Court Connections: Founded with a commitment to community, Selkirk Sport leaders reflect on 10 years in the industry

Mar 11, 2024

Court Connections: Founded with a commitment to community, Selkirk Sport leaders reflect on 10 years in the industry

When most teenagers head to the basement of their parent’s house, they’re going to play video games or watch movies. But when Selkirk Sport co-founders Rob and Mike Barnes descended the stairs in their dad’s basement, they entered the headquarters of their first company.

At the ages of 15 and 17, respectively, Mike and Rob embarked on their entrepreneurial path, founding a sporting goods company focused on airsoft parts and tactical gear.

By ages 16 and 18, the two had received their GEDs and committed to the business full-time, often putting in 70-80 hour work weeks. They were so dedicated that they each took only a $500 paycheck each month, investing the rest back into their business.

“We did the math one time and for the first eight or nine years of our career, we were making less than minimum wage,” Mike said. “But we loved it. We loved what we were doing and we learned a lot.”

As their business acumen grew, the brothers stumbled across pickleball in 2010. They immediately fell in love with the game.

“We started playing 14 years ago before anyone even knew what the industry was,” Rob said. “We were playing on gym floors with wooden paddles. There were a few mom-and-pop brands, but we recognized the need for a lifestyle and performance brand in the industry.

Selkirk Sport, the early days

In 2014, the pickleball industry was nascent, with only a handful of companies, mostly small family operations, offering wooden paddles. Selkirk Sport, however, was founded with a different vision in mind.

"We had a mindset to do things differently, to take calculated risks," Rob reflects on the company’s early approach. “We wanted to approach everything with an agile mindset, listening to the demands of the players.”

So, the brothers began developing paddles made with new materials, such as fiberglass and graphite to better support the burgeoning sport.

"We were the first brand to integrate technology into our products, to innovate beyond what was expected," Mike said. “It was sort of shocking to the industry in those early days.”

But it’s that innovative spirit, and focus on customer needs, that the brothers credit to the company’s ability to remain a lasting top brand despite the emergence of more than 500 pickleball brands.

A commitment to innovation

At its core, Selkirk Sport is deeply committed to growing the game of pickleball. Of course, this is first reflected in its equipment offerings.

That’s why in 2022 the company launched Selkirk Labs, a program designed to involve the community in product development through testing and feedback. That feedback is then used to craft and improve paddle technology to accommodate the needs of players.

"We aim to meet the needs of the everyday enthusiast, not just the professionals," Rob said. “At the end of the day, we want to build the best product at every level, and to do that, you have to focus on who you’re making the product for. It’s the only way to make sure they truly succeed on the court.”

Although first reflected in Labs products, these innovations are typically incorporated into Selkirk Sport’s main line, which is hand-crafted in the U.S.

Supporting the pickleball community

But Selkirk also wanted to meet the educational and communal needs of players. In 2021, the company debuted Selkirk TV as a free app that featured professional tour live streams and on-demand tutorials from some of the most accomplished coaches and players in the world.

Through a variety of sponsorship programs, Selkirk supports players across all levels and age ranges, providing them with essential equipment and financial support for competition travel.

The company’s Advocate program plays a crucial role in promoting pickleball in local communities, with brand ambassadors working tirelessly to expand the sport's reach. To date, Selkirk Advocates have participated in several initiatives to grow the game globally and among niche communities.

Moreover, the Selkirk Growth program focuses on donating equipment to underserved communities, schools, and non-profits. The company also regularly partners with charities to support causes important to its community members.

“We have a mission to fuel the pickleball obsession found inside every player, and we want to do that in whatever way we can,” Rob said.

After 10 years in the industry, Rob and Mike are looking forward to continuing innovation in paddles, equipment, and educational offerings.

"We are incredibly grateful to everyone who has been part of this journey," Mike reflected. "One of the best parts of our jobs is getting to work with so many dedicated, enthusiastic pickleball players. This truly is the best community to be a part of and we are so excited for the future.” 

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Court Connections in March sponsored by Selkirk Sport