OtherOEN Member Spotlight – Dave Weiss, CEO of Sports + Lifestyle Unlimited

Founded in 1991, Sports + Lifestyle Unlimited is a commercial model and talent agency that provides the leading resource of credible sports/fitness talent and commercial models representing an active, healthy lifestyle.

SLU team: Molly Weiss, Dave Weiss & Paul Herschell

Q: What does your business do?
A: Through our offices in Portland and Los Angeles, we represent models and talent of all ages for print, commercials/infomercials, TV/film projects, live apparel presentations, fit modeling, special events, and motion capture for the entertainment industry. Our clients include major footwear, athletic apparel and lifestyle clothing brands, fitness and sports equipment companies, still photo and video producers, advertising agencies, and casting directors.

Q: What problem does it solve? A:Today’s consumers are increasingly making active, healthy lifestyle choices that include products and services related to sports, fitness, health, and wellness. These consumers are more educated and savvy than ever before. Most people who participate regularly in a sport or fitness-related activity know when they see something that looks fake or unnatural. So it’s crucial that brands hiring talent as part of their marketing efforts select talent that are authentic, credible and “aspirational” in the eyes of these consumers. We provide a resource of professional models and talent to support the production and branding needs of these clients.

Q: How did you come up with this business idea?
A: I grew up in Nebraska but moved to Portland in 1980 to pursue a commercial art career. Shortly after arriving, I was approached one day about working as a model and decided to give it a try. From my first booking, I went on to work as a full-time model for almost 15 years and worked with over 100 brands during my modeling career. As a fit and skilled former collegiate level athlete, I found that my marketability was of particular interest to sports and fitness related brands. I felt there was an unfulfilled need for a resource of talent with genuine sports and fitness skills. My wife and partner, Molly Weiss, had also enjoyed a successful career in the industry both as a talent and a broadcast producer, so we decided to start an agency focused on meeting the needs of those clients.

Q: What are your biggest challenges?
A: In general, the internet age has lowered the barriers to entry for the model agency business as it has for many others. However, new media and information technology have also improved our business in very advantageous ways. We have invested significantly in technology to streamline and adapt our business to meet these new market conditions. We have also found that the services good agencies provide to talent and advertisers, and in bringing them together, remains a compelling value proposition that is not easily duplicated.

Q: What are your goals for the company?
A: We’re working hard to be the primary agency that brands and creative decision makers look to when seeking commercial sports and fitness talent and active lifestyle models. After 20 years, we are a leader in the NW and have established a strong presence in the Los Angeles market as well. We are working on ways to grow our business in other markets across the U.S. to both broaden our client base and enhance the resources we provide to our existing clients.

Q: Do you have any news to share about your company’s evolution, new products or partnerships?
A: I’m very proud that this year has not only been our 20th year in business, but also our most successful one. I’m humbled and grateful to be surrounded by such a great team who, along with the strategies we’ve employed over the past few years, have helped us come through this recession as a stronger business.

Q: Are you looking for funding?
A: We are not actively seeking funding at this time. However, we are evaluating a number of opportunities to grow the business and are considering potential partnerships that provide expertise, support and resources to accelerate our progress.

Q: Have you been an entrepreneur before?
A: Yes! I’ve always had an entrepreneurial spirit… learning valuable lessons early on in a couple of small ventures. You quickly discover if you are capable of accepting the risk and challenges associated. I have also learned to recognize that failure and setback are important aspects of the growth process. As an entrepreneur you can’t be afraid to jump in the deep end.

Q: What brought you to OEN?
A: We were attracted by the networking opportunities and educational workshops provided by OEN, and the opportunity to learn about how other businesses are tackling opportunities and challenges.

Q: What has been the biggest surprise in your entrepreneurial experience to date?
A: Believe it or not, in the early days of the business we were sending talent submissions by messenger delivery and creating invoices on a type writer! It’s amazing to think how the Internet and email has changed things so much in a relatively short period of time. So, I would have to say I could never have predicted to what extent technology would change how we operate on a daily basis.

Q: What has been the best entrepreneurial advice you’ve received?
A: Surround yourself with great people. As your business grows, you quickly learn the value and importance of human resources. From our advisory network to our employees, you learn to appreciate how your company’s success is directly influenced by the outstanding people involved.

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