MCC student Jake Groendal can trace his passion for owning vintage sneakers to a trip to the Muskegon Mall, where, as an eighth grader, he relentlessly pestered his mother to buy him a pair of Nike Flight 89s.
“They originally came out in 1989, but Nike brought them back in 2012 and I wanted them so badly,” recounts Jake, who within a few years would land a job at the same shoe store. His knowledge and interest in the athletic footwear market coupled with his newfound employee discount suddenly sparked an idea for a business venture.
“It was when the Jordan 11 Space Jams first came out in December 2016,” recalls Jake, who purchased a $220 retail pair with his discount for $160 and then quickly sold them to a guy outside the Mall for about $330.
“Unfortunately, employees were limited to just one pair, but it was a moment for me of realizing what I had just unlocked,” says Jake, who at the same time was taking a business class at the Career Tech Center. Every Friday, MCC Entrepreneurial Studies Chair David Stradal taught a Community E course to the teenagers about starting one’s own business.
“Dave kind of kicked it off for me,” says Jake, an Oakridge High School graduate. “I knew I wanted to be my own boss and do my own thing.”
“From the beginning, Jake was a standout because he was a very outgoing person,” remembers Stradal. “He was serious about the business and that caught my eye. He obviously enjoyed entrepreneurship enough to come to the college and take my entrepreneur training class.”
For his required business idea as part of the course, Jake created Family and Friends Sneakers, naming his venture after a term used by the shoe companies when launching a new line. The companies will make a unique design twist to about 20 pairs of a new shoe line as a gift to the shoe’s namesake to share with his or her “friends and family.” Many of the recipients will put the shoes for sale on the open market.
“Take the Jordan 5 Retro Fresh Prince, the shoes that Will Smith wore on ‘The Fresh Prince of Bel Air’ TV show,” explains Jake. “The retail white and purple pair goes for about $150 to $200. The Friends and Family pair, which was all gold, sells for thousands of dollars.”
“This idea started with me trying to find the shoes that I actually liked,” he continues. “Why are they charging so much for these shoes? Then I realized it was really supply and demand. The products that I liked sold out everywhere. You couldn’t find them except to buy them off a Stock X app, but paying a couple of hundreds of dollars over the retail price because they’re very in-demand.”
Soon, Jake started making contacts to buy the special sneakers himself and sell them for under the prices offered by larger, well-known ventures like Stock X and Go Flight Club.
“It’s a real personal level that I bring to the table, which speaks to the Friends and Family name,” Jake says. “I treat my customers like they are friends and family. A lot of people would prefer to buy from a person rather than a big company.”
As an MCC entrepreneurial studies student, Jake was eligible to submit his business plan in the competition for a $10,000 seed fund, an annual award created and funded by Nick Sarnicola, the generous founder of NextGen, whose mission is to help young entrepreneurs realize their passions. Sarnicola and NextGen Executive Director Patrick Adams serve on the award selection committee.
On May 9, Sarnicola informed a speechless and stunned Jake via Skype in Stradal’s campus office that he was the 2019 winner.
“I really believe in you,” Sarnicola told Jake. “I believe in your business model. You have the right personality. I think you have the right amount of swag. I think you’re going to do really good and I am super excited for you.”
“Jake is an entrepreneur at heart,” adds Adams, who was present at MCC for the announcement. “He’s ready to launch his business. We are looking for young entrepreneurs that are ready, that have taken those first steps, and that are committed and dedicated. He has got what it takes to be a successful entrepreneur and we’re going to come alongside him and give him all the support he needs from a mentoring standpoint.”
A grateful Jake plans to use some of the funds to attend upcoming Sneaker Con conventions held five or six times a year at various large U.S. cities for the thousands and thousands of athletic shoe buyers and sellers.
Does Jake think he can compete in this large international market?
“Oh, I know I can,” he responds, exhibiting the confidence that impressed Sarnciola. “I’ve been doing this for the last three years. I have made quite a name for myself. The last couple of years, I have been selling on Instagram and Facebook. You need to have knowledge, product knowledge. Anybody can go out to the Finish Line in Muskegon and be like, “Oh, I am going to buy that Jordan and sell it for more money.” Anybody can do that. The fact that anybody can, does not mean you should.”
“The biggest risk is buying multiple shoes figuring you can make money on them and then they ‘brick,’ which means that they’re not worth anything. That’s happened to me once or twice, but fortunately I bought only one pair and I always find a way to just make my money back.”
Jake has come a long way since the days when he and his father, James, started collecting and selling some 10,000 Hot Wheels over the years as a hobby. Even his mother, Karen, who was more than somewhat incredulous as her home started to fill with boxes of sneakers, has come around.
“My parents looked at me and they were praying for me and they said, ‘We hope that you win this,’” recounts Jake, “because I know a lot of people look at you and what you do and they think it ain’t worth a damn. ‘He’s buying and selling shoes, so what?’ The fact someone like Nick believed in me – I know that my parents believed in me – it just solidified my idea and it gives me the strength to really believe in myself to make this actually happen.”