From left, Denise and Will Richards founded Dill Dinkers, featuring six courts at 9179 Red Branch Road (Source: Lee & Associates)

It’s been a strong first year-plus for Dill Dinkers, a Columbia-based business that was founded amid the mania around the sport of pickleball, which ― for the few remaining uninitiated ― is a hybrid of tennis and table tennis.

After building out its 15,000-square-feet in facility on Columbia’s Red Branch Road, the company, which is led by Columbia residents Will and Denise Richards, soon opened other regional locations including Finksburg, Rockville and North Bethesda, in Maryland; with Manassas, in Northern Virginia, slated to open early next year.

Dill Dinkers’ success has been so swift that it’s already pitching its indoor concept, which is billed as the first of its kind in Maryland, as a franchise opportunity: it has announced a strategic partnership with Franchise Well, a consulting practice led by franchising industry veteran Ben Litalien, will several announcements coming shortly after press time for The Business Monthly.

With the pickleball industry ablaze, the time to move is now. In 2022, the USA Pickleball Places2Play Database increased to 10,724 known locations in North America(up from 9,524 in 2021) as 1,557 new locations were added to the database, with 44,094known courts available for play.

Tech driven

While it may seem early to offer franchising opportunities, Dill Dinkers ownership and its investors want to keep riding the sport’s surging wave. Also, Will Richards was once a franchisee with Domino’s Pizza and, like Litalien, has driven this route before.

“We’re already expanding our Columbia location from six courts to 12,” he said, “and doubling the square footage. When the new courts are ready in early October, we’ll then have 41 courts” between the company’s four locations that are already open.

Richards said that the distinctive company moniker has helped fuel the rapid growth. “We now have a brand and are starting to get some national recognition, as well as a strong program,” that encompasses a proprietary angle. “We’re very efficient and driven by the use of technologies.”

Dill Dinkers also has aligned with national partners like Rockville-based Joola, one of the top paddle manufacturers in the world, he said; and Court Reserve, which is the software the company uses for its reservation system.

“We’re partners with both brands,” Richards said, adding that the company’s PR firm, Chicago-based All Points, has a general focus on franchising. 

Speaking of which, “several announcements are coming very soon,” he said.

Staying in

It seems that a good part of Dill Dinkers’ allure is its indoor concept.

“We’re seeing an increasing number of indoor facilities across the U.S.,” said Carl Schmits, managing director of facilities development and equipment standards for Surprise, Ariz.-based USA Pickleball. “Some are entertainment-oriented (known as ‘dink-n-drink’ facilities) and others are designed to serve high-use members.”

And the franchising angle is popular. “It’s a goal by many of the 8-12 court indoor facilities to franchise,” said Schmits, “or to create a regional chain of facilities with rights to access affiliated clubs.”

Sonny Tannan is an investor at The PutAway, a new indoor/outdoor facility in Millersville. He also noted that “a few” companies are trying to franchise route and noted the various facility models on the market.

Tannan echoed Schmits’ observation about the evolution of pickleball facilities and how they’re “offering more than just pickleball,” he said. “Players want amenities like food, drink, social networking,” etc. “For instance, one facility in D.C., Kraken Kourts, has a roller skating rink.”

One of the better-known franchises in the sport, he said, is Chicken N Pickle, which owns eight facilities in the Midwest and the West, with seven more slated to open soon. “Some potential operators want to open one facility, others want multiple locations,” said Tannan. “However, there is also an emphasis on single facilities that have more amenities.”

Relying on what individual investor groups want in their own facility seems to be the basis for these decisions. To hear Litalien’s observations, Dill Dinkers is taking the right approach.

“Dill Dinkers has perfected its model to deliver an unbeatable environment. It’s climate-controlled, structured play at an affordable price,” he said. “So many franchise concepts that come to market are simply ‘cookie cutter’ replicas of other franchises. It was essential to develop a franchise strategy befitting of the great concept Will and Denise have created.”

Surprise, surprise

Will Richards concurred. He observed that “most people who get into pickleball do it for the love of the sport and have a group of friends who want to invest in opening a facility. They don’t have the skills to execute and franchise the business.

“So for those people who don’t have the business acumen,” he said, “we can help them get there.”

But he also noted that he, his wife and their investment group didn’t see this fast step forward coming.

“I did set it up so we could franchise it. For instance, we didn’t call it ‘Columbia’ whatever for that reason,” he said, “but we really didn’t really have any idea this would happen so soon, either.”