How Heidi Block Is Empowering Pickleball Enthusiasts, One Court at a Time
Meet Heidi Block, the Co-Founder and CEO of Play-PKL, a revolutionary pickleball brand that emerged from her personal struggle to find comprehensive resources and suitable equipment when she began playing in 2020.
With a background in consumer packaged goods marketing, Heidi saw an opportunity to fill the gap in the industry. She created Play-PKL with a mission to spread her love for pickleball and help others get started. Play-PKL offers a diverse range of products, including U.S.-made men's and women's pickleball apparel, equipment, and accessories, providing players of all levels with everything they need to enjoy the sport. Heidi’s passion and commitment to making this sport accessible to all have solidified Play-PKL as a beacon of innovation in the world of pickleball.
We asked Heidi about the story behind Play-PKL’s founding, if she always knew she wanted to be an entrepreneur, and what’s next for her and her company.
Q: Tell us the story behind your company’s founding. How and why did you start working on Play-PKL?
A: When I first learned how to play pickleball in early 2020, I went online to get more information about the sport and find out what I needed to buy. I couldn’t find any good content. I ended up with paddles that were too heavy, and balls that were meant for indoors when I was playing outside, and wearing tennis clothes to play. I was surprised there were no websites with good educational content, no relatable brands, and no pickleball-specific apparel. With my more than 20 years of experience in consumer packaged goods marketing and brand building, I thought I could fill the gap. The mission of the brand would be to spread my love of pickleball by helping others get started. I’ve taught over 100 friends to play, and in the process developed the products I wanted for the sport. One of the specific differences between my apparel and tennis clothes is that the skorts and shorts have pockets designed to hold pickleballs, instead of scraping my leg trying to stuff the ball up my tennis skort. The pocket is also set a little further back on the garment so the ball doesn’t get in the way when you play. I picked fabrics that are more athleisure than performance because so many players are playing recreationally and want to be comfortable and stylish on and off the court. I’m proud that all of my apparel was developed and sewn in the U.S. and that I can support American manufacturing.
Q: Have you ever felt like you’re “different”? If yes, in what ways has this contributed to your journey as an entrepreneur?
A: I guess I’m different in my attitude. I am an eternal optimist. I truly believe that the difference between a failed and a successful business is whether you give up. You can’t let the speed bumps derail you.
Q: Did you always know that you wanted to be an entrepreneur?
A: Not really. I don’t think I knew until my second year at Wharton when I took my first entrepreneurial management class and wrote a business plan. I turned down all of the brand management job offers, raised some money, and went for it. But that’s a story for another day.
Q: What’s one thing you wish you had known before starting Play-PKL?
A: I had zero experience in the apparel industry and not one connection in my extensive network. I grossly underestimated what was involved in developing custom apparel from scratch. I sometimes say that if I’d known how much work, cost, and time was involved, I’m not sure I would have embarked on this journey. But on the flip side, I’m so glad I did because it got me here. I made a lot of mistakes along the way, from thinking I could find a full-service U.S.-based manufacturer who could implement my designs, to hiring an initial manufacturer who didn’t understand sportswear and had no experience with sublimation, to selecting a fabric that wouldn’t hold a print or a heat transfer well. But now that I’ve learned so much about the industry and successfully brought my apparel to market, I feel incredibly proud.
Q: Have you felt like giving up? What made you persist?
A: The only time I felt like giving up was after my co-founder and son stepped back from the business and I was on my own. It was just really lonely. But a friend suggested I find a co-working space where I could meet like-minded entrepreneurs and become a part of a community. I joined The Co-Co in Summit, New Jersey, which has been transformative for me. I’ve met so many supportive women who have provided advice and encouragement every step of the way.
Q: What’s next for you and Play-PKL?
A: It’s been an amazing journey so far. I have loved stretching my capabilities to master a whole new industry. When I talk to people in the industry now, they’re surprised to learn how new I am to it because I’m pretty fluent. I’m excited to build Play-PKL into an iconic American brand that started in a grassroots way but caught on and took off along with pickleball in the U.S..
Heidi is a member of Dreamers & Doers, an award-winning community that amplifies extraordinary women entrepreneurs and leaders by securing PR, forging authentic connections, and curating high-impact resources. Learn more about Dreamers & Doers and get involved here.
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