The Brick-and-Mortar 'E-Tennis' Has Built Up a Solid Base
From the beginning, master racquet technician John Gugel and former ATP touring pro Tobias Svantesson were determined to create a full-service tennis specialty shop uniquely in tune with customer needs. So while the first visitors to e-tennis inc. in Orlando, Fla., may have been surprised by the sparse inventory, chances are their loyalty has long since been cemented by the products and services designed with their individual needs in mind.
“Our philosophy was to let our customers decide what they want, rather than opening with a lot of stuff and saying this is what we have; come get it,” says Gugel, who jokes that he became president of e-tennis inc. by losing a coin toss with vice president Svantesson, a Top-100 tennis pro who played on the ATP tour for eight years before retiring in 1993. “Our customers have taken a real emotional ownership in our business. Now we have so much inventory that it’s hard to walk around.”
Located in the trendy Winter Park section of Orlando, e-tennis has specialized in racquet customization since opening its doors in February 1999. In fact, former ATP touring pro Mikael Pernfors and current ATP pro Robert Kendrick are among the 3,500 customers whose personal preferences in grip size, racquet weight, balance, and stiffness are painstakingly duplicated with each stringing job. In all, Gugel says he collects about 50 pieces of data about each customer’s racquet using industry standard and custom diagnostic equipment, plus a proprietary software system which he plans to market to the public later this year.
For customers looking to experiment, e-tennis sells racquets from Babolat, Dunlop, Fischer, Gosen, Head, Prince, Pro Kennex, Slazenger, Wilson, Yonex, and Völkl and stocks 200 demos that can be rented for a one-time $25 fee that is deducted upon any purchase of a new racquet. Next-day stringing service is guaranteed upon request, and do-it-yourselfers can rent a stringing machine. The shop also carries competitively priced, high-end brands of shoes and apparel, plus bags, string, ball machines, accessories, and balls with the e-tennis logo.
Although all employees “walk the talk” by playing tennis, Gugel didn’t get involved in the sport until he designed carbon-reinforced and non-graphite racquets while serving as director of research and product design in the 1970s for a Midwest manufacturing company. Gugel continued designing and customizing racquets, ultimately adding Svantesson to his client roster around 1989. Ten years later, with both men “in limbo,” according to Svantesson, they decided to pool their collective expertise and go into business together.
“I sniffed out John when I was playing because of his reputation for racquet work, and people still do it today. There aren’t many people in the country with his knowledge of frame construction, racquet materials, and strings,” says Svantesson, who has also earned a Master Racquet Technician designation from the USRSA.
Gugel agrees their successful partnership stems from communication, respect for one another, and the foundation of their enduring friendship. “Customers turn to Tobias for his perspective as a world-class player, and he refers technical issues to me,” Gugel says. “We complement each other very well.”
Located right off a major interstate with 75 tennis courts minutes away, e-tennis has built its customer base through word-of-mouth, internet sales, tournament advertising, and drive-bys attracted to the tennis-ball yellow building adorned with nets and racquets. With just 900 square feet of sales space within the 1,400-square-foot building, Gugel says the store generates a whopping $600 in sales per square foot.
In fact, Gugel and Svantesson are hoping to duplicate their success by opening a second location about 150 miles away within the year.
“I can’t clone myself or Tobias, but our data collection system gives our staff the ability to come up with a racquet to suit Mr. or Mrs. Smith very well,” Gugel says. “We do everything we can to keep our customers happy. It’s incumbent upon us to keep people playing, both for our business and for the game.”
See all articles by Cynthia Cantrell
About the Author
Cynthia Cantrell is a contributing editor of RSI magazine.