Pickleboom: Explosion in pickleball’s popularity leads to business opportunity
Vigil-led company to make sport clothing line; North Idaho manufacturer grows with trendMay 11th, 2023
The surge in pickleball popularity in the Inland Northwest has sparked growth in business ventures from entrepreneurs making sports gear and clothing for the sport’s aficionados.
Hayden-based Selkirk Sports, a pickleball focused company founded in 2014, has been doubling in growth every year, with a projected annual revenue now expected to total in the “tens of millions,” says the co-owner Jim Barnes.
Now, 56-year-old journalist Stephanie Vigil plans to sign off for KHQ-TV one last time in June and embark on her new venture, a line of pickleball clothing through PKL LLC, which does business as VGL Gear, a play on her last name and an acronym for “very good life,” she says.
“I always dreamt of being a journalist and loved every minute of it,” says Vigil. “But I also love every minute of this and feel like it’s a perfect transition into the next phase of my life.”
Pickleball is described as a blend of pingpong, badminton, and tennis. It’s played on a small court with paddles and a whiffle-like ball. It was created in Bainbridge Island, Washington, in 1965. In 2023, for the third consecutive year, pickleball was named the fastest growing sport by the Sports and Fitness Industry Association.
According to a report by the Association of Pickleball Professionals, more than 36.5 million people played pickleball during the 12-month period ending August 2022. Also, last year, Gov. Jay Inslee signed a bill into law making pickleball the official sport of Washington state.
Ashley Blake, CEO of Spokane Sports Commission, says pickleballers are among the most enthusiastic groups she has come across.
The flooring at Spokane’s newest indoor sports facility, The Podium Powered by STCU, isn’t compatible with pickleball courts, Blake says. However, there is talk of creating a whiffle-like ball that would be compatible with the Podium’s snap-sport flooring, she adds.
Vigil’s vision for the line of clothing blends style and design and communicates her message of having a very good life. The clothes will be sold online, and Vigil says she’s talking with business owners to get the product in shops.
She has partnered with Spokane-based designer, Jesse Scheller; Spokane-based artist Ben Joyce, known for his emphasis on topographical-inspired art; and Brayden Jessen, owner of Spokane-based Zome Design, which produces custom merchandise at his facility in the Spokane Business & Industrial Park, in Spokane Valley.
Although not in production yet, Vigil says the VGL line will have several lifestyle themes, including one dedicated to San Diego, where she first began playing the sport.
Vigil says prices for her products will start at $29. She plans to add more custom lines as she grows and to keep reinvesting in VGL without taking any profit for at least a year in order to grow to compete with other quality brands vying for the attention of pickleball players.
She first played in October while visiting her sons in San Diego. She says she went from never playing the sport to playing every day. An athlete her whole life, Vigil says the added draw to the sport for her has been the social aspect.
“I just had so much fun meeting people, and I was like, everybody needs to know pickleball,” she says.
Vigil says the company will launch into production in the coming weeks to coincide with her departure from KHQ-TV.
Joe Perella, Spokane ambassador for USA Pickleball and founder of PNW Pickleball, says players are looking forward to Vigil’s clothing line.
“We love Stephanie’s energy, and she is so much fun on the courts,” he says. “Players are looking forward to her clothing line and involvement with our growing community of players.”
Perella, who is semiretired, says he began to play pickleball in 2017 for its health and wellness benefits. He founded PNW Pickleball as a way to advocate for the sport and work with city and county parks departments to create dedicated pickleball courts.
Perella says there are many draws to the sport, including its easy entry that allows for a large range in age of players.
“Pickleball transcends age,” he says. “A grandson can easily play with his grandfather.”
When Vigil returned home to Spokane from San Diego last fall, she began covering the University of Idaho murders and decided she wanted to transition her life away from reporting difficult news to spending more time with her sons and focusing on playing pickleball and creating a line of clothing.
“Looking online for clothes, it was all very tongue-in-cheek, a little quirky,” she says. “I wanted something more like, what would Tom Brady wear? Because, you know, he just bought a pickleball team.”
She adds that she isn’t the only one developing a line of pickleball clothing.
Barnes says his women’s pickleball clothing line, dubbed Avalee after his two granddaughters, has been growing faster than the men’s clothing.
“There’s a lot of area for growth (in the industry),” says Barnes. “Especially if you have a good product.”
Selkirk Sports has 60 local employees and 10 remote workers. The company’s pickleball paddles are made with carbon fiber and range in price from $50 to $350, says Barnes.
About 400 pickleball paddle companies have cropped up in recent years, and Barnes contends most are jumping on a trend.
Selkirk Sports is one of about four companies that develop and produce paddles in the U.S.
“A lot of those (companies) will come and go,” he says. “It takes time and expense. We’ve established a strong foundation.”
While it might be too early to calculate the potential economic impact of pickleball here, the city of Opelika, Alabama, which has a population of only 31,000, and a 12-court pickleball facility, estimated the economic impact of pickleball tournaments there at $2 million for 2022, according to the Selkirk Sports website.
Currently, there are no dedicated pickleball courts in the city of Spokane. Instead, the city has drawn pickleball court lines inside of tennis courts and has a lockbox system where pickleball nets are stored and people can rent and set up on their own courts at some parks.
“There are about 110 players to one court (nationwide),” says Perella.
Perella says he is working with Spokane County, which is set to install eight permanent pickleball courts at Holmberg Park, just north of Spokane.
“They have the funds and are going out to bid in July,” he says.
Tom Darzes, Coeur d’Alene ambassador for Pickleball USA, says the Inland Northwest Pickleball Club, established in 2018, has 453 paid members and has grown by 77% since January 2021.
“The draw is that it’s a pretty easy sport, social, competitive, and available to older people,” he says.
Darzes has been playing pickleball for six years and received his coaching certification from the Professional Pickleball Registry, in Hilton Head Island, South Carolina, a few years ago. He says at least three organizations provide certification.
In Coeur d’Alene, like most of the country, there is also a deficit of pickleball courts, with only four dedicated pickleball courts and several temporary courts in the city, Darzes says.
Vigil says she wants to work to help build the pickleball community. Although she will be spending more time in San Diego, she says Spokane is her home. As part of her mission through VGL, she hopes to build pickleball courts in underserved communities and schools.
“I want to be in a positive environment where people are having fun, where people are connecting and socializing, and they feel they are a part of a community,” she says.