Like so many of her friends, in and out of professional tennis, Jessica Pegula has developed a fascination for skincare and beauty products.
“When I was growing up, for the most part, I had troubled skin,” Pegula said recently, a few days before the Chicago Fall Tennis Classic began. “I tried a million different things and didn’t always give it the time to work. Your skin freaks out because there’s too much going on.
“So I was always interested in trying to figure out what helped and what worked. Like a lot of people, I was always looking for the quick fix.”
And so, Pegula – now 27 and ranked No.24 among WTA players – came up with a solution: Her own line of skincare products, Ready 24.
It grew out of her love for the variety and subtleties of the skincare game, along with some downtime from tennis. After surgery to repair a torn labrum in her right hip, Pegula was forced to miss eight months of the 2016 season.
“I wasn’t doing anything besides rehab, which gets pretty boring,” she said. “So that’s basically how it started. And it took a little bit over a year to officially launch it, for everything to come together.
“Over time, I started to realize the more simplified I made my skincare, the better it seemed to work. So that was kind my thought process behind Ready 24.”
As in ready 24-7. That and a birthday of 2/24/94, seemed to make the name a foregone conclusion.
Tennis takes a terrible toll on skin. Sweating through matches and lengthy practice sessions, in all kinds of climate conditions, is tough enough. And then there’s travel and the overall stress that comes with the profession. Not to mention the damage sun can cause. Pegula’s line offers products in four basic categories: Square One (cleansers), Balance (essence water), Defense (moisturizer) and Recovery (face mask, eye cream).
Teaming up with The Advantage Co in her hometown of Buffalo, Pegula worked out all the logistics, then put her ideas to a demanding test – with her own, personal focus group comprised of close friends.
“They’re all into that stuff, too, and were more than happy to get free skincare shipped to them,” Pegula said. “I picked the ingredients I liked and some of the details, consistency-wise, the smells I liked. And my friends gave me their feedback and helped narrow it down.”
This brief blurb on the Ready 24 website encapsulates the corporate philosophy: “We know you’re active. We know you’re always on-the-go. We know it’s hard to find products that are clean and reliable. That’s why we created Ready 24. Our ingredients are clean and simple, and so should your skincare.”
Said Pegula: “Of course, I want clean ingredients. Especially nowadays when nobody really wants to put chemicals on their face. We’re learning so much more about what we’re putting into our bodies and onto our skin. So that was really important to me.”
One of the moments when it finally struck Pegula that her vision was becoming a reality came when she found herself typing out the copy for the labels that would appear on all her products.
“Literally, like typed them all on my computer,” she said, laughing. “I was thinking to myself, `This is so weird. I can’t believe I’m writing a label for people to use.’ It was so hands-on. Honestly, it was really pretty cool.”
Pegula uses her own products; they are never far away, in both her tennis bag and purse. Even though fellow American Madison Keys sometimes likes to indulge in one of those 10-step nighttime skincare routines (as does Pegula), she is one of several players to offer enthusiastic reviews. Keys is joined by Sloane Stephens, Jennifer Brady and Kim Clijsters, among others.
“Kim is here [Chicago],” Pegula said, “I sent her some, and I saw that she actually reordered some, so that’s cool.”
And it’s not just word of mouth in the locker room driving sales. Wegmans, a large grocery chain, features Ready 24 products and there are plans to increase online and social media efforts. Pegula has also begun reaching out to tournaments looking for products to include in their gift bags and related tennis events as well.
The next big thing? Logically, that would be a series of sunscreen products.
“Yes,” Pegula said, “because it fits the brand for people who are active. But it takes money to sample things and test things and to develop them. So I kind of wanted to see how it would do at the beginning and add on and hopefully push for a little bit more. Maybe invest a little bit more money and time into it.”
She says she’s already made back most of the money initially invested. Of course, there’s the matter of a small loan from her parents, Terry and Kim, back at the beginning.
“Which I, um, probably should like pay them back,” Pegula said, laughing again. “They obviously helped in that aspect.”
While most athletes that go into business are lacking corporate role models, Pegula is blessed to have two of the best – her father and mother.
They are the principal owners of the Buffalo Bills of the National Football League and the National Hockey League’s Buffalo Sabres with a net worth in the billions.
“My dad’s very creative,” Pegula said. “He definitely comes up with a lot of weird ideas – you’re like, `OK, Dad, that’s a stupid idea’ – but then he comes up with some really good ones. He’s not afraid to put his goals and his dreams out there and make that happen.
“We were looking at this old article that he was in a long time ago. He was in oil and gas, originally, and they asked him what he wanted to achieve when he was older. And he was like, `I want to own a sports team.’ It was like literally exactly where he is right now.”
Kim is the President of Pegula Sports and Entertainment, which oversees the two teams, among many other concerns.
“My dad is the dreamer and my mom puts a lot of it into reality,” Pegula said. “If you say you want to do something, she says, `OK, just go do it.’ Like right now. What are you waiting for?’
“She’s not afraid to start right away. It’s like, `Well, did you talk to this person? Did you do it? Well, go do it right now.’ So I have to say those two things have definitely helped with my tennis and my business.”
Pegula’s tennis, by the way, has never been better.
She began the 2021 season ranked No.63 and by the middle of September she was at a career-high No.23, with prizemoney north of $1 million. In February, Pegula defeated Victoria Azarenka and Elina Svitolina at the Australian Open before losing to Brady, an eventual finalist, in the quarterfinals. She won three qualifying matches in Qatar and beat Karolina Pliskova for the first of four times in a span of less than four months. There was also a win over Naomi Osaka in Rome and a trip to the semifinals in Montreal.
All of this after coming back from two serious injuries early in her career.
“It’s definitely been very rewarding for a lot of the hard work that I’ve put in,” Pegula said. “I feel I’ve gotten better consistently throughout the last two years to now. I’m just really happy and I’m glad I could prove to myself that I belong at this level.”
She’ll play Indian Wells in October and, possibly, the Billie Jean King Cup and World Team Tennis. On Oct. 22, she’ll be married to fiancée Taylor Gahagen, as luck would have it, an investment analyst who began his career in the Pegula empire.
When she’s out of tennis, can she see herself as a CEO?
“Yeah, I think so,” Pegula said. “I think being around it, my family, I’m comfortable with it. Yeah, I think I would be good at it. Whether it’s tennis or sports or Ready 24, as long as I think I’m passionate about it, I definitely can see myself in that role.”