Angel Rutsch on Leaving HR to Start a Hula Hoop Business

If you think hula hoops are for kids, then you haven’t met Angel Rutsch, who turned her love of “hoop dancing” into a growing business. Her company, Rock-a-Hoola Hoops, offers private and semi-private classes, parties for kids, and custom-made hoops to customers in the Washington, D.C., area.

Rutsch recently shared her insights starting and marketing a business with us.

GoPayment: Why and how did you start Rock-a-Hoola Hoops?

Arms up!Rutsch: I found something that I loved doing — this whole hula hoop fitness and hoop dance thing — and I started the business as a way to support my habit. There’s a lot more to it than most people realize. Hoops come in varying sizes, different colors, and some even light up. There are classes and workshops and retreats. I was spending so much time telling people about hooping and teaching people how to hoop that I thought I might as well get certified and licensed to be legit.

How long have you been hooping?

I started hooping right before my 40th birthday. The hula hoop was a gift to myself. I’m a mom, and I get all these catalogs, so I got curious about hooping and dug the catalog out of my recycling bin. Once my hula hoop arrived, I had to wrestle it out of my son’s hands. About a year and a half later, I founded Rock-a-Hoola Hoops. I dropped out of corporate America — I’d worked in HR for my entire career — in the spring of this year and started putting a lot of my energy into the business, going to festivals and art shows and really working on the marketing.

So, who are your primary customers?

Women between 31 and 40 make up the bulk of the demographic, but really hooping hits men and women, kids and grown-ups. I have clients who are as young as 6. My oldest client is 76, and we have a standing appointment for semi-private lessons. It’s her, her daughter, and her granddaughter every Monday night. Hooping is a workout that allows for personal expression and that fits your needs. You can do it barefoot, you can do it naked. There’s mass appeal.

Do you ever worry that hooping is a fad that could fade over time?

Hula hoops have been around since the 1950s, so they never really went away. Modern fitness hoops are just a variation on the original Wham-O hoops. They’re larger, thicker, heavier. It’s not just child’s play anymore. I don’t think hooping is a fad, because it requires a 42-inch sparkly object that does not fit in a closet. It’s in your face. We haven’t even touched on the health benefits: You burn 110 calories every 10 minutes. It’s an excellent core workout. It’s endurance training. You use the exact same muscles you use when you do sit-ups without the strain on your lower back.

What was your biggest business challenge, and how did you overcome it?

One of the biggest business challenges that I’ve faced is marketing, dealing with the folks who think hooping is a fad. It’s hard to get grown-ups to do something that might make them look stupid or feel dumb. When I say, “I’m a hula hoop instructor,” people laugh. Educating people about hooping has been a challenge for me, but I explain that it’s safe, it’s healthy, it’s good for you, and it’s fun.

How and why do you use GoPayment?

My first big customer wanted to order hula hoops for an afterschool program. They asked, “How do you accept payment? Can you take a credit card?” It turned into a real big pain for them to get a check cut. It took a long time to process.

When I left corporate America and decided to make a run with Rock-a-Hoola, I decided to become a vendor at art and wine festivals. I couldn’t accept only checks or cash; it would significantly reduce my business. So, I found a couple of different solutions for taking credit cards, and using GoPayment made a significant difference. The customer-service people are awesome: They answer all my questions so politely. Being able to take credit cards at these functions has been huge for me.

Any recent successes to share?

I continue to enter different arenas that I didn’t think existed. A couple of months ago, I was asked if I would work with a nonprofit called CureSearch, a children’s cancer organization. They do walks nationally, and they had asked if I would be willing to come and be entertainment, have my hoops available to people, and provide glitter tattoos. And as a result of participating in that, I was able to make a few other connections. For example, tomorrow I’m going to an Irish dance festival that has 850 families registered to participate.

About Susan Johnston

Susan Johnston is a freelance writer and blogger who specializes in writing about business and personal finance. Her articles have appeared in or on The Boston Globe, Dance Retailer News, GetCurrency.com, Mint.com, PARADE Magazine, WomenEntrepreneur.com, and other places.
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