Franklin Talks Pickleball
Talking with Franklin Sports President Adam Franklin.
Q: Franklin Sports has been making a variety of sporting goods products for more than 70 years. When did you launch your pickleball products and how did the company’s involvement in the sport come about?
“We are always keeping an eye on industry trends and sports that are growing as far as participation goes. We started to see a growth trend in pickleball year-over-year that was unlike any other sport in that its participation was growing by 20-to-30 percent year-over-year. It is beyond incredible.
We initially partnered with Walmart and developed a starter program for the sport of pickleball. We have since walked away from the program at Walmart because we wanted to focus on specialty retailers and team dealers. Our business is really geared for that channel.
We have been in the sport of pickleball for four years now.”
How did you develop the ball you offer for pickleball?
“We looked at the ball for the sport as something we could center our pickleball business around. We spent two years testing and re-testing as we innovated the ball. We worked with many pro pickleball athletes and avid players getting feedback. We worked with our factory to test the durability of the ball. It took us around two years of R&D so that we could make a ball we were confident in bringing to market. We feel confident that we have the best ball in the sport and one that will ultimately make the sport better and a more enjoyable sport to not only play but to watch. [Editor’s note: pickleball is played both indoors and outdoors with a plastic ball that slightly resembles a whiffle ball — the outdoor ball has 40 holes, while Franklin’s indoor ball has 26 holes.]
What other products do pickleball players need and how are your products different from the competition?
“At the basic level every player needs a paddle and every player needs a ball. What we suggest is best for retailers just getting into the sport is that you don’t need to carry the more expensive paddles. Franklin has found its niche and been super successful in building out a line of really good quality paddles at opening price points — $10, $20 and $30 price points. So if you are a dealer with one store looking to get into pickleball and you say ‘what do I need to carry?’ I’d say you should carry obviously our balls but then also an assortment of our different wood and aluminum opening price point paddles. We also have a strong starter paddle that retails for $50 to $60 and that’s for somebody to graduate to. The most expensive paddle we sell is $100 and it was designed with the no. 1 pickleball player in the world, Ben Johns, who we have a partnership with.”
Are retailers embracing pickleball?
“Every single one of our sporting goods retailers is carrying pickleball currently. Some of the big box stores, like Dick’s Sporting Goods and Academy, have carved out pickleball sections in the majority of their stores. Many of our team dealers and sporting goods retail partners are buying opening price point paddles and balls and seeing success.”
What advice do you have for retailers just getting on board with the sport of pickleball?
“Store managers need to be aware of customers asking about pickleball products and realize that you don’t need to jump into the sport at the high end with an expensive product. If a retailer came to me today and said ‘we want to get into pickleball, what should we buy?’ I’d put together a $250 opening buy of an assortment of balls and paddles that would make them comfortable that they are in the sport and able to say ‘yes we carry pickleball.’ The price points are low enough that it is not a big investment go from there and then learn what your customer is interested in. Listen to their feedback. See if people are interested in better paddles at higher price points. There is also an opportunity to create a demo program. If a dealer wanted to reach out us, they could use our paddles as demos so people can try and touch and feel the paddles and decide if they want to buy them or not.”
Where do you see the sport of pickleball headed in the next 5-10 years?
“It started in the 55-plus community and is rapidly trending down in age. Schools are adding pickleball to PE. Cities and towns are adding it to their parks and rec departments. Tennis courts are being converted to pickleball courts at a rapid pace all over the country.
I think the sport will double in size as far as participation goes and there will be more and more elite professional pickleball players. On the pro side, there will be more money in the sport and tournaments will offer more prize money. Ultimately there will be more sponsorship dollars once TV gets behind the sport more.
Franklin has just launched a major pro tournament, the Franklin Pickleball Masters, that was held in Kansas City. We awarded over $50,000 in prize money. We hope to continue to drive the prize money of that event up and up. There needs to be a significant increase in prize money on the pro level for it to take off professionally, and we want to be one of the ones ushering that into the sport.”