Testing the Waters
Drive racquet sales by developing the right demo program for your customers.
In the 13 years that Deana Mitchell has owned Serious Tennis in Roswell, Ga., customers have accidentally run over her store demos with their cars, left them on the roof before speeding off, and forgotten about them in the trunk before jetting away on vacation. Despite the time and cost associated with ordering, stringing, gripping, and occasionally replacing demos, however, Mitchell says they help her sell thousands of racquets every year.
“Integrating your expertise into a demo program will increase racquet sales,” says Mitchell, who co-owns Serious Tennis with Scott Jones, with two locations in Roswell and one each in Alpharetta, Marietta, and Suwanee, Ga. “Ask manufacturers for demos and string, and then buy beyond what you get for free. Look past the cost to what you’ll gain in loyalty because, believe me, it’s all about customer service.”
Mitchell acknowledges it can be intimidating for a new player trying to make sense of a wall holding 300 demos, some of which are strung at different gauges and tensions. To prevent customers from becoming overwhelmed and leaving the store altogether, she advises asking them to describe their swing, style of play, and power level before selecting up to three demos for them.
She warns, however, that great care must be taken to appease a customer intent on buying a racquet featured in a buyer’s guide, but which may not be suited for their game. “It may look perfect on paper, but I tell them until you play with it, you don’t know,” Mitchell says. “I ask them to let me pick some demos and see if some cross over onto their list.”
While Mitchell hosts regular racquet training sessions with local sales reps and teaching pros affiliated with Serious Tennis, Ajay Pant entices customers to demo nights at his facility with Italian food cooked by his head pro, wine, a fashion show, and discounts. “By the end of the night, it’s no longer a sales event,” says Pant, regional manager of Indian Creek Racquet Club in Overland Park, Kan. “It’s a social hour.”
Pant recommends that teaching pros also incorporate informal sales opportunities into their lessons by carrying several demos on court and encouraging players to practice with them. Additionally, he says, teaching pros should ask for feedback during the lesson, offer substitute demos, and follow up afterward.
“Even if that player isn’t in the market for a new racquet, maybe her husband or son might like it. It’s all part of taking care of your members,” Pant says. “A demo program shouldn’t function in a vacuum. It must be part of the big picture.”
In fact, Pant says, that big picture must be embraced by a facility’s entire staff. The club’s 55 demos are regularly re-gripped and restrung, and demo customization is provided at no extra charge. Demo fees are freely waived for big pro shop spenders, as well as players who complain about an unsatisfactory experience. “The front desk has carte blanche so no member or potential member feels like they’re being nickeled and dimed,” Pant says. “A couple of dollars isn’t worth it.”
With more than 80 percent of business conducted online, Tennis Warehouse in San Luis Obispo, Calif., demonstrates that you don’t necessarily need a retail store to run a successful demo program. Customers can request up to four demos at a time for a seven-day period beginning upon receipt of the racquets via UPS. While customers pay round-trip shipping costs, Tennis Warehouse doesn’t charge additional demo fees, and ships two racquets for the price of one and four for the price of three. Local residents can save the cost of shipping by picking up their orders. If a demo isn’t returned, the borrower’s credit card is charged.
“A lot of people know exactly what they want, but I’ll spend as much time with them on the phone as necessary,” says master racquet technician Derek Kurtti. “We’ll send them the demo they’re interested in, plus we’ll look at ones with similar weight, balance, and head size.”
While the demo program doesn’t generate revenue on its own, Don Hightower, president of Tennis Warehouse, says it does drive racquet sales. “[Online demo service] is especially valuable to customers in urban and rural areas that aren’t serviced by pro shops and specialty shops,” says Hightower, noting that online features allow customers to see which demos are in stock as well as back-order dates.
Corinne Pinsof-Kaplan, owner of Chicago Tennis & Golf, has a 21- by 55-foot hitting lane, wide enough for two players to take turns returning shots from a ball machine, inside her 14,500-square-foot store. Because some customers will want to try a racquet on their home turf, she stocks two demos of each frame she sells — between 250 and 300 total. “The hitting lane can close the sale on the spot,” says Pinsof-Kaplan. “We get a great response from it.”
While retailers want customers to use their demos, they need them returned as quickly as possible to keep sales flowing. John Gugel, who runs e-tennis inc. in Winter Park, Fla., with former ATP touring pro Tobias Svantesson, says customers are given a business card with the demo program rules and they must sign a copy of the regulations and leave a credit card imprint. Players in the Demo Club can borrow up to three of the store’s 250 demos for three days; after that time, Gugel says he makes a friendly phone call reminding them that others are waiting for that demo. If he doesn’t receive a response within seven days, the player is charged the racquet’s retail price. Chronically late customers risk having their Demo Club membership revoked.
While it’s inevitable that some customers will demo a racquet and then buy it at a slightly lower cost online, Gugel says most players remain loyal out of satisfaction with the store’s customer service.
“There’s no question that the Demo Club works. Very few people are willing to sacrifice a $25 investment [by not putting that credit toward the cost of a new racquet], and in the meantime you’ve gotten a chance to demonstrate your service and expertise,” Gugel says. “You’ve shown them why they should only buy from you.”
Racquet Demo Program Examples
- Serious Tennis, Roswell, Ga.: $2 per day (applied toward the purchase of a racquet) with a three-day limit, after which the price increases to $5 per day, which is not credited toward a racquet purchase. Customization is free. If customers lose a demo, they are charged the cost of that demo or sold a racquet at a discounted price.
- Indian Creek Racquet Club, Overland Park, Kan.: $3 per demo, which can only be played with at the club, with a $30 maximum credited toward the purchase of a racquet. Additionally, Savers’ Club members are entitled to discounts on every pro shop purchase. For Indian Creek Racquet Club members, monthly Savers’ Club fees are $9 plus tax per individual; $10.50 plus tax per couple; and $11.50 plus tax per family. Nonmember monthly fees are $13, $14.50, and $15.50, respectively.
- Tennis Warehouse: While there are no rental fees, customers pay round-trip UPS shipping for a maximum of four demos for a seven-day period. If a demo isn’t returned, the borrower’s credit card is charged.
- Chicago Tennis & Golf: $1.50 per racquet for three days for members; $3 for nonmembers. Demo fees, with the exception of $5 daily late fees, are credited toward the purchase of a racquet. The store provides a 24-hour demo return box.
- e-tennis inc., Winter Park, Fla.: $25 to join the Demo Club, which allows customers to borrow three demos for three days at a time over a 180-day period.
See all articles by Cynthia Cantrell
About the Author
Cynthia Cantrell is a contributing editor of Tennis Industry magazine.
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