Creating the Menu
What’s your recipe for choosing racquets for your shop? Some top retailers reveal what goes into the mix.
By Mitch Rustad
For consumers of virtually every age group and skill level, there’s a mouthwatering mix of tennis racquets dotting the retail landscape. They come in a multitude of shapes, head sizes and colors — not to mention innovative new technologies — and streams of updated models are constantly being added to the mix. But for many specialty retailers, this stringed smorgasbord can lead to a bad case of heartburn.
All too often, retailers must deal with limited retail space, more limited budgets, and finicky consumers, which makes racquet inventory an especially important — and definitely daunting — task. But according to some of the country’s leading racquet retailers, there is a method to the madness when it comes to choosing inventory wisely.
“When you’re a professional buyer, whether it’s for a jewelry store or a tennis shop, you need to offer a wide range of options that address your customers needs and wants,” says Steve Vorhaus, owner of Rocky Mountain Racquet Specialists, Boulder, Colo. “We make our inventory decisions based on the needs of each player.”
Sounds pretty simple, right?
Although “know thy customer” remains the golden rule for many retailers, especially when it comes to inventory selection, the following list of comprehensive criteria came up repeatedly when we asked racquet retailers how they choose their inventory.
When it comes to racquets, size really does matter. Perhaps no single characteristic affects inventory selection more than head size, a deal breaker for most consumers whose skill and fitness levels often favor a specific size.
“The 100-square-inch head size is where the meat of the market is right now,” says Chris Gaudreau, owner of Racquet Koop in New Haven, Conn. “But I can’t duplicate my inventory too much. I need to stock the 95-inch and the 105 and 110, and even the 115.”
Gaudreau says he will narrow his selection to two or three of each head size, with slightly more duplication in the 100- to 105-square-inch categories. “I try to find a good mix of everything,” he says.
Larger specialty retailers like All About Tennis, with three locations in metro Phoenix, simply stock as many racquets (and head sizes) as possible, says owner Jesse Ponwith. “When we try to play it a little safer and have to special-order a racquet, the customer usually doesn’t want to wait and we’ll lose the sale,” he says. “So if possible, it’s good to inventory quite of bit of stuff.”
It’s no surprise that the almighty dollar has a big impact on inventory selection, but a high price tag — and profit margin, for that matter — should not be the sole factor in your inventory selection, says Vorhaus.
“I have to ask myself, how many $275 racquets am I realistically going to sell?” he says. “Probably not as many as the $175 ones, so I’ll choose my inventory accordingly.”
The logical temptation for many retailers is to carry more racquets with higher profit margins, instead of what might actually better suit their customers. “Its just a basic business decision at that point,” says Gaudreau. “If you can’t sell a product, even if it has a great margin, then what’s the point of carrying it?”
The quality of your relationship with each manufacturer casts a large shadow over inventory selection. “If I don’t feel a comany is giving me the service that I should be getting, or if I’m having a hard time consistently with the rep, I may back off a little bit on that company,” says Vorhaus.
But incentives such as volume discounts can supersede almost anything, says Gaudreau. “Incentives do come into play, because most manufacturers offer good discount programs, and that does affect what your inventory mix is going to be,” he says.
But Gaudreau admits that on-the-fence inventory decisions are often tipped by the quality of his dealer relationships. “I look at what kind of dealer support I’m getting, and if they’re hard to work with, I might not try a frame that I’m not sure about,” he says.
The jury’s out on whether today’s superstars significantly impact racquet sales, but Gaudreau says marquee names do influence his more starry-eyed customers.
“I will look to see what players are using,” says Gaudreau, who points to Roger Federer, Andre Agassi, and Andy Roddick as today’s most influential players. “What they use sells, so I’ll keep up on what the top players are using. My customers won’t play like Federer, but they may want to try his racquet.”
Vorhaus is slightly less enthusiastic. “We like to be aware of what the pros play with, but over 90 percent of our sales are driven by our demo program,” he says. “Roddick’s racquet may get them in the door, but they’re going to want to take it for a test drive.”
Positive buzz in the media — such as Tennis magazine’s annual Editor’s Choice selections — can also play a role in selecting your inventory. Says Gaudreau: “This does get a lot of press and it definitely generates some interest among my customers, so I have to respond to that.”
Any extra promotion or publicity a racquet receives will directly affect consumer buzz, adds Ponwith. “If it’s out there and people are reading about it, they’ll come in and see if we carry it,” he says.
Inventory selection must also reflect your store’s geographic location and climate. “We’re in a high-altitude area, and because of that, power is not as important to my customers,” says Vorhaus. “We just don’t sell as many top-line, high-power frames as a dealer at sea level might.”
Other geographic considerations, such as your city’s most prevalent surface (clay vs. hard) or the local climate (high or low humidity), can also affect consumer racquet preferences and should be taken into account.
See all articles by Mitch Rustad
About the Author
Mitch Rustad has been a long-time freelance writer based in New York City.