2004 Stringer of the year: Randy Stephenson
Back in 1996, Randy Stephenson faced a tough choice. His car had just been broken into, and the thief walked away with his car stereo. “I thought, should I buy a new stereo, or should I buy my first stringing machine?” says the 29-year-old stringer from Dallas. “I went with the stringing machine, which probably has benefited me in the long run.”
Stephenson’s dedication to stringing racquets for his customers, at the expense of listening to music in the car, doesn’t go unnoticed by his players. And it doesn’t go unnoticed by RSI, either, as Stephenson has won our Stringer of the Year award.
Stephenson became interested in tennis in eighth grade, when he started playing on his junior high school team. “I probably would have played in college,” he says, “but I went to the Art Institute in Dallas, and needless to say, we didn’t have an athletics department.” He studied computer animation for a few years, then left when he “realized that wasn’t for me.”
It was during college, in his part-time job at Sports Town, where Stephenson learned to string racquets. After Sports Town went out of business in 1995, he started working at Oshman’s, where he stayed, “on and off,” for seven years.
“At one point, I went to work for Alpha Sports as a rep, but I realized that I really liked the hands-on aspect of racquets, helping the customers, building rapport with the actual people playing, instead of the people retailing the stuff,” Stephenson says. In the spring of 2000, he and a business partner opened their own store. “After a year, my partner and I had a different vision on how to move the business forward, and I left to open another tennis store,” he says. “Unfortunately, it opened in the midst of 9/11, and it lasted eight months.” He found himself back at Oshman’s.
But in the meantime, Stephenson had done contract stringing for a number of clubs in the area, using his Babolat Sensor machine. For the last four years, his main piece of business has been with the Lakes Tennis Academy in Frisco, a large suburb north of Dallas.
“After both tennis stores closed, I ended up retaining a lot of customers on my own who would drop off racquets,” Stephenson says. “Between the Lakes and my own stringing, I’m probably pushing around 100 to 110 racquets a month.”
His stringing career culminated last year with an invitation to string at Wimbledon as part of the Bow Brand team. “I probably did around 170 racquets in the 10 days I was there,” he says. He strung Bob and Mike Bryans’ frames, and also did racquets for Elena Dementieva, Martin Verkerk, and Sjeng Schalken, among other pros. “I have a knot I learned from one of the guys at Wimbledon that cinches up real well,” Stephenson says. “That’s always been one of my pet peeves — knots that you can see through. This is a knot that’s well-formed and doesn’t put a lot of stress on the anchor string. When tied properly, it always looks the same, and it leans up against the frame so it’s really clean and professional-looking.”
Stephenson is especially proud of his ability to take care of his customers here at home, some of whom have been with him for nearly a decade. “I pretty much treat my customers as my friends,” he says. “I always put their needs and wants first.” And his customers rave about his service. “He’s like a string doctor,” says frequent player Cathy Brotemarkle of McKinney, Texas. “He knows everything — gauges, composition of strings — everything. He’s the best.” Brotemarkle has brought Stephenson her racquets for six years, stringing them with gut “a couple of times a month.”
Stephenson, who also is a part-time sales rep for Yonex in five states and is a rep for Powers Court Tennis, says he is particularly proud of his MRT status, which he’s held since 1996. “That pretty much means more to me than most things,” he says. “I was ecstatic when I passed the test.”
“The thing about Randy,” says Mark Gonzalez, the national sales manager for Alpha Racquet Sports, “is that he just has a true passion and commitment to stringing. If he could string 24-7, he would.”
“Right before I got the invite to Wimbledon,” Stephenson says, “I was seriously thinking about giving it up, because I had two businesses fold. Then, out of nowhere, came the invitation. When I got back, I was dead tired, but I enjoyed every single minute of it. I said to my wife, I can’t give this up, that was way too cool.”
Stephenson’s Tips for Success
- Treat your customers like you treat your friends.
- Pay attention to details. “As a stringer, most of your moves become force of habit,” says Stephenson. So make sure they’re the right moves.
- Play tennis whenever you get the chance. It helps you relate to your customers as much as possible.
See all articles by Peter Francesconi
About the Author
Peter Francesconi is editorial director of RSI magazine.