Professional pickleball player and instructor KaSandra Marie Gehrke, founder of EmpowHer Pickleball, is on a mission to create an inclusive pickleball community for women. The organization’s women’s-only camps, clinics and retreats are designed to foster athletic excellence as well as personal growth and confidence.

But Gehrke’s involvement with the sport doesn’t end there. She also serves as pickleball manager with PHIT America, where her primary focus is to promote physical activity and healthy lifestyles for children. 

“Together, these roles allow me to make a significant impact by encouraging more people to take up pickleball, fostering a love for the sport and advocating for healthier, more active lifestyles through my partnership with PHIT America,” she tells Running Insight.

When it comes to running specialty retailers selling pickleball, Gehrke is an enthusiastic advocate. “The popularity of pickleball has been surging, especially among women of all ages,” she says. “This sport is not only fun and engaging, but also provides excellent cardiovascular exercise, making it a natural complement to running. By offering pickleball products, retailers can attract a broader customer base and meet the evolving fitness needs of their clientele.” 

Gehrke finds that women are looking for ways to stay active and healthy. “Pickleball offers a fantastic blend of social interaction, mental challenge and physical activity, making it an appealing option,” she says. “By catering to this interest, running specialty stores can enhance their product offerings, providing everything from paddles and balls to apparel and accessories specifically for female athletes.” 

What Women Picklers Want

She also strongly believes that the pickleball category represents a significant area of growth for running stores, simply because as more women embrace pickleball, the demand for high-quality products will continue to rise. 

“Retailers who tap into this market early can establish themselves as go-to destinations for all things pickleball, thereby driving new sales and fostering customer loyalty,” Gehrke says. “In essence, expanding into pickleball products not only aligns with the fitness goals of many women, but also presents a strategic opportunity for growth and diversification for running specialty retailers.”

Although pickleball participation is starting to trend younger, women ages 50 to 70 still comprise an important piece of the market and they shop for pickleball products in a variety of places. 

“This demographic tends to look for high-quality, reliable and accessible options. They typically shop at specialty sporting goods stores, online retailers, local pickleball clubs and community centers, major sporting goods retailers, as well as at pickleball tournaments and events,” says Gehrke. 

However, she points to run specialty stores’ unique ability offer high-quality products, expert advice and a supportive community environment that enhances the overall pickleball experience. 

“Running specialty stores are staffed by knowledgeable professionals who understand the importance of proper footwear, apparel and equipment for optimal performance and injury prevention,” she says. Plus, they provide personalized recommendations and often carry premium brands, making them a reliable source for gear that helps maintain an active lifestyle.

“From my own experience, running specialty stores are centered around promoting an active and healthy lifestyle, which aligns perfectly with the interests of older women engaging in pickleball to stay fit, healthy and socially connected,” she continues. 

“For the EmpowHer Pickleball community, the personalized customer service ensures that older women receive the attention and assistance they need, whether it’s finding the right paddle, apparel or accessories. These stores also foster a sense of community through events, clinics and group activities, allowing older women to connect with like-minded individuals and participate in local events.”

Selling the Sport To Women

To better sell pickleball products to women of all ages, Gehrke recommends that running retailers create dedicated sections that highlight the sport’s benefits and appeal, with an emphasis on women’s-specific products. Engaging displays with clear signage, educational materials highlighting the health benefits of the game, and demonstrations and trial opportunities can attract interest, too. 

Hosting in-store events, clinics or meet-and-greet sessions with local female pickleball players can also foster a sense of community and encourage women to explore and invest in the sport,” she recommends. “Most importantly, build relationships with people like me who are helping to foster a supportive community for women to engage in and enjoy this sport.”

In serving older women, running retailers should understand this demographic’s unique needs and preferences. “Women in this [50-70] age group often seek products that prioritize comfort, support and injury prevention, which may differ from the typical running gear,” says Gehrke. 

“Additionally, retailers need to create a welcoming and inclusive store environment, offer personalized customer service and provide educational resources about pickleball. Effective merchandising that highlights the benefits of specific products for older women, coupled with staff knowledgeable about pickleball, can help overcome these challenges and better serve this growing market segment.”

In the grand scheme, says Gehrke, “the sense of camaraderie and connection formed on the pickleball courts is invaluable, contributing significantly to the sport’s appeal among women. It’s not just about playing a game, it’s about building friendships, boosting confidence and creating a positive community that extends beyond the courts.”