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    Get 2 Know get2Eleven

    The Ultimate Destination for Pickleball Gear

    In the fast-growing world of pickleball, get2Eleven has quickly established itself as a premier destination for top-tier equipment. At the heart of this innovative company is Tony Rihan, a passionate entrepreneur with a vision to revolutionize the retail experience for pickleball players. 

    In this exclusive interview, we sit down with Tony to explore his entrepreneurial journey, the driving force behind get2Eleven, and the impact the store is making on the pickleball equipment market. Tony shares his insights on how get2Eleven is not only providing players with cutting-edge gear, but also fostering a deeper connection within the vibrant pickleball community. 

    From the inception of his entrepreneurial career to the innovative strategies that set get2Eleven apart, Tony’s story is one of dedication, innovation, and a relentless pursuit of excellence in the world of pickleball.

    leland orfield

    By Leland Orfield – 05/30/2024

    Before we dive into the world of pickleball, tell me a little bit about your background as an entrepreneur and what ultimately led you to start get2eleven.

    Tony: Let me tell you a little bit of background. So I come from a very entrepreneurial family. My dad was an incredible entrepreneur and an incredible human being. He started three huge companies. He was one of the investors in Crayola crayons and he also founded Wearever Pen, which was the 10th largest pen company in the world when we sold it to Paper Mate. I think we were making 1.2 million pens every day when my dad sold it. 

    The reason I’m telling you this is because when I was starting my business career, I was originally a golfer. I broke my knee in a motorcycle accident, so I started playing golf because I couldn’t play tennis anymore. Because of my dad’s partnership with Fortune Brands, I got the opportunity to sell Titleist and FootJoy, and they gave me the opportunity to be this distributor for Mexico and some parts of Latin America. So we did that, while I still have that company, that company is 38 years old.

    So, I still have two golf companies, and in finance, I started trading derivatives. And I was very lucky to meet one of the nicest human beings in the US: Tom Sosnoff. I’m currently partners with him and a company called Tastytrade in Chicago, which was voted the best online broker in the US last year. 

    I also wrote two trading books back in 2013. They became best sellers on Amazon for a little while in the options category. I love trading options and derivatives; and I also love golf.

    Get2ElevenShop 1
    get2Eleven's storefront is connected to Bobby Riggs Racket and Paddle Club, featuring 22 dedicated pickleball courts.

    How did you end up branching off into the pickleball equipment market after so many years of success in the golf industry?

    Tony: Last year, one of my neighbors told me, “Tony, you’re very good at selling golf equipment. Why don’t you sell pickleball?” I said, “What? What is pickleball?” I didn’t even know what pickleball was. 

    So he says, “Hey, I have a court here a block away from my house in La Jolla. Yeah. And I live very close to La Jolla Beach and Tennis, so I went and played pickleball. And I loved it. I actually fell and hurt myself, the first day, I got all scraped up and everything, but I really loved the game. 

    I used to play ping pong and tennis when I was younger. So I mean, I wasn’t a complete idiot, but I didn’t know anything.

    The way I grew my golf business was from the ground up, doing a lot of demo days and fittings and growing organically. So I said, “What the hell, I’m going to try to replicate my golf success with pickleball.” December 15, five days later, my son who’s very smart, he works in AI and digital assets, he created a GPT chatbox LLM just for pickleball. 

    So I started asking questions, I said, find me a name that doesn’t have the word pickleball in it. My company is called Golf Express, so I didn’t want it to be like Pickleball Warehouse, Pickleball Central, Pickleball Superstore. And then Chat GPT came up with get2eleven. 

    At first, I didn’t really understand why get2eleven. Then I realized that oh, you play to 11 point blah, blah, blah. So I had the idea December 10th, and by December 15, we registered the trademark. To make long story short, March 17, 92 days later, we launched the get2eleven website, and we already had hundreds of thousands of dollars in inventory. 

    A little less than 60 days after that, May 12 Mother’s Day, we opened our first brick-and-mortar shop at Bobby Riggs, which is the number one pickleball club in Southern California. So it’s been pretty fast.

    If you ask me why I did it at my old age of 56, it’s for my kids. You see, all my business success, my kids were too young to see it. I was able to see my dad’s success of working really, really hard hours and sacrificing a lot of free time to accomplish something. 

    And so I want to do this and try to be successful as a learning experience for my kids. Because you can tell them whatever you want, but if they see it in person, I think it’s more important to show than to just use words. So that’s that’s how get2eleven got started.

    What motivated you to open a physical storefront after having an online presence? How has the transition been so far?

    Tony: You see, manufacturers now will not allow any new online stores if you don’t have a brick and mortar. So, I was kind of forced into doing it.

    And we’re about to hopefully get into the second or the number one club in San Diego in terms of number of players. So hopefully with these two doors, we would have the San Diego and and Southern California area covered, I think. 

    There’s another great store in Los Angeles called Santa Monica Pickleball. Julio, one of the owners, was so kind to me. I visited his shop and he gave me so much advice. I really can’t thank him enough. He told me what to do, what not to do, and I have followed a little bit of his advice. 

    He’s the number one guy in Southern California right now, and we’re not at his level yet. So it’s incredible how a competitor will share and try to support you in a new venture. So I’m very grateful to them.

    The demo wall at get2Eleven features over 120 different paddles to test out before you buy.

    What sets Get2Eleven apart from other pickleball equipment stores, both online and at your store in Encinitas?

    Tony: My dad had this great saying, he didn’t call something ugly, he called it primitive. So most pickleball shops that I’ve visited, I think they’re primitive. They’re very well stocked some of them, but they’re not a shopping experience. 

    There’s this brand called Vuori. It’s very trendy apparel, like Lululemon or Alo. That’s a So Cal brand and the stores are gorgeous. So I tried to find out who the architects and designers for their stores are and I found the company. I hired them to create a shopping experience for pickleball even though they’ve never done a pickleball shop before. 

    Number one, we wanted to create a very nice shopping experience. One of the walls is just a demo wall. We have over 120 different demo paddles. Because I come from the golf business and you’re not going to spend 250 bucks on something if you don’t try it, right. 

    And so we’re very big on demoing and I wanted to create an experience that really overwhelms people and right now I don’t even have enough hooks for the new paddles that are coming in. We just added Thrive and Head as vendors in our stores, and I don’t know where am I going to hang them. 

    During my journey, I visited a lot of stores and no one had this variety and assortment of the hot paddles. Everything from $50 to $280, for power or control; all around I wanted to have everything available. I know a lot of them are going to be slow-moving, but people like choice I believe. If you go into a store that has everything, it makes it a more enjoyable experience.

    Right now, for example, we’re negotiating with sunscreen company that’s very fancy that’s owned by I think Gwyneth Paltrow, and it’s very high and very attractive. So that’s the type of product I want to showcase to our customers. Stuff that’s not very expensive, but is high quality. And, if we carry it in the store, it means somebody really vetted the product. And you know, it’s there for a reason. So that’s the type of experience we want to create.

    How do you engage with the pickleball community, both locally and online? Do you sponsor events, host tournaments, or offer any special programs?

    Tony: Locally, I’ve been doing a lot of demo days in different venues. Here in Southern California, after my MBA, I lived in Japan for a while, and Japanese people have this thing called voice of the consumer. 

    There’s nothing like talking to real customers, so I’ve been going personally to all the demo days and talking to as many consumers as possible to learn what they like, what they don’t like, what brands are hot, and what brands have a cult following.

    During the demo days, I noticed that these small, niche brands have a cult following, soI want to carry them just in case a guy comes in and asks for it. That’s how we’re connecting locally with demo days, and on the internet we are doing a lot of SEO and a little bit of pay-per-click advertising.

    That’s why I reached out to you guys, because I like your publication. Maybe if somebody reads about us and learns our history, they won’t be fearful of purchasing from us because there are so many fake sites on the Internet.

    Get2ElevenShop 5
    The entrance to the get2Eleven store at Bobby Briggs Racket and Paddle Club

    What are some of the biggest challenges you’ve faced in the pickleball retail industry, and how have you overcome them?

    Tony: The biggest challenge was getting approved by the manufacturers. The second one was the fact that I really didn’t know about pickleball at first. It’s impossible to sell something if you don’t go deep in the weeds. 

    So I’m watching PPA tournaments. I went to the Masters in Palm Springs and Palm Desert, and I’m watching all the paddle reviews. I’m watching the pickleball podcasts like King of the Court and Zane Navratil. So I’m overdosing on Pickleball content, too, because how can I connect with a pickleball consumer if I don’t understand it myself? So that’s mainly what I’m trying to become, one of the addicts, to be able to provide to the other addicts.

    I think that’s why I was successful in this business because I loved golf. So I really knew exactly what shafts were like and if you wrap your grip with one extra wrap on the left hand. It’s all the little things, like how to put the lead tape correctly on your paddle. How to balance the paddle. And if you put it here, what’s the effect if you put the weight on top? So those types of things; I’m really enjoying learning and becoming an expert in pickleball.

    What advice would you give to someone looking to start a niche retail business, particularly in the sports equipment industry?

    Tony: I’m gonna tell you two things: one from my dad, and one from my experience in Japan. 

    My dad used to say, “Action is more important than the idea.” Everybody has ideas. I think maybe one bad personality trait that I have, or maybe it’s a good one, is when I have an idea, I immediately take action. I don’t keep it in my mind. You see it in get2eleven: I got the idea on December 10, December 15 we have the brand, and 90 days later, everything came together. 

    So that scares a lot of people, right? Maybe I have the capital to do it, but I’m still risking hundreds and thousands of dollars on stuff I didn’t even fully know. So take action; don’t keep your ideas inside. 

    Number two is Japanese people are so successful because they make a decision, and even if it’s the wrong decision, they say, “A wrong decision or a bad decision can be fixed.” You cannot fix a non-decision. 

    So it goes to the same thing: If you don’t take action, you’re not going to go anywhere. This world belongs to the people that take action, that do things. I’m sorry, I’ve got to say this: Do shit! Anything, just do it. 

    I made mistakes buying, but I always knew I can fix it. If I didn’t take action, how would I be able to open my shop If I didn’t have any product or if I didn’t negotiate the deal with the vendors? So I encourage people to not be afraid and take action. 

    That classic saying that you should do what you love – if you ask me, it’s a little bit of BS, and you have to do something that makes money. If something that makes money is also something that you love, that’s great. But you will not love something that you keep putting your thousands of hours into and you keep losing money; you will never love that.

    In fact, something that you love might become something you hate. For example, I like eating bread and pastries, but I would never open a bakery. Because I don’t want to hate my job. I just want to go and eat my chocolate croissant or my scone.

    Deep down, of course, I’m worried about competing with the monopolies in pickleball. But I know where they can’t compete with me, because I don’t see the billionaires going to the demo days in person. I’m talking to the consumers. I don’t see them talking to the vendors one by one; I don’t see them connecting with the community. 

    For example, we are doing a trading program for paddles. All the paddles we take in, we donate them to local charities. So instead of trying to sell the used paddles, we donate them to people in need. Like the other day we gave some to the firemen, then we are donating to a church who takes kids from the streets, very poor kids, and they help them start in sports.

    So we’re trying to get involved in the community, and I think it’s very important to connect with your local community. That’s where I think the billionaires can’t compete with us because we really want to become part of this community. If you’re part of the community, then that community will support you back.

     

    For more information about get2Eleven, be sure to check out their website! If you’re ever in So Cal, be sure to stop by get2Eleven’s storefront at Bobby Riggs Racket & Paddle in Encinitas, CA.