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Close-Up: John Sarkisian

Sports equipment specialist SKLZ thrives on competition

The employees at SKLZ, a company in Carlsbad selling specialized sports equipment, are extremely competitive. And not just about their business' success. Almost every one of the 56 full-time employees plays some kind of sport, be it softball, golf, basketball or football.

"We’re all athletes," said John Sarkisian, the company's CEO, who himself is a competing cyclist, works with a trainer and is a self-described yogi.

That emphasis on sports extends from SKLZ employees' personal lives into their business practices.

"We tend to be competitive, we want to win, we are driven to meet goals, and we celebrate wins and mourn losses," Sarkisian said. "Athletics and business have a lot of overlap. And for people here, this is a dream job, because it's a business involved in athletics."

So far, there haven't been many losses to mourn. SKLZ has grown from selling one product in 2002 to more than 155 products today. It ranked 1,907th on the Inc. 5000 list of the country's fastest-growing companies after it boosted 2010 revenue to $41.4 million, up 57 percent from $17.6 million three years earlier.

The company started off in 2002 with a product called the Hit-A-Way, something like a sophisticated tetherball that allows baseball players to practice their swings. The product immediately took off, selling 300,000 units in the first year, which was "way beyond any expectations," Sarkisian said.

Although the company, then called Pro Performance Sports, first sold the Hit-A-Way in a direct-to-consumer commercial, it quickly changed course. It launched the SKLZ brand in 2005 to create and market a full line of athletic training equipment like the Hit-A-Way to help players practice and develop their skills.

John Sarkisian is the CEO of SKLZ.
Staff photo: Sarah Strong

"We started focusing on the idea of sports and athletic training and skill development," Sarkisian said. "The Hit-A-Way hit a nerve with consumers who were looking for ways to enhance their chances of making the team or being a better player."

That hit nerve came because athletes today, especially young athletes, are more competitive, Sarkisian said.

"We really don’t have kids just going and playing in a field anymore," he said. "They get into organized sports earlier, competition starts earlier, and now they're playing sports year-round and are always training, so people are looking for resources.

"That’s what we do. We've figured out a niche, which is providing tools to the athlete."

To develop these tools, SKLZ has taken advantage of a large community of inventors who "live and die about sports," Sarkisian said.

Inventors are constantly walking through SKLZ's doors, bringing the company several hundred new products a month. That plethora is winnowed down to products that work well, are easy for a consumer to understand and can be marketed. SKLZ also has an internal engineering department to design and refine new and existing products.

Currently, SKLZ offers just more than 155 pieces of equipment, said Scott Curry, the company's Web marketing and communications director. In addition to the Hit-A-Way, SKLZ sells tools to better play a variety of sports, including basketball, soccer, lacrosse, football and golf.

The company conducts most of its business inside the walls of its large office building, which sits just behind Life Technologies. SKLZ's logistics, customer service, sales and marketing departments are centered in Carlsbad. Its products are manufactured overseas and then organized and shipped from warehouse space connected to the corporate office or another nearby warehouse, also in Carlsbad.

Evidence of the company's love of sports can be found everywhere in its corporate office space. Basketball hoops sit over trash cans, customer service representatives field calls while sitting on stability balls and murals of athletic scenes decorate walls.

In a large room next to the warehouse space, hanging nets create a "testing area" for SKLZ equipment. Employees can often be found in the evenings hitting golf balls or baseballs in the spot, Curry said.

This back room also hosts another outlet for SKLZ employees' competitive drives. The company just finished its second annual pingpong tournament, which, according to Curry, was fairly epic.

"It can get … not heated," he said. "But you don't want to lose."

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Company Website

5823 Newton Dr.
Carlsbad, CA 92008

SKLZ Executive(s):

John Sarkisian

  • Chief Executive Officer