From a pandemic pickle, a regional sports equipment supplier was born

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“The sport just keeps getting bigger and I’m happy to be a small niche player right now”

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Inactive by the pandemic, Chris Evans has transformed what began as a containment business into a booming new business providing the fastest growing sport in North America.

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The St. Marys man formed Brick House Paddles, making game paddles for the growing pickleball industry – and he’s now catching the eye of the USA Pickleball Association, who lent their backing to his creation.

“The sport just keeps getting bigger and I’m happy to be a small niche player right now,” Evans said. “We want to develop paddles that help players play better and play more. Making paddles comfortable for playing for long periods of time is an important part of developing our paddles.

Combining elements of other racquet sports like tennis, table tennis and badminton, pickleball is played with a perforated plastic ball on a badminton court with a divider net in singles or doubles.

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According to the Sports and Fitness Industry Association in the United States, 3.46 million people participated in the sport in 2019. This figure increased to 4.2 million in 2020 and 4.8 million in 2021, a growth rate over two years by more than 39%. This makes pickleball the fastest growing participation sport in the United States

In 2020, Evans was laid off from his sales job in Ontario at a West Coast-based fireplace manufacturer. He was 59 and struggling to find work at the start of the pandemic.

“At this age, the walls are up for meaningful work. My wife and I started playing pickleball and I didn’t like the way (the paddles) felt, the way they played,” Evans said.

Evans had done woodworking and worked with composite materials like fiberglass, doing boat repairs, so he began experimenting with making his own paddles.

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“I looked at them and said, ‘I can build this. When I put wood veneers on it, it changed the way it looked and played. I showed it to people on the courts and they loved it. People started asking me to make one for them.

He tapped into his past experience working with wood and composite materials as well as sales and launched Brick House Paddles.

“I wanted to do something that I love and I love doing it. People love it and that gives me a sense of pride. I just said, ‘I should go all out’.”

He reached out to local retailers and it started slow and steady growth. “We had membership.”

Humphrey Chung goes for a backhand during a pickle ball doubles match with teammate Judy Rogers at the East Lions Community Center in London.  Mike Hensen/The London Free Press
Humphrey Chung goes for a backhand during a pickle ball doubles match with teammate Judy Rogers at the East Lions Community Center in London. Mike Hensen/The London Free Press

He sent his paddles to the USA Pickleball Association and his packaging now bears his seal of approval.

“It was an important step,” he said of the US governing body’s endorsement. “It shows people that we are serious and committed to developing our product, that we are not just one-off wonders. They are very interested in what we are doing here.

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What really caught buyers’ attention was the calm tone of the paddles. Most of the paddles make a loud noise when they come in contact with the plastic ball, and it’s a fast game, so a crowded field in a suburban area can be annoying for area residents.

“It has a natural noise-dampening quality due to the wood veneer,” Evans said of the ash, cherry, or maple paddle material.

It now makes four paddle styles and a junior model and is set to launch another, he added.

This year Brick House will likely sell over 600 paddles, more than double the approximately 250 sold last year. “I know that doesn’t sound like a lot, but I’m not here to take over the world and make 1,000 paddles a month,” Evans said.

He is relieved that the sports and activities market now appears to be easing from the pandemic lockdown, which means there could be serious demand for his paddles.

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” It was hard. We were in confinement, with few facilities where this could be played out. It was hard to assess if there was an opportunity, but I had plenty of time for research and development,” Evans said.

Bob Riehl, who owns and operates Bob’s Racquet Works in Goderich, an online retailer of racquet sports equipment, has been selling pickleball equipment for 10 years and loves what he sees from Brick House Paddles.

“He has a good thing to do. I like the way it feels and it’s classy,” Riehl said. “I like the way the ball feels out of my racquet. I prefer them. There are hordes of paddle manufacturers all over the world, but my customers like to buy Canadian products first.

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