Lighthouse Sports Small Business Journey to Lead the Pickleball Accessory Market

For the second installment in our Small Business Journey series, we had the pleasure of chatting with Wendee Lunt, creator and owner of Lighthouse Sports. She shared how her successful career in the corporate retail arena gave her the confidence to start her own pickleball accessory business based on the mantra: Design for Play.

TSGBC: Why did you decide to start your own business?

Wendee: When the COVID pandemic began, I was working with Swarovski in the jewelry division and I came to the realization that it was time for a change. I took some time to regroup and was fortunate to attend the Chief Executive Women leadership conference.  I met with a career coach who made my next move clear when she said, “You light up when you talk about pickleball”.  

I started to do some research which began with shopping.  I recognized there was a giant white space in the pickleball industry. I knew I could fill this white space with the best pickleball equipment and accessories on the market. Having worked for Coach and TUMI luggage for over twenty years, I had the confidence to know I could create the best pickleball bag in the market. I got right to work. As an avid pickleball player, I knew what the bag needed to have. I knew the compartments that would be helpful and where I would like to see them on the bag.  I called upon my friends from the luggage world to help me design the bag. I then turned to my expert marketing friends to help me develop my initial marketing campaign.  This pickleball bag became a passion project for me with an underlying message of supporting a woman owned business. What could be better than being motivated by your passion?  Lighthouse Sports came to be a reality.

TSGBC: How do you deal with fear & doubt when moving from the corporate world into your own business?

Wendee: My career has spanned too many roles and responsibilities to discuss in one quick Q&A. I have worked for Tiffany, opening stores all over the world and making sure the right product was being sold in the right location. Coach, where I started the licensing division and had fun putting deals together expanding their offerings. During my time at TUMI Luggage as the head of marketing, I was able to help TUMI become a global travel “lifestyle” brand and move from suitcases to belts, wallets and my most favorite creation the TUMIPAX, which is a lightweight down puffer jacket that converts into a travel pillow. I also worked in leadership roles with Movado watches and Judith Leiber designer handbags. 

Working at an executive level with big and ambitious personalities is often filled with stress and uncertainty. When the time came for me to make the move from corporate life, I was of course fearful of leaving what I had always known and had been accompanied with a steady paycheck but I dug deep into my confidence and forced myself to take a leap of faith.   Once I made the move, I knew I could do it. I relied on the fact that I could now work with the people I wanted to who I knew would help me create the brand I wanted and who would also help me fight off any doubtful voices in my head. 

TSGBC: How does Lighthouse Sports look different now vs when you first started? Where do you see it in 5 years? 10 years?

Wendee: Lighthouse Sports is still a start-up so it does not look too different from when the idea first came to me.  My goal is to let the business tell me what it should be. Lighthouse Sports right now is a bag brand. My thought is to expand into other categories but I am taking it slow. My goal is to curate the “best of pickleball” and so far I have amazing bags, a fantastic paddle which of course I offer in a combo set.  

Expanding into apparel and sunglasses is next. I am currently working on a collaboration with Skea.  The Skea sports apparel is designed by athletes for athletes and has sports performance with SPF, which is a major bonus for women playing pickleball.  My favorite item in my Accessories offering is the Vimhue baseball cap designed specifically for the shape of a woman’s head – plus perfect ponytail placement options!

Sunglasses are in the works with Revo and I am excited to see where this leads us. We currently have 2 styles that are perfect for the court. 

TSGBC:  What is your favorite part of your entrepreneurial life?

Wendee: Making my own hours is absolutely my favorite part of working for my own business. I am a night owl so I often do my best work long after corporate America is shut down for the day.  It can be easier some days than others to tell the boss that you screwed up big time, but usually harder because I am my own worst critic.

TSGBC: What is the biggest lesson learned in your career?

Wendee: Always take risks! I truly believe that if you never allow yourself to be uncomfortable or nervous you are not pushing yourself.  You must force yourself to grow both personally and professionally. 

My advice to young people entering the workforce is listen, keep your eyes open, always ask questions and DO whatever you are asked to do. I will share a quick story to bring these points to life. I was a head of a division and my boss asked me to find some people to go to an event at St Jude’s Children’s Hospital on our behalf, all expenses paid.  It was a last minute request and I could not find anyone willing to go. To me this was a major missed opportunity for a young professional.  They did not take the time to think about the experience they would have, the people they would connect with and probably most importantly, the message that not going sent to upper management.  So the long and short of my advice is do not miss an amazing opportunity because it requires reworking your schedule.  Always go the extra mile and always remember to expand your circle of influence whenever the opportunity presents itself.

TSGBC:  What advice would you give to a young entrepreneur?

Wendee: This is similar to the lessons learned throughout my career – be willing to take a risk and get comfortable with being uncomfortable. Create a large rolodex and reach out to everyone you know for help. I still send emails to high school and college friends.  Connections should be like social media – spend 15 minutes on this every day – gather new ones, offer help to existing ones, stay in touch and maintain the connection. The more people you know, the more you expand your reach and the more you learn. And remember, knowledge is power.

TSGBC: Fun Fact – If you won the lottery tomorrow, what would be the first thing you would do?

Wendee: I would take the trip of a lifetime. I have been fortunate enough to travel the world throughout my career but I still have a bucket list and the lottery winnings would help to mark a few spots off that list.  Once I returned from my fabulous lottery-sponsored trip, I would invest in my business. I know all too well that it takes 5 to 6 years to build a brand and in order to last those 5 years, you need cash investments. I would do my best to put lottery winnings to good use.

Lighthouse Sports | @lighthousespts