Volleyball pro, model, mother and entrepreneur Gabrielle Reece talks about taking on the business world.
By Kristin Chessman
For Gabrielle Reece, home means the pristine, peaceful beaches of Maui, Hawaii, for six months a year and the beachfront, celebrity-filled community of Malibu, California, for the other half.
“I’m really lucky,” Reece says.
It’s easy to be jealous of this 6-foot-3 volleyball pro and entrepreneur. She’s a celebrated champion in her sport. She has a killer physique, a beautiful family, a supportive husband and a successful business. But after a few minutes of conversation with Reece, it’s impossible not to view her as an intelligent, likeable woman who’s easy to relate to.
Reece, 38, didn’t start playing volleyball until her junior year of high school. A natural at the sport, she received an athletic scholarship to Florida State University, where she majored in communications. A few years into college, thanks to her height and striking looks, Reece accepted modeling offers in New York.
Modeling, school and volleyball became a balancing act, but Reece managed to do it all, being selected as one of the five most beautiful women in the world by Elle in her sophomore year and setting school records en route to induction in Florida State’s Athletic Hall of Fame.
At 22, Reece turned pro, competing on a four-person Women’s Beach Volleyball League team. By 25, Reece says, she realized that playing volleyball wasn’t enough.
“I learned pretty early that if you’re going to be valuable as a commodity, you need to be authentic and you need to be able to communicate and wear different hats,” she says.
Gabby the Entrepreneur
In 1997, her team took first place at the first Beach Volleyball World Championships in Los Angeles. That year, she was selected as one of the three most influential women in sports in Women’s Sports & Fitness’ annual list. In addition, she co-wrote a book titled Big Girl in the Middle.
As her career launched, Reece competed in the 1999-2000 Olympic Challenge Series and the 1999-2000 Beach Volleyball World Tour. She began sharing her knowledge about health, fitness and nutrition with the masses through articles she wrote in Women’s Sports & Fitness, Elle and Sports for Women. She currently writes a monthly blog for Yahoo! Health and articles for Shape.
Reece, known as “Gabby,” has also produced workout kits and fitness DVDs, including her Express 15 Workout series. But perhaps her biggest business venture has been the launch of her fitness-themed website, GoToGabby.com. Reece started the website more than a year ago. The idea for the site stemmed from another realm she’d like to get into: television.
“I want to do a show; it’s called Solutions. The premise of it will be fitness and wellness,” Reece says. “We were out there pitching it, and nothing was happening. So I thought, ‘We’ll just make a website that can [show] what the idea looks like.’ You have to show people. Otherwise they don’t get it.”
When her business associates tried to persuade her to take on partners to help launch the site, Reece was determined to do it on her own.
“It’s a small risk, but I can handle that,” she says. “If I spend the money myself, I have enough confidence in what the long-term goal is that it’s an investment in myself and my career, and I have no problem with it.”
Last month, her website added a new fitness program, Train 360, the only part of the site that requires a membership fee. Members receive a new 30-minute workout every day, in addition to plenty of workout tips and fitness advice. According to Reece, the new program encapsulates her business model perfectly.
“I am here to cater to people who don’t have time, who are over-stressed,” she says. “They probably don’t have a lot of room or desire to exercise, so everything is going to be based on functionality, time and effectiveness.”
One example of creating functional products is yet another venture Reece is working on: a clothing line. The idea behind it is simple. Reece calls it “from workout to go out,” meaning women can leave the gym in clothing that leaves them feeling and looking good.
Staying true to her brand is important to Reece. That’s why her line, tentatively called Reece, will include women’s active leisure wear, bathing suits, T-shirts, long-sleeved shirts and possibly outerwear. Eventually, she’d like to branch out into makeup and clothing for men and children.
“People might buy lipstick from me in the future,” Reece says. “But first I need to prove myself in the area that I’m known for.”
Gabby the Mom
When talking about her latest ventures, Reece sounds like a seasoned businesswoman. And when she talks about her family and motherhood, she sounds like Wonder Woman. She has two daughters with husband and surfing legend Laird Hamilton, 44, and a 12-year-old stepdaughter, Izabela. Reece Viola is 4 years old, and Brody Jo is the newest member of the family, born in January.
Though it can be a tough balancing act, Reece says she brings her daughters when she travels for business.
“I recognize that as a huge perk for me,” Reece says. “Even if we have a 10-hour day, my kids are with me or within arm’s reach.”
Reece says she realizes most women entrepreneurs don’t have the same flexibility her celebrity status allows. But it’s something she appreciates and says she doesn’t take for granted.
“It’s a different kind of occupation,” Reece says. “People accommodate you. Is it fair? No, it’s not. But is it fair in my favor? Yes, it is. But it’s not about abusing it. If it’s about opening doors and opportunities then yes, it’s a great luxury.”
For Reece, thinking like an entrepreneur is a family affair. Her husband of 12 years, Hamilton, recently partnered with Steve & Barry’s to create Wonderwall, a line of surf and skate apparel featuring items priced below $15. Reece says she and Hamilton complement each other when discussing their respective ventures since he sparks creativity, while she’s more analytical.
Gabby’s Words of Wisdom
Through her business, Reece hopes to reach women not only on a fitness level, but also on a personal level. Her message speaks to women who say they don’t have time to take care of themselves.
“With Train 360, we give you everything; you have no more excuses,” Reece says. “I think it’s really easy for women to get chewed up and spit out by the process of trying to juggle it all. You have to keep yourself happy first.”
As for her future, Reece says she has no plans to slow down any time soon. And she’s not giving up on her TV pitch either.
Reece has plans to do a second round of pitching, this time with the help of a few friends. She says she coerced Cindy Crawford to join her team, in addition to Serena Altschul of MTV News.
By including others in her second shot at television, Reece is practicing what she preaches.
“Surround yourself with smart people,” she says. “You don’t have to pretend to know everything–don’t be afraid to ask for help.”
Despite her tenacious personality, Reece seems most content spending time with her family and living the aloha spirit. In fact, she and her husband are currently building another home in Hawaii on Hamilton’s native Kauai.
“Yes, I have to train, and yes, I have to be on my computer a bit, and yes, I have to make some phone calls, but I can really take advantage of this time of having a real organic experience with my kids,” Reece says. “That’s the great thing about my lifestyle.”