sure that, you've got the stock there to do it, and that means carrying some stock and, and ordering ahead of time. It'll be interesting to see what happens here. Uh, what I call the, uh, similar facsimile. I don't think it'll be back to the same as old. I, can't not going to be normal.

[00:38:56] So I call it, we get to the S the reasonable facsimile of where we were two years ago. I think people are going to be a little bit more careful about how they order stock and, and how they're, because in, in archive the business, if you don't have the stock available, likely you'll lose the sale when people want something like that.

[00:39:15] If I, if they decide to get fit, they want to start this weekend. They don't want to wait for a month for you to get stocking.

[00:39:23] Greg Mills: [00:39:23] Yeah. I could imagine if you have to wait for a month now  that impulse may fade.

[00:39:28] Bill and Esther VanGorder: [00:39:28] Yeah, exactly. That's right. Yeah. Yeah, it's it's it is that guy. And it's also, um, people often, especially the age group we're dealing with are very careful. So they do a lot of research. They figure out what they need, but then when they're finally ready to order, they don't want us to take the same amount of time they took,  researching.

[00:39:47] Yes. Yep. Yep.

[00:39:52] Greg Mills: [00:39:52] What have been some of the crazier things that, you've experienced within this company,

[00:39:57]Bill and Esther VanGorder: [00:39:57] I think one interesting thing that I can think of, well, Esther thinks of, uh, of another is, uh, when we first started this business at over a dozen years ago, when we used to go out walk ourselves, people would say, yeah, You know, where are your skis  are, uh, no snow.

[00:40:16] There's no snow things like that. And that is totally changed. Now people recognize Nordic walking. They're beginning to know what it is. Now if we get stopped, as we often do it's questions about where I get the poles, how do you do it? How do you like it? That kind of thing.

[00:40:32] And it's been pretty amazing to see in this, part of Canada, which amounts to about a third of the country, we've been able to be involved in having an impact and we really been the only people do it. So I'm, you know, I'm I'm not breaking my arm to pat us on the back to say, we can take a fair amount of responsibility for the fact that Nordic walking is now well known and Atlantic Canada.

[00:40:55] And, and that's, uh, that's pretty gratifying.

[00:40:59]I had a call from Belgium about back. before Christmas, but it was a Nova Scotian living in Belgium who wanted me to send them to her mother in Halifax. So, I have learned not to, screen phone calls when the business line rings, you know, you see some kind of weird number on your phone and think, oh, well that's a scam and don't answer it.

[00:41:18] It could be somebody from an international number who is true. Inquiring about Nordic walking poles, because with the work Bill's done with, with this, with the online marketing, if you Google Nordic walking, we're on the first page. That's why we get calls from across the country and across north America.

[00:41:38] Greg Mills: [00:41:38] Yeah, I can attest to that. Researching you both was pretty easy.

[00:41:43] Bill and Esther VanGorder: [00:41:43] Oh,

[00:41:45] Greg Mills: [00:41:45] Well, I don't

[00:41:47] Bill and Esther VanGorder: [00:41:47] with that or

[00:41:47]Greg Mills: [00:41:47] And all of a sudden it got creepy.

[00:41:52]What's been the most difficult part of the business for each.

[00:41:58]Bill and Esther VanGorder: [00:41:58] For me, it's keeping up with technology. I've, I've always been fairly technically savvy. But I have had to learn to do things that I never thought, uh, you know, in my seventies so that I did, uh, be thinking about learning . I can manage all the apps and online, YouTube, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, all those things we use.

[00:42:21] And we use them from a marketing point of view, not a personal communication with friends, point of view. I've learned how to make an, edit our own videos. I have  a little. A radio studio that I put up here in the corner with, with sounding or around it when I do, cause I do online radio commercials, from here.

[00:42:44] So learning how to do all those things that, uh, has been a, a challenge and, and, uh, although I enjoy, uh, learning, I just I find that whole area changes all the time as I'm sure you're finding. So you can never, you can never rest and think that you know it all or

[00:43:06]for me, it was, I mean, not so much now, but when we first started,  I'm very much a background person. So, any work that we do in theater, I'm behind the scenes. I'm not out there on stage with being an actor. And so just get, being able to get up in front of a group of people and, and teach because I'm not a trained teacher.

[00:43:25]I've trained people before, but generally like in a work situation, when you have somebody sitting beside you at the desk and you say, well, you look this up here and you push that button or whatever, but, I'm used to it now, but I think it probably took about a year till I was completely comfortable in, in handling the questions and being able to deflect anyone who had a counter opinion.

[00:43:47]Greg Mills: [00:43:47] So do you feel like the market is saturated yet? Or is there a room for other people to enter the Nordic walking space?

[00:43:54] Bill and Esther VanGorder: [00:43:54] Oh, I think so. Yeah. I mean, we, we cover Atlantic Canada, but it's a big area and because it's such a personal thing, it's not possible for us to get everywhere and, and travel everywhere. Even when  there is no pandemic, like we were still having trouble getting to all the places where people wanted us to get to.

[00:44:15] So yeah, there's lots of room in all kinds of places for people and there's room across the country and across north America to, for sure.  Nordic walking is catching on in, in other parts of Canada, but not everywhere. There's. Large chunks that are unserviced. And in the states, there's a few areas, California,  Florida, a little bit upper New York state, a fair amount of, Nordic walking going on.

[00:44:41]But a lot of it, the country has not discovered it, yet. One of the things that's easy about getting people interested in Nordic walking is when they try it and when they see it and when they understand the very basic, business of, when you walk with Nordic poles, you're using those upper body muscles.

[00:45:00] And so you're getting twice the benefits, cause all the good stuff happens in the big muscles. Once they get that idea, then they, understand and they pick it up right away. So I'm sure it's going to continue to grow. One of the interesting things is often  when we do classes, we have a couple will come and obviously the guy is there cause he drove his wife and she wanted to come.

[00:45:24] So he's sitting there and he's kind of sitting there where there's arms crossed and he's just going to be interested at all. And as they hear our very simple introduction about what is all about then all of a sudden he's kind of relaxing like this and then, and taking it in and by the end of the class, and I'm not exaggerating, invariably, the two of them will come up.

[00:45:47] Right. And she'll say, I'm thinking might get a set of poles. And he's saying, oh yeah, you should all get some some to it. He's, he's totally turned around and she's being the one that's a little bit hesitant. Because they understand and it's  So simple. As we say, we're doing the class, it's hard to understand why it's taken away 30 years for this to get to north America and begin to grow.

[00:46:10] It's huge in Europe, 20% of the population in Northern European and Scandinavian countries walk regularly with Nordic style, poles. In fact, we've been over there.  If you're walking on a trail and you don't have Nordic poles, somebody will stop you and say, who stole your poles?

[00:46:27] Because that's the way people walk. It's the same here. Yeah. In north America. But it'll change people. Understand what a great opportunity. No, because as I said in the beginning, 70% of the people on mobile or in surveys say that walking is their favorite form of exercise.

[00:46:44] So Nordic walking is just a better way to.

[00:46:48]Greg Mills: [00:46:48] So what will one do if they wanted to start a Nordic walking fitness company and their city do y'all offer any franchising or

[00:46:56]Bill and Esther VanGorder: [00:46:56] Yeah, we can arrange, that. We would work with them and work with, Greg who has, Nordics Canada and get them set up and, get them going. And it's, not an expensive investment for people who want to get into it. In fact, the investment that a person makes is, is covered by the retail income, from the poles that they originally get.

[00:47:20] So, there's no, upfront or.

[00:47:22] annual fees.  Once you're involved in doing it and you're properly trained to do it, then. Then you buy the poles at wholesale and sell them at retail. And that's where your,  your cut. Your points are in, in itself. Yes. We'd, we'd be happy to talk to anyone who's interested in pursuing it further.

[00:47:45] Greg Mills: [00:47:45] Yeah, we'll get you in the show notes. What other plans do y'all have for Nordic walking, Nova Scotia? Any other merchandising opportunities or expanded locations?

[00:47:56]Bill and Esther VanGorder: [00:47:56] We've got, instructors and we'd love to have some more and some of the other parts of Atlantic Canada to, be available, to teach people and to sell the poles. We'll stick with our, our one thing that we do really well. I don't think we're going to suddenly go off into some other fitness equipment.

[00:48:12] The opportunity for us and if we can, we can be more productive and help more people. If we have more instructors and retailers out there, doing the direct work with the, clients, with the customers in their local community. So for us, our expansion will be by getting more people involved in their own.

[00:48:33] People like to deal local, no matter where you are, you always want to be a local. They like to deal with somebody who's in their community, in their province. And the more people we can have, uh, doing that anywhere in north America, the better be for us and our business will, will grow too.

[00:48:51] Greg Mills: [00:48:51] Okay. I think I know the answer to this question, but I'm going to ask it anyway. Do y'all have any plans to slow down?

[00:48:59]Bill and Esther VanGorder: [00:48:59] No, no. If he ever slows down?

[00:49:02] He'll just stop. And, I think we're both pretty high energy and, uh, have to be doing. And so, yeah, I have no there's, there's no joy for me. And the thought of sitting in my rocking chair, looking out the front window. So I'll always be, always be doing Yeah,

[00:49:24] Uh, something and, and who knows?

[00:49:26] Maybe the BA maybe there'll be a fifth retirement fail. I don't know what that might be.

[00:49:34] Greg Mills: [00:49:34] let's get ready to wrap this up.

[00:49:36]So what's the number one piece of advice that you can give for our listeners?

[00:49:41]Bill and Esther VanGorder: [00:49:41] The number one piece of advice I think is, especially for older people, people who are at that, what we used to call retirement age, but nobody, can afford to retire anymore, it is at an age that Bismarck sat at one time for nefarious reasons. Back in a time when people didn't live much beyond 65.

[00:50:00] So he said 65 is the date to get rid of some of his generals and have them retire. But when you reach that age is not the end. In north America,we're living a year longer in every decade. So,  you know, our, our life expectancy is much longer than it was. You don't want to be sitting around doing nothing.

[00:50:22] So figure out what you love and do it. And don't be afraid of, of making that a business. It doesn't have to be business, it could be volunteering. It could be all kinds of things, but there is real, satisfaction in running your own business. And frankly, in these days of inflation and concerned about whether or not will outlive our money, it is good to know that you've got, a source of some income coming in right now, no matter how old you are.

[00:50:52]There are lots of organizations who are there to support you and help you, learn the new things you have to do to run your own.

[00:51:01]Greg Mills: [00:51:01] So what's the best way for people to check you out and get in touch with.

[00:51:05]Bill and Esther VanGorder: [00:51:05] Probably the easiest way is to go to, our website, which is www Nordic walking, Nova Scotia, all written You'll find all our other contact information there. There's a, there's an email contact form. If you, if you send something in, you'll usually get an answer back in, in 24 to 48 hours.

[00:51:25] And we're happy to talk about Nordic walking. most of my phone calls are 20 to 30 minutes. I find because people just want to talk about it. So, check out the web and people who aren't comfortable with the internet can pick up the phone and give us a call at area code nine zero two four five four two two six seven.

[00:51:47] Greg Mills: [00:51:47] All right. Well, that's a wrap. Thank you, bill and Esther for being guests on Entrepreneurs over 40.

[00:51:53] Bill and Esther VanGorder: [00:51:53] Our pleasure, Greg. Great. to meet you. Thanks Greg.

[00:51:56] Greg Mills: [00:51:56] Thank you.