IS SPANNING A RANGE OF INNOVATION IN PICKLEBALL
When it comes to small family businesses, the Barnes family of Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, could be the archetypical model. Founded by brothers Rob and Mike Barnes, their father Jim, and Rob’s father-in-law, Russell Heistuman, Selkirk is an example of what a few entrepreneurs can do when their hearts are in the game.
Named after the Selkirk mountain range that stretches from the Barnes’ native Idaho into Canada, the company is the result of the family discovering pickleball, falling
in love with it, and then deciding they could make things better for everyone by building better paddles. Heistuman, a professional designer and marketer, came up with the Selkirk name, and the family went to work.
“We’ve been playing pickleball for almost eight years,” Rob said. “When we started, there wasn’t anything that you would call a brand in the space. Stuff didn’t last very long. Mike and I previously owned a business for another sport we founded when younger, so we discussed it with my father-in-law and decided we could build a lifestyle brand within the sport and offer players a more reliable, better- performing product.”
Jim Barnes had a construction business, became a fire fighter and then retired before coming out of retirement to serve as the production manager for the new business. As a supporter of his sons from the very beginning with their first sporting goods venture, started when they were just in their teens, Barnes figured out how to manufacture and distribute the Selkirk equipment to the market.
Today, Selkirk continues to manufacture its lines out of Hayden, Idaho, and is ready to face any uptick in the market that would result in a higher demand for its products.
“Pickleball is a very fast-growing sport and we’ve set ourselves up to be scalable,” Mike said. “We try to make sure that players can get our paddles from wherever they can, but, at the same time, we focus on aiming distribution toward the smaller outlets where you find people involved in community — instructors teaching lessons, bag dealers, pro shops that support their local communities.”
By being a whisper away from their market, Selkirk can actively straddle the demands of making high-end paddles for pros as well as entry-level products for beginners by focusing on the needs of both.
“We’re always pushing the limits for the highest performance and quality,” Mike said. “We were the very first company to come out with a lifetime warranty on our products, which was unprecedented at the time. Some of the unique things we did along the way to meet pro demand was design low-profile edgeguards that are lightweight and extremely durable. And we created a line of $30 polymer honeycomb paddles to grow the sport for novices. Everyone agrees that beginners using wood paddles does not set them up for success in the game and that polymer honeycomb performs better. Our entry-level, made- in-the-USA paddles should help new players better break into the sport.”
It doesn’t hurt with sales that Selkirk also has a growing stable of top-tier professional players using signature brand Selkirk paddles including Enrique Ruiz, Glen Peterson, Morgan Evans, Tyson McGuffin, Tonja Major, Miok Lee, Tony Tollenaar, Tyler Dawson, Lynn Syler, Kurtis Campbell, and Kim Jagd.
And while Selkirk is growing by leaps and bounds to meet the demands of the sport, that doesn’t mean the Barnes family is on Easy Street. The young brothers both have growing families—Rob with a 3-year-old and a 10-month- old, and Mike with a 2-month-old—manage to put in 60 to 70 hours a week and still find time for church and ultimate frisbee. Their pickleball play has been pared back to mainly tournaments, but they try to get out into the community to play when they can. They attribute their ability to keep everything in balance to a shared love of large volumes of coffee.
Despite the late hours and the unending challenges of creating paddles that meet all aspects of player demands, the Barnes family says they are loving their role in the growth of the sport.
“When we develop a paddle, we look at who are we developing for, get pro player input and then the prototyping, design... everything after that is geared toward the pros. If they like it, everyone will,” Rob said. “This is all we do. As pickleball keeps growing, it’s going to great places as it hits mass market, and the innovation over the next 10 years will be incredible. And we’ll be working hard to stay in there.”