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Celebrating Father’s Day: The Barnes family’s path to pickleball success


By Team Selkirk

on Jun 14, 2024

Rob, Jim, Tom, and Mike Barnes stand in a park. They are standing shoulder to shoulder and are smiling at the camera.

Selkirk Sport is a family-run business, founded by brothers Mike and Rob Barnes, along with their father Jim.

Ahead of Father’s Day, the three sat down to discuss how the company began, where it is going, and how none of it would be possible without their familial bond. 

Q: Rob and Mike started their first company — a sporting goods company focused on airsoft parts and tactical gear — as high school students. Jim, what was it like to see your sons have an entrepreneurial passion at such a young age? 

Jim: It was pretty cool. They were just natural from the beginning as far as understanding business. I was pleasantly surprised by their business acumen — they did it all on their own. I was there to help open a bank account and get the business registered with the state, but all of the ideas came from them. 

Q: Where did that passion for business come from? 

Rob: We moved to Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, in 2008 and I was looking at law enforcement and I don’t think Mike knew 100% what he wanted to do yet. So Dad was the one who actually realized the great potential for business owners in the area. 

So we started taking business courses and began working on our first company as a school project. When we started, I was 17 and Mike was 15, so it was really a way to make extra money and learn, but then it was actually working — we were succeeding. 

Q: How did your dad help you along the way? 

Rob: Dad really pushed us to continue pursuing business, which I really appreciated because a lot of parents wouldn’t do that. He basically said, “You guys can either go to college and I can help you with that, or I can help you stay in business because I really think that’s going to be fruitful long term.” 

Mike: He was super encouraging and really pushed us to go the business route, especially because we liked it. He always encouraged us to stay with it, and that was huge, especially when things got tough. 

Q: You ran your first business out of your dad’s basement, what was that like? 

Rob: It wasn’t just the basement! We took over the garage and even started putting stuff in the living room. 

Jim: Yeah, once the basement and garage was full, we knew we had to get a building. At the time, that warehouse was for their airsoft company, but we had all this space, so we decided to put a pickleball court in. Then we just fell in love with the game. 

Q: Where did it go from there?

Jim: Well, I had just retired from a career as a fireman. I was retired for about three months and then we started Selkirk. 

Mike: When we started the company, pickleball wasn’t large. It wasn’t a trendy sport, but we played it as a family and we knew it was addicting. Something true in business in general is that to succeed, to some degree, you have to be a contrarian. As we got more into the sport as a family, we just knew it wasn’t a fad.

Q: What was it like starting a business in a relatively unknown industry? 

Mike: Early on, you had to be OK with doing something nobody thought would work. People didn’t think it was real or that we’d succeed, so you just had to know in your gut that it would work. And our family was always supportive of that belief. 

Rob: Truthfully, we’re only here by God’s grace. We got into the industry at the right time and place, but things could have gone wrong multiple times, and we were blessed to have things work out. 

Mike: A lot of things did go wrong — people often don’t see what it took to get here. In the first six or seven years, Rob and I made an average salary equivalent to minimum wage and Dad didn’t take a salary for two years. There were a lot of sleepless nights, but through it all, providence worked out, and we’re very thankful for that. 

Q: What is it like working with your sibling or father day-to-day? 

Jim: Terrible!  … Just kidding. Working with all my sons is great. [Mike and Rob’s younger brother Tom joined the company as the Director of Research and Design after a career in the Marine Corps] 

I’m very, very proud of them. All of my sons are completely different, but they’re all intelligent in very different ways. It’s been quite the ride to see how smart they are … I’m not actually sure where they get it from. 

Mike: We never could have done this alone. The only way it worked was with all of us because we could all focus on the areas of business we’re best at. We’ve always had our niche that contributed to the company. I think a lot of people tell you not to take partners because it can quickly turn into a nightmare, but with family, there’s always a base-level trust.

Rob: Even if we don’t always agree on something, we always can talk through it and get on the same page. At the end of the day, we know none of us are ever going to do anything to hurt each other. 

Q: This year marks Selkirk’s 10th year in the industry, which is no small feat. How did you get to this point? 

Rob: A lot of what we’re doing is looking at how we can have longevity. We are always thinking, “How can we build an ecosystem that can feed itself?” We’re not just building a product to sell a product, we’re building a brand and an ecosystem that can support itself. We are always looking at what we can do differently to break the mold and build a company that can last. 

Q: And what’s the hope for the next decade?

Jim: Retirement! 

Mike: I think we just keep coming back to the company’s mission statement: To fuel the pickleball obsession found inside every player. We're going to stay in pickleball and keep building our ecosystem to support the sport’s exponential growth. 

Q: OK, time for the last, and arguably the most important question. Working together, you each have your strengths that contribute to the overall health of the company, but inquiring minds want to know … who is better on the pickleball court? 

Jim: Me, obviously. 

Rob: Mike and I are honestly pretty even. Mike is more naturally athletic. I pick up stuff pretty quickly, but Mike has more athleticism so if he has time to practice, he usually surpasses me. 

Mike: Yeah, we’re pretty even but we play differently. I’m a little more aggressive, but I make more mistakes.

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