Saturday, January 28, 2023

From the Magazine: Courting Success with Swinton Pickleball

Two business-minded moms from Delray develop a playful brand for a playful sport

Here’s one for the “what’s in a name?” file: Pickleball is not actually named after the enterprising family dog of the game’s creator, Joel Pritchard of Bainbridge Island, Washington. Pritchard coined in the term in 1965, after bringing home some friends for a game of badminton and, unable to procure a shuttlecock, improvised an alternate court game with a lower net and a perforated plastic ball instead.

Pritchard did indeed own a dog named Pickles, but the pooch joined the family two years after Pritchard’s makeshift invention. But the mythology of Pickles discovering and bringing home what would become the pickleball persists. To paraphrase John Ford’s movie “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance,” “when the legend becomes fact, print the legend.”

And so, a dog figures prominently in the branding of Swinton Pickleball, a new line of colorful balls, paddles, bags, apparel, towels, sunglasses and “Après Pickleball Cups” for postgame socializing. The brand’s official logo features a pup leaping to catch the bouncing ball, and it employs youthful taglines like “I’m a pickle-ballah.” For the founders of Swinton Pickleball, Delray Beach entrepreneurs Carly Bellis, 42, and Courtney Campbell, 40, their gear is one way to send a message that pickleball is more than a pastime for retirees.

Before they discovered the sport, Campbell says, “we toggled between, it’s for old people, and I don’t really have any idea what this is. But what we were expecting when we got to the courts was not what was waiting for us. It was a lot younger, a lot more energy, a lot more excitement around the sport. It was a 180 from tennis in the sense of how serious it is.”

Campbell is right. I met the founders during a midsummer swelter at Delray Beach Tennis Center. Plenty of tennis courts were available, but all but one of the pickleball courts were occupied with pickle-ballahs from just about every generation paddling and punching and dinking in the early-evening heat, howling and laughing to classic rock piped in from overhead speakers. The hushed concentration of competitive tennis was nowhere to be heard.

“I think it’s been the best kept secret of the older generations, and finally the younger generations have clued into it,” Bellis says. “We all got out there and played it, and then realized how much fun it was, and hopped on board.”

For Bellis and Campbell, this transformation happened only a few months into the pandemic. Like Joel Pritchard, they and their husbands set out to play another net sport—in this case, tennis—for their weekly Thursday night foursome at Delray Beach Tennis Center. But the courts were wet, so they tried pickleball instead. Like many first-timers, they picked up the rules quickly, and appreciated the game’s fast learning curve. About a year later, they are both accomplished players, visiting the courts at least weekly, always with their own product line.

According to Bellis, they invented the gear they couldn’t find from other retailers. “It was very bland,” she says, of the material on the market. “Everything looked the same. Nothing jumped out at us as, ‘this looks fun, I want to own that.’ It was just checking a box of getting the equipment. … We wanted to make it as fun as the sport itself.”

The co-founders, who met through their children—they each have two—complement themselves well, on and off the court. Bellis has an e-commerce background, having created brands such Not My Mama’s, a line of personal skin care products targeted to teens and tweens. For the past 12 years, Campbell has run Campbell Creative, a boutique branding and positioning agency with local and national clients.

“It’s a very seamless—there’s very little overlap in terms of skill set, in a good way,” Campbell says. “She can do in two seconds what it would take me 20 years to do. On the flipside, I’m able to tap into things that have worked in other industries or other brands that we’re partnering with, and utilize some of those things.”

At the time of this writing, most sales were arriving through word-of-mouth exposure on the courts; Campbell and Bellis had yet to pursue brick-and-mortars or online ad blitzes, though new visitors to their site (swintonpickleball.com) earn 10 percent off their first order.

For now, it seems, their focus is, like their name, local. “It’s very new, and it took off very quickly, and for us, it’s kind of riding that momentum of what’s happening online and digitally, and getting it to people, and seeing where it takes us. … If it became bigger than the brands we started first, we’d be thrilled.”

This story is from the February 2022 issue of Boca magazine. For more like this, click here to subscribe to the magazine.

John Thomason
John Thomason
As the A&E editor of bocamag.com, I offer reviews, previews, interviews, news reports and musings on all things arty and entertainment-y in Palm Beach, Broward and Miami-Dade counties.

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