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A ‘Special’ Retail Opportunity

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As a fast-growing sport still in its infancy, pickleball presents a unique opportunity for retailers. There are plenty of brands to work with, and an influx of new players seeking product.

And according to respondents in our most recent consumer survey of active adults who play pickleball, sports specialty and run specialty stores rank high on the list of potential shopping destinations for those looking to buy pickleball products. Tom Vladimir, a Boca Raton, FL-based specialty retailer whose business includes both a running shop, Runner’s Edge, and a tennis shop, Tennis Anyone, which are connected at one address, has been selling pickleball products for more than two years. He says demand for it took off in his community once public courts were built.

“The sport is in its infancy, so you can see it learning to grow,” says Vladimir. He notes that product options have evolved rapidly, but still likely have plenty of room for growth. The first equipment item customers usually come in to get is a paddle. Most opt for a racquet in the $60-range rather than a higher-end choice — “many aren’t taking it too seriously quite yet.” 

The pickleball item that customers are most particular about is the ball, he says. There are different types of balls for indoor and outdoor play, and pickleballs from different brands have different textures. “People are extremely particular about it, even more so than in tennis,” says Vladimir. He adds, “Also, bags are very popular, and apparel for pickleball. People like to advertise their sport on bags, hats, shirts.”

His store has “a big section just for pickleball,” and Vladimir says overall the category has been very successful for his business, “definitely a growth opportunity.” Players who began playing two years ago have come in as repeat customers, and newcomers to the sport continue to flow in. “People are being introduced to a sport they’ve never tried, and they need equipment and shoes,” he says. 

Specialty running stores who may not be ready to carry equipment, are seeing opportunity in footwear. Several Fleet Feet stores are stocking and marketing footwear styles to their customers as pickleball options, and touting it on social media. And Michigan-based Playmakers, a run and sport specialty store, also reports seeing demand for pickleball shoes. 

Playmakers co-owner Lindsey Mulder says the shop carries Diadora’s Trofeo pickleball shoe in addition to a variety of court shoes, to cater to pickleball customers. “We’ve carried court shoes for many years as a complement to our running, walking and cross-training offerings,” she notes. “Over the last couple of years, we have seen an increase in requests for court shoes from those who are playing pickleball. Specifically, the demographics seems to have broadened for this sport and that’s increasing the requests.”

For now, Playmakers is sticking to shoes, and not getting into the pickleball equipment business. Says Mulder, “My general thoughts about the opportunities for other retailers to get involved with this sport would be if it compliments offerings that you already provide, such as court shoes, then I think it can make a lot of sense.”

Pickleball shoes are similar to tennis shoes but often feature reinforced areas on the toe and ball of the foot where pickleball players tend to put wear and tear on footwear. Vladimir says that feature, along with pickleball-specific logos or brands appeals to pickleball customers looking for footwear.

Overall, for retailers looking to grow in a difficult time, Vladimir describes pickleball as “a huge opportunity.” He notes, “It is not dominated by any one particular brand. Go on a pickleball court and everyone has on a different shoe and is using a different paddle. There are a lot of companies fighting for market share, but it will take some time to figure out who the leaders are in the sport. As a retailer, you have the opportunity to work with a lot of different vendors in pickleball.”

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Jul 29, 2022

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