Interview with Matt Ward
Mike Barnes — along with his brother Rob — is the Co-CEO of Selkirk Sport, a leading pickleball paddle and accessories brand based in Hayden, Idaho. Born off a passion for sport, as well as the great western outdoor leisure lifestyle, the family-owned business, located in the shadows of its namesake, the Selkirk mountain range, was founded by Mike and Rob and their father Jim. who serves as company president in 2014.
THE BARNES STORY —
From an early age, my father encouraged us to be entrepreneurial. When I was 15 and my brother Rob was 17, we had an affinity for the Airsoft game and founded our own niche sporting goods company that specialized in importing and selling Airsoft equipment direct to consumers.
While this got us started in understanding how to effectively run and operate a business from scratch, we knew this was just a starting point. Our passion for pickleball from an early age, and the lack of quality equipment available in the market sparked a new business idea.
Rob and I were avid pickleball players and firmly believed the sport required a better pickleball paddle. We decided to sell the Airsoft business and transition our focus to the sport of pickleball, and establish the premier equipment brand, Selkirk Sport.
What was the genesis in creating the company?
My brother Rob and I were introduced to the sport of pickleball and really enjoyed playing the game with family and friends, but from an early age, we were dissatisfied with the products & brands on the market. We saw a need in the market and an opportunity to take a leadership position in a growth sport by creating a better performing product & lifestyle brand.
How do you explain the success you’ve had thus far?
A company is successful when it creates value for customers. Backed by our philosophy of always pushing the limits, Selkirk Sport is committed to manufacturing products that deliver the highest performance with unmatched quality and service. Pickleball is exciting sport that combines elements of tennis, badminton, and ping pong. With over 3.5 million players, it’s one of the fastest growing sports in America.
The Selkirk Family
Who is your customer?
Like golf, pickleball is a sport for all generations. The smaller court affords players less physical impact on the body, enabling them to extend their lifetime of enjoyment of pickleball.We have entry level paddles for newcomers seeking a fun and social recreational activity, we offer paddles that integrate more advanced technology for individuals looking to improve their game, and premium niche paddles with advanced technological innovation for players seeking a competitive advantage.
Why do you think golf facilities have been drawn to pickleball?
As the popularity of pickleball continues to surge, we’ve seen a growing trend of country clubs and resorts adding pickleball to their line-up of programs. These facilities are in the service business and are always looking to provide customers with memorable experiences, while opening-up new revenue streams.
This was reinforced when Troon expressed the demand for more pickleball courts and increased programming was evident across their collection of managed facilities, and that is why we are now their first preferred pickleball partner.
Mike Barnes (left) and his brother Rob (right) have been at the forefront in building the momentum for pickleball’s continued growth
In what ways has customer feedback shaped future company actions?
We take an agile approach to business which means we try many things and then use customer and partner feedback to analyze, determine what is working, and re-evaluate next steps. We looked to the pickleball community for input prior to our recent introduction of the VANGUARD paddle, reinforcing Selkirk’s commitment to push the paddle technology limits and establish a new industry standard. We could not have accomplished this without candid feedback from the pickleball community.
Companies routinely tout the importance of customer service. Define the term and the approach followed at Selkirk.
Excellent customer service seeks to exceed customers’ expectations. To have an outstanding customer service department requires skilled customer service reps and streamlined policies & processes that enable customer service reps to provide an amazing experience. Selkirk Sport was the very first pickleball manufacturer to offer an unprecedented lifetime warranty on our high-performance paddles.
We establish and promote the genuine integrity of the family-oriented, close-knit community that is at the heart of pickleball. As we promote the sport, we redefine the way the world views pickleball and inspire every generation to participate.
Troon President and CEO Tim Schantz is joined by former LPGA star and major champion, Sherri Steinhauer, an avid pickleball player and Team Selkirk Ambassador
Given the company’s success — is there sections of the USA where pickleball is doing extremely well versus others?
The main hubs for pickleball are Arizona, Washington, Florida, California, Utah, & Texas. Since Pickleball was founded in the pacific northwest — Bainbridge Island, WA — the pickleball community is more developed on the west coast, however, the sport is expanding extremely fast and penetrating new markets across the country daily.
Our new partnership with Troon will allow us to further showcase the sport in new markets across the country, including those that have not been exposed to the pickleball surge.
Has the pandemic impacted the company’s growth?
In the early stages of the pandemic, courts across the country were closed, so we did see an initial impact to sales. However, people were looking for an activity to do with their family — in a safe and responsible way — so we saw a surge in new participants.
We also saw an uptick in the recreational paddle sales, a trend that supports newcomers entering the game, as pickleball is an activity for the entire family. The PPA TOUR and APP TOUR are back in action, and can’t wait to showcase the best players in the world at the 2021 USA Pickleball National Championships at the acclaimed Indian Wells Tennis Garden this coming November.
Pickleball’s success has gained serious momentum through its involvement with golf facilities int he far west and is now spreading nationwide
The biggest challenges facing Selkirk — short and long term — is what?
In 2021, Selkirk will hit an inflection point as we introduce many new products, brands, and programs. Managing the change and growth will be the short-term challenge. Our focus long-term will shift towards growing pickleball across the world and entering international markets. Moreover, as pickleball continues to surge worldwide, more and more competition will come into the market.
Best advice you ever received — what was it and who from?
My dad said, “If you never make mistakes, you probably aren’t doing anything.” Most individuals limit what they try to achieve so that they reduce risk of failure and do a perfect job. In an entrepreneurial environment, you must always attempt to accomplish more than your time, experience, or knowledge would seem to limit you by.