A bucket of softballs, a tee, a car and a tank of gas filled just enough to make it to nine New Jersey towns in a day.
“Humble” best describes the overhead that came with Lisa Rizzo's entrance into entrepreneurship.
But she has a lot to boast about now, after carving out her niche as owner of the largest softball-dedicated training facility in the Garden State. Her Westwood-based Diamond Academy has tripled in revenue since its 2011 inception.
No doubt it's an improvement over the modest softball lessons that had her zig-zagging across the state every weekend for some extra money starting in 2006. That was something she did right after graduating Ramapo College of New Jersey, where she played softball while earning a degree to become a youth guidance counselor.
“I never thought softball would end up becoming my career, because usually after college softball that's usually pretty much it,” she said. “And if you go pro, the pay isn't enough for someone to live off of.”
Rizzo was also an assistant coach at Fairleigh Dickinson University for a short time after college. But she paid the bills with the private lessons she did for young softball players in her spare time.
Then the demand for Rizzo's coaching — fueled by word of mouth alone — got to a point where she just couldn't fit the training into her schedule. She was juggling more than 20 private lessons each week.
So she left FDU in 2007 to concentrate on giving lessons.
Eventually, she began hosting outdoor softball camps in various towns. Getting approval to do this, however, required that she prove through a use variance that they were needed.
All Rizzo had to do was show the list of 500-plus girls who supported the camps. That's when she “realized there was an unimaginable demand for this.”
Rizzo's Diamond Academy later complemented the business garnered from these outdoor camps, which account for some 60 percent of its sales.
She added that her company trains an average of 6,000 kids year-round just in outdoor town clinics, not including private lessons held in Westwood.
The camps are also run year-round, with business really picking up during the winter season.
Between the outdoor camp and the Westwood facility, Diamond Academy's revenue went from $96,000 in 2012 to $136,000 in 2013 to $239,000 last year.
And since the company doesn't sell equipment, it doesn't buy much inventory. That's allowing it to use its revenue for growth — which is why Rizzo is preparing to take it nationwide.
Assuming the trajectory remains consistent, Rizzo imagines her company will hit $320,000 in revenue this year. It's possible she could've reached that mark even earlier, if not for one error:
“We could've taken on more training camps last year, but I just didn't have the staff to do it — and it hurt me,” she said. “But it's not like you're hiring someone for a 9-to-5 office job; I'm only hiring girls that played college softball.
“To find someone like that who is also hardworking and fits the bill of who we are, that's hard.”
All of Rizzo's trainers are former NCAA softball athletes. And she has seen the impact they can have on young athletes:
“We have so many girls who have gone on to sign at Division I schools. … I just saw the other day that a girl that I trained is playing for University of Missouri. Having success stories like that is great.”
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Company: Diamond Academy
Founder: Lisa Rizzo
One more thing: At least two of Rizzo’s former Ramapo teammates, Marissa Marino and Michele Rossi, joined her as trainers for a period of time.