Yes, We Are Open!

The Athlete Matrix

Episode Summary

Episode 1, Season 1: The Athlete Matrix Mississauga, Ontario Al visits the team at The Athlete Matrix to talk about their baseball beginnings and how they grew to support athletes across a number of sports, notably volleyball, basketball and gymnastics, before the pandemic hit. What did they do to pivot their business in the face of lockdowns? Listen to find out.

Episode Notes

You learn more about The Athlete Matrix at

Episode Transcription

Al:                         To say the past 18 months have been hard for everyone is of course, a gross understatement. The word "unprecedented" has been thrown around so much during this pandemic that it's nearly lost its meaning. Personally, this past year has been one of many changes, not the least of which was a new job and opportunity to work on something truly exciting. Producing podcasts. You see, this is my sixth year at Moneris. The previous five were spent producing online learning. I've been in corporate training for over 20 years. [00:00:30] Podcasting started as a hobby, and then I began using it as a training tool for internal use in the company. So you can imagine my delight when I was offered a new position at Moneris, to produce podcasts. The first assignment in my new position was to produce a show that would shine a spotlight on our merchants. So I have. Only with a twist.

                              Over the next eight weeks, I'm telling the stories of small Canadian businesses across the country. Stories of their beginnings, but also of their struggles and how they overcame [00:01:00] those struggles. I'm telling stories with happy endings, but also hard learned lessons. I'm telling them with the hope that if you're an entrepreneur with a business or the dream of starting your own business, you might learn some valuable lessons from these survivors.

                              Hello everyone. I'm Al Grego. And this is the "Yes, We Are Open" podcast.

                              [00:01:30] Today, I'm in Mississauga, Ontario, a large city just west of Toronto, situated on the shores of Lake Ontario. According to the 2016 census, Mississauga has a population of just over 700,000. The growth of Mississauga is attributed to its proximity to Toronto. It's the sixth most populous municipality in Canada, third in the province of Ontario and second in the greater Toronto area, only to Toronto itself. Because [00:02:00] of this, Mississauga plays headquarters to many Canadian and multinational corporations. It's also the home of Toronto's Pearson International Airport. Canada's busiest airport. But I'm not downtown today. Instead, I'm in an industrial area surrounded by factories and other blue collar businesses. There's a lumberyard and an asphalt plant just across the street. I pull up to a large, two-story standalone building with many windows. The top front windows have stylized silhouettes [00:02:30] of figures playing various sports, including volleyball, baseball, and soccer. And just above that is the name of the company and the subject of today's story: The Athlete Matrix.

                              Oh hey.

Reid:                     Are you [inaudible 00:02:51]?

Al:                         Yes, how are you?

Reid:                     I'll be ready for you, I'm just finishing up a meeting-

Al:                         Yeah, that's fine.

                              I'm welcomed into the building by Reid, who's in the middle of a Zoom call with a client. So [00:03:00] I stay quiet. I walk into a large welcoming lobby with a large staircase. It's very quiet today, likely due to the fact that many businesses are still slowly reopening after the latest lockdown. To my left, there appears to be some sort of sports medical clinic. Upstairs are the offices of the Ontario Blue Jays baseball club. But Reid leads me through the door to the right, to a gym. There's currently no one there. So we sit in the gym to conduct our interview.

Reid:                     Hi, my name is [00:03:30] Reid Hall and I'm the high-performance Director here at the Athlete Matrix.

Al:                         So first of all, maybe just make it, give it a little bit about your background.

Reid:                     I ended up playing at the highest level for beach volleyball. I played full-time on our national team. I was the 2009 Canada games gold medalist with my beach volleyball partner, Adam Podstawka. And then when I finished my career of beach volleyball, I was very inspired to become a strength conditioning coach, because in the sport of beach volleyball, I was a really undersized athlete. So meeting a strength coach and actually having someone that helped me get small, consistent, [00:04:00] weekly improvements is what actually allowed me to play at the highest level. And then for the past 10 years, I've been specifically working with volleyball athletes from a strength and conditioning perspective.

Al:                         When does Athlete Matrix open its doors?

Reid:                     So the Athlete Matrix opened in 2016 and it was actually a crazy story, how it happened. The person that bought the Ontario Blue Jays and decide about opening the Athlete Matrix was actually my client. So [00:04:30] before all this happened, he was my personal training client. I was helping him lose weight and get in better physical shape. I haven't heard from him for awhile. And then I got an email saying Reid, I bought the Ontario Blue Jays, come and meet me.

                              And then I met with him and we had this big idea on, about evolving this facility beyond just Ontario Blue Jays, which is baseball, and opening it to other performance-based training for different sports as well.

Al:                         That client of Reid's was Joe Wilkinson, [00:05:00] who along with Stephanie Wilkinson, own the Ontario Blue Jays and were looking for other revenue opportunities for the new facility. Here's Stephanie.

Stephanie:           It came from the previous owners moving from a smaller facility, because baseball had really outgrown that space. And they jumped to this place at the same time as expanding the baseball program. And they had other plans for what could go in here. Maybe a restaurant could go in here, maybe [00:05:30] a store could go in here. There were lots of great ideas. And it just, when you really started looking at the feasibility and all the things that were going to have to happen to make that happen, there was, there were limits. So there needed to be something else. And this ownership group decided that it needed to be all sports. And Joe Wilkinson knew of Reid and knew his [00:06:00] background in training and in volleyball and thought that that would be a really good fit for somebody that he had felt was a go-getter. Somebody who really wanted to make something of himself. But we wanted to give back and train to kids as well.

Reid:                     So when it comes to the Athlete Matrix, one of our biggest clientele base is those volleyball athletes. And now we've [00:06:30] built a team around to help support all our local clubs and volleyball athletes with their strength, conditioning, injury prevention, and movement type of training. Probably took a year before we could really keep building up. And the more of the success that we're needing and it took that time to build up was more building our team members. So our other coaches, or having our systems in place so things could run smoothly. And that was actually a difficulty for a number of years because before this, I was really running it just me as a business person, instead of [00:07:00] having other team members.

Al:                         In order to provide Reid the support he needed to grow the Athlete Matrix, Joe and Stephanie Wilkinson turned to the GM of their baseball club, Joe Ellison, to lend a hand. Here's Joe.

Joe:                       When the Athlete Matrix started out, I wasn't really full-on a part of it until 2019. I did a lot of things for the building which obviously influenced the Matrix's kind of flow and how it worked at the beginning. But my role in the Matrix really took off in 2019.

Reid:                     [00:07:30] When I realized this was going to work is actually for the space that I'm in, where we're training a lot of volleyball athletes. There's a couple of competitors out there. And what we saw is our competitors start to dwindle and drain a little bit. They were starting to lose clients, they were starting to lose teams and we kept on building and building. And then with these clubs, we really secured a long-term relationship.

Stephanie:           When Reid started having more and more volleyball clubs coming to him, he had some pretty big ones come [00:08:00] on board right away. And seeing the success that came out of the one or two to the point that he's now at six or seven, sort of proved that he knows what he's doing. I'm not a volleyball player, but he knew what he was doing with the strength and conditioning and these clubs that are high in Canada recognized what they had in him as well.

Joe:                       It was different coming from an OBJ side where we only had baseball in the building, to having Reid and the volleyball boys and girls there and [00:08:30] having a medical clinic and a couple of other things going on at the time, it was different. It was an adjustment for the baseball guys and it was an adjustment for the coaches to see other people in the building at the same time as us. But it was a positive experience for sure.

Reid:                     Right now, we have multiple athletes that play at a very high level. So some of our current national team level beach, volleyball players, indoor players, and also our youth athletes that are on like, the youth national team and all that. One athlete that I pay particular attention to is Sophie Bukovec. And now [00:09:00] she's a three time NCAA champion from USC for beach volleyball. And she won the U21 beach volleyball world championships. And now I train her full-time that she's been out of college and she's preparing and playing on the world tour now, and hopefully is going to be our next Olympian. One of our next Olympians in the upcoming Olympics. But we've been working with tons of volleyball athletes. It's over 83 athletes that we have worked with have gone on to gain an NCAA division one scholarship, which is pretty crazy over these past years, because there's not that many of them that [00:09:30] are getting those scholarships to go over to the States.

Al:                         Well obviously it's a big part 'cause it's what you have background in, but you mentioned other sports.

Reid:                     So we really attract a lot of jumping athletes, cause volleyball it's a lot of jumping. So naturally we get a lot of basketball players in here as well. So it's very volleyball, basketball. We get some track and field athletes, we've even had some elite level gymnasts. It's a nice fit between basketball, volleyball, track and field gymnastics, because there's a lot of similarities.

Al:                         Up next, the Athlete Matrix is firing [00:10:00] on all cylinders. What happens when a pandemic causes all organized sport to shut down? Stay tuned to find out.

                              You're listening to "Yes, We Are Open".

                              With Reid Hall's expertise in volleyball and other sports training, the Ontario Blue Jays, a rehab and physical clinic, a yoga studio and facility rentals, [00:10:30] the Athlete Matrix has found their niche in shaping and preparing our future athletes. Their track record for helping athletes reach the next level is impressive. And they're steadily growing their business. It's hard to imagine anything other than illness getting in the way of their business continuing to thrive, but then the unimaginable happens.

                              So this podcast is about telling stories of overcoming adversity and struggle.

Reid:                     Yeah.

Al:                         If you were to think about the last, I guess five years now, about [00:11:00] the Athlete Matrix, to a point in time where you encountered some kind of struggle that may have threatened to close your doors, what would that be?

Reid:                     Yeah, so COVID-19 hit. And that was something that was very scary. And the reason why it was so scary is because I have no direction anymore. I don't know what direction we're going to go into because every weeks things seem to be changing. So right when COVID hit, we're like, okay, well is a lockdown happen or not going to happen? What restrictions are we going to have in place? So although [00:11:30] I can create plan A, plan B or plan C, none of those things might happen. So the first thing that really scared me is when we went into lockdown. Obviously we don't have a way to support any of these volleyball clubs anymore. So the thing that we produce revenue is we provide strength and conditioning services. I can't provide that anymore. So that scared me a lot.

Stephanie:           For us in March, 2020, that's where we found our rentals, which [00:12:00] are local community-based teams. They rent for two hours, Friday nights, all day Sunday. That first Friday night, we had a whole night of rentals scheduled and very, very few people came in. We, again like everybody else, we didn't know what was going on. And seeing those rentals of baseball just shut down, disappear, that was the scary part for the rental side of baseball.

Al:                         [00:12:30] In terms of the other Volleyball Associations, what were these telling you guys?

Stephanie:           They were the same way. They were, the parents were afraid. I mean, their kids had just been told March break was going to be extended into April. What does that mean for us? Does it mean, well we'll just keep everything shut down for a couple of weeks? We're going to stay shut for 14 days. This it'll all be over in 14 days. So we shut down, they shut down. Then their provincial regulatory, [00:13:00] they started saying that it was shut down. There was going to be no provincials. There wasn't going to be any more in-person training. Everybody was going to stay home and everybody was going to do their part.

Joe:                       It was obviously a big change for us. I mean, I know talking with Reid through the shutdowns and through the almost restarts, it was very similar to what we're doing on the baseball side, where you're planning for stuff that doesn't exist and you're just hoping for the best. And then there's going to be rules. And we trained outside with Reid's gym, we trained outside with the Blue Jays gym. [00:13:30] We followed every protocol and it was a weird time and things were slow, but you know, Reid's really positive and he's energetic. And you know, he brought a lot to the table and he kept going and going and going, and we just hit the ground running as soon as we could.

Reid:                     And then the next scary part is actually when the lockdown ended and we were able to get these volleyball clubs and we were able to get the athletes back in the facility. And what I noticed, we weren't getting quite as many athletes. Cause some people are scared to come back into training. So we're like, with all these [00:14:00] restrictions, not only are people just scared in here, we're not able to run our program at the same quality because if athletes are wearing masks, they can't do some of the same physical training that we had to do in the past. So we had to kind of transform our training to cater them better. And we also had a space issue. Although this is a 50,000 square foot facility, the area that we train, the volleyball players, having them all socially distanced and spread out, we had to shrink our class size down. So essentially we had to change our whole entire model. And whenever you have to pivot or make big changes like that, it can be terrifying.

                              [00:14:30] So during this time, successful businesses have learned how to pivot and to navigate and to create their own solutions to these problems. And obviously when COVID hit, that's a shock to everyone, but now we've been able to find solutions, right? And one of the big solutions that we've come with is, we can't be limited by just the walls in the facility, right? Cause what happens if a lock down happens? But now I have an app that fully services all these athletes [00:15:00] on the club, that delivers workouts to them. They have video demos, they're able to track all their metrics.

                              This app is what has kept us stable to create revenue. So when the lockdown happened, I got this app set up. I communicated with all the volleyball clubs and they were sold. They were like, you know what? This is the best way to keep our athletes active. We know they can't go into a facility. We know they can't play volleyball, but now we have a system where they can work at home where they got video demos and they're able to track all their metrics. They're able to communicate with each other. It's [00:15:30] something that was a solution for them, the best solution to the current situation, because at the end of the day we need these kids to keep moving. They need to keep exercise. They need to keep doing things.

                              It's catered to help support these clubs. So for me, we have option A and we have option B. But guess what's going to happen when COVID comes to an end? We're going to want both options. And now we've moved forward our business and added another lane or another revenue generating pillar to it.

Al:                         [00:16:00] Coming up after the break, we find out if the Athlete Matrix was able to weather the storm of this pandemic.

Mat:                     This podcast is sponsored by Moneris. As a business owner, change comes at you fast. That's why Moneris is right by your side as you innovate and adapt, so you can get paid. With solutions for businesses of all shapes and sizes, we're proud to help Canadians like you achieve their goals. From online, in-store, curbside and pickup solutions, Moneris is there to help your business succeed every step [00:16:30] of the way. To talk to one of our business advisors, call 1-8-6-6-Moneris or visit Moneris dot com.

Al:                         Welcome back to "Yes, We Are Open". Reid Hall of the Athlete Matrix was faced with the challenge of his career. How could he train his athletes when they weren't even allowed in the building? And without those athletes, how can there be an Athlete Matrix? Did the pivot work? As the economy slowly reopens, will those athletes return?

                              So what is the outlook [00:17:00] for Athlete Matrix?

Reid:                     So things now look really good because, so most of our volleyball contracts would start in October or November. So it's able to resign all of our club contracts, plus a couple of new contracts and the thing that was amazing is we were able to plan ahead this year. Okay. Plan A, if everything's open, COVID doesn't affect things, this is what we're doing. If COVID does affect things, this what we're doing. We're moving all the training fully online and everything like that. So for me, this is super amazing because you know, a lot [00:17:30] of the stress is because of the fear of the unknown, right? I don't know what's going to happen next, but now since I was able to create some different solutions and different things, I know that I'm able to support these club contracts. We know we're going to have this revenue in. We know that we're going to be able to pay our employees and we know that we're going to be able to keep moving forward.

Joe:                       I think the Athlete Matrix is on the upswing. I think Reid and volleyball is, he's a huge name in strength conditioning, obviously having played for team [00:18:00] Canada and throughout his whole career. So I think he brings a lot to the table and I think for him it's only going to grow on his side of things, with volleyball. Our medical clinic here with Apex continues to grow and get better. And then I'm sure we'll introduce some new stuff down the road as well, different sports and continue to grow the business.

Stephanie:           We are hoping that the fall and winter will carry on as we hope without any shutdowns.

Reid:                     Now we're about to hit our busiest period, and I'm confident because we've added new club [00:18:30] contracts plus maintained all other ones that this is actually going to be our greatest revenue generating period of time. At least if everything goes in the right direction, we have set ourselves up for that.

Al:                         In terms of plans for growth, are there any? Or is it too soon?

Stephanie:           I think right now it's too soon. We're just trying to hone what we've got. Get community baseball back in here for rentals, get club teams back in here for volleyball, strength and conditioning. That's what we want to do. We want to be a hundred percent [00:19:00] full.

Reid:                     Yeah, we've discussed a lot of cool ideas of way to expand the volleyball programs, whether that's adding in more coaches, adding this app, adding maybe some beach volleyball courts at the back. We've really got a lot of ideas out there, but we've not put our foot on the gas on any of these ideas yet until we can kind of wait and see what this outlook looks like for the next few months in terms of what COVID's happening. And then once we have a greater picture of what normal is going to look like, then we can put on our foot on the gas and be aggressive. But for the time being, it's kind of staying [00:19:30] in our lane, the things that we've offered, so that new app and you know, our facility training and just kind of keep scaling that forward.

Al:                         That's the story of the Athlete Matrix. When Joe and Stephanie Wilkinson first thought up the idea of a one-stop facility for sports, strength, conditioning and performance, they couldn't have [00:20:00] dreamt the devastation a pandemic would bring. None of us could really. But as is the case with many successful businesses, a major key to that success is finding the right people to help carry out your vision and perhaps even add to it. It seems they found just that in Reid Hall. Reid's connections and expertise were critical to starting the business and making it a success. But if you ask me, it's his exuberance for his job that is probably the major contributing factor to the survival of the Athlete Matrix. [00:20:30] They needed to be agile and quick to the turn, ready to jump at any hurdle and dodge anything thrown at them. That's a lot of cheesy sports metaphors, I know, but in the case of the Athlete Matrix, I think they're well-served and I'll show myself out.

                              Yes, we are open as a Moneris podcast production. I'd like to thank Reid Hall, Stephanie Wilkinson and Joe Ellison for taking the time to share their story. You can learn more about the Athlete Matrix at [00:21:00] Follow them on Facebook or Instagram @theathletematrix. And on Twitter, they're @athletematrix.

                              For more information about this podcast, visit the site If you'd like to support us, rate us on Apple Podcasts or wherever you get your podcasts. If you're a Canadian small business owner, or if you know one with an interesting story of perseverance to tell, I'd love to help tell it. You can contact me at podcast at moneris dot com. Tune in next [00:21:30] week for another story of small business struggle and survival on the Yes We Are Open podcast. I'm Al Grego. Thank you for listening.