Pro Athlete’s secret to success: going against the grain, Andrew Dowis said.
“We’re known to do things that aren’t the norm,” said Dowis, who serves as the CEO of Pro Athlete. “I think that’s why we pursued JustPaddles [during the COVID-19 pandemic]. We said, ‘Let’s look at this [pandemic] from another angle. This may be the best time to expand when nobody else is thinking about it.’”
Pickleball has been gaining traction the past few years, Dowis said, though it remains somewhat outside the mainstream of sports.
“There’s an opportunity to educate people,” he said. “It’s an opportunity to come into the space and be the paddle experts — like we did for bats and gloves.”
“Pickleball is big in warm-weather states like Arizona, Florida and California,” Dowis continued, crediting North Kansas City-headquartered Chicken N Pickle for making pickleball a local staple — and spreading the sport to the Midwest.
“It’s something you can play no matter what age you are; it’s a very cool sport that’s fun and competitive and can get a good sweat going,” he said, noting that he and members of the Pro Athlete team are passionate and enthusiastic about their latest venture.
JustPaddles is set to launch in early February, around the same time that Pro Athlete is releasing its revamped website for Routine Baseball, Dowis noted.
Click here to get updated on the JustPaddles’ launch.
Dedication to core values
This fall, the Greater Kansas City Chamber of Commerce awarded Pro Athlete the 2020 “Mr. K Award” for the Small Business of the Year — an achievement Dowis said stems from the business’ dedication to its core values.
“We’re one of those companies that use our core values for everything — to hire people, let people go, decide who we partner with,” Dowis explained. “They came in handy during the pandemic.”
With “embracing stewardship” listed as one of those values, Pro Athlete decided to bring its furloughed employees back to payroll in exchange for doing volunteer work — a choice that caught the attention of the Chamber.
Click here to read more about Pro Athlete receiving the award for Small Business of the Year.
The pandemic was not all highs for Pro Athlete, Dowis admitted — noting sales fell off in March during a typically busy season and people were worried.
“But we shook ourselves out of [that fear] and said, ‘This can go two ways: We can be a company that complains about this and doesn’t get through it. Or, we can be a company that gets creative, protects our people and figures out how to push through this,’” he shared.
At a time when charitable giving could’ve lowered as a priority, Pro Athlete’s core values dictated the company hold firm, Dowis said.
“We said, ‘We are going to continue to give during the pandemic, and we are actually going to give more than we’ve ever given before,’” he recalled. “There were people who needed us — our alumni members, our Hall of Fame members, our employees and their families — so we had to be the rock for them. We were built for times like these.
“Our core values are what guided us through and what helped us make the decision on JustPaddles and so many other things during the pandemic.”
A majority of Pro Athlete’s employees have not returned to in-person office work, Dowis explained, and will not until it is safe to do so.
“Being an e-commerce company, it is our responsibility to take safety so seriously and stay home,” he said. “We owe it to those people who can’t [work from home].”
Although many employees are now remote, Pro Athlete has kept up its reputation of cultivating a healthy and inclusive company culture, Dowis noted. From virtual company wellness challenges and captivating speakers to shifting to company-giving initiatives, the team is staying connected.
It’s been a dream to work for a company that cares so deeply about its employees, customers and business partners, said Dowis, who became CEO in April 2019. When he was given the opportunity to become an owner in Pro Athlete, it was a “no brainer,” he added.
“I’ve been here 11 years, and it has never felt like work. It has felt like family and fun,” Dowis said, recalling a time when the entire company attended a Kansas City Royals’ Wild Card Game.
“… At the end of the day, we’re not going to be counting how many bats and gloves and paddles and shirts we sold,” he continued. “Yes, those sales help us do really fun things, and we want to provide those services for our customers. But when it comes down to it, I would much rather have my memory bank full of great memories than my actual bank account full.”