One of the nation’s largest pickleball dealers is located in our backyard.
Pickleball Galaxy doesn’t have the most impressive storefront. The company never intended to have a retail sales counter but local pickleball players started showing up.
“We are embracing it,” said Brandon Sleight, operations manager of Racquetworld, the parent company of Pickleball Galaxy.
Racquetworld was started in 1995 by racquetball standout Pat Bernardo, who grew the company into the largest racquetball equipment supplier in the nation. It still is. But the company’s pickleball sales are edging closer. The company sells more pickleball gear than racquetball during the summer. Shane Staats, an RPI racquetball player who was coached by Bernardo, became president of Racquetworld in 2015, after serving as vice president since 2002.
Racquetworld started hearing the pickleball buzz in 2010.
“Racquetball folks would go to Florida and come back talking about pickleball,” Sleight said.
Racquetworld bought the PickleballGalaxy.com web domain around 2013, but until 2018, visitors to the site were redirected to its Paddleballgalaxy.com website, which sold equipment for platform tennis, paddleball and some pickleball.
Meanwhile, pickleball exploded across the nation and was starting to take root in the Capital Region.
“We didn’t see how large it was getting,” Sleight said. “We missed the first wave.”
PickleballGalaxy.com finally launched in 2018. The same year, Racquetworld outgrew its home on Fuller Road in Colonie and moved to Pierce Road in Clifton Park.
Then the pandemic hit.
“It was the perfect storm,” Sleight said.
People wanted to get outside and exercise but stay socially distant. Tennis courts were available because participation in tennis has been declining. Enough people knew about pickleball to spread the game, and it was easy to learn.
“In 30 minutes, you can have a decent game, which is not the case with other racquet sports,” Sleight said. His own father set up a pickleball net in his driveway.
This time, Raquetworld caught the wave. During the initial lockdown, they upgrade PickleballGalaxy.com and started promoting pickleball.
Bernardo was an early adopter of online storefronts. He launched Racquetworld.com and started selling online in 1998, the same year Amazon expanded beyond selling books. From the start Bernardo, focused on customer service. He guaranteed 24-hour callbacks on his 1-888-SPLAT-IT toll-free line and the website offered free shipping on orders over $150. In 2004, the company moved to free 2-day shipping on orders over $150. Amazon launched Prime a year later. Today the company offers free overnight shipping on orders over $69.
Bernardo’s customer motto is “If we can’t make you happy, nobody can.”
Racquetworld’s pickleball sales have seen yearly double digit growth since 2020 and sales are still on the upward trajectory in 2023, Sleight said. Pickleball Galaxy is also one of the largest pickleball dealers on Amazon.
Their old space in Colonie used to get five or six walk-in customers a week. Now, they average 15 to 20 people per day, mostly pickleball players. Walk-ins are welcome.
The company has 15 employees and is hiring.
Their 20,000 square foot building in Clifton Park has a pickleball court lined on the warehouse floor – a dream come true for Bernardo – but the court is unusable.
It is covered with boxes filled with pickleball gear.