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Fit the Profile

Anticipate what your customers will need — and want — by keeping records on them.

By Cynthia Cantrell

It isn’t necessarily a coincidence, nor the result of spousal extrasensory perception, that causes an item longingly handled by shoppers at the Family Circle Tennis Center’s pro shop in Charleston, S.C. to transform into their next birthday, anniversary or holiday gift. In fact, sometimes Santa has a helper — merchandise manager Peggy Caulder.

“The key is to tune right in to your customers whenever they’re in your shop,” says Caulder, who freely admits to eavesdropping for the greater good of providing exactly what her Family Circle member and non-member clientele want and need.

“I learn who likes shorts, A-line dresses and black and red combinations, and I file that away so when I get a shipment I can call or e-mail them,” says Caulder, who hosts open houses and fashion shows to get to know customers more personally. She also records the names and contact information of customers’ spouses so she can alert them when their partner has lingered over an item without purchasing it. “Ninety percent of the time, they’re so grateful they say wrap it up without even seeing it.”

Caulder is one of a growing number of retailers who depend on record-keeping when ordering merchandise, in addition to past sales history and memory. And the trend seems to be even stronger in racquet sales.

Kim Cashman, co-owner of Advantage Yours Tennis in Clearwater, Fla., says her staff enters all racquet and stringing information into a database which also contains a player’s grip size, shoe preference and shoe size.

“When we restring, we can see every previous stringing statistic and help the customer decide if they just want the same as last time, or if they need help with more power, more control, tennis elbow or string breakage problems,” Cashman says. “I do think this is a valuable tool, and our customers love our professionalism.”

When placing orders, Cashman is also mindful of the store’s largest demographic, the 3.5 to 4.5 recreational doubles player. As a result, she stocks a minimum of frames designed for advanced players. Her policy of constantly seeking customer feedback has also led, for example, to offering custom hybrid stringing.

“Our customers get exactly what they want, and feel like they are getting special service, too,” Cashman says. “We try to make it a fun and informative experience. We like to get to know our customers and let them know that we are here to help make them better players. We know our stuff, and we want them to realize that our expertise is worth the trip to our store.”

Paul Kepler, owner of the Seascape Sports Club in Aptos, Calif., agrees that good record-keeping is “absolutely essential” in generating maximum revenue. “It’s easy to carry a wide variety, figuring customers will find something they like, and there’s some validity to doing that. But it’s worth taking the extra step,” he says. “If you do, it can make a big difference.”

According to Kepler, the stringers at Seascape Sports Club use their files to proactively alert players when their string jobs are several months old and in need of attention. Stringers also advise players on how a particular racquet will play at different tensions, based on an individual’s playing style.

Because shoes are generally a convenience purchase for his clientele, Kepler says he tends to stick with one manufacturer to limit his exposure. The club’s apparel buyer has a good sense of what will sell, he says, but she also invites customers to browse catalogs before she places an order.

“The husbands don’t always appreciate it, but the wives do,” Kepler says.

Steve Vorhaus, owner of Rocky Mountain Racquet Specialists in Boulder, Colo., also tracks customers’ racquet and stringing habits. He doesn’t make note of customers’ apparel preferences, however, because styles change too frequently and clothing lines from the same manufacturer may fit differently from year to year.

To compensate, he accepts special orders — for which he is now considering requiring a deposit. “The worst is when a customer doesn’t show up, or does come in and says she doesn’t want it after all,” says Vorhaus, who marks down slow-moving merchandise or donates pieces to charity in order to gain a tax write-off and good public relations in the process. “This is a customer service-oriented business, but it is a business.”

Bob Patterson, owner of Player’s Choice Tennis in Birmingham, Ala., uses inventory control software to capture sales history and log racquet specs. He can then generate reports indicating how many of a certain Nike dress, for example, are currently in inventory and when the last one sold. He can also track how many sold this season as opposed to last season, indicating when the popularity of one style is giving way to another.

Additionally, he can run brand-specific reports. “If [one brand of] racquets have 25 percent of the wall space but only 10 percent of sales, then maybe it’s time to give more attention to [another brand], which could be doing 25 percent of sales with only 10 percent of the wall space,” says Patterson, who also uses his customer database to send quarterly newsletters featuring trends in apparel, shoes, racquets, and a tip from a local teaching pro. “You have to adapt, because if you don’t, then you’ll miss a lot of sales.”

John Gugel, who owns e-tennis inc. with former ATP touring pro Tobias Svantesson in Winter Park, Fla., has specialized in racquet customization since opening the store 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.

“As busy as we are, we take the time to keep a ton of records because we need to know this kind of information in order to provide the best customer service we can,” Gugel says. Additionally, e-tennis records every purchase along with customers’ contact information (with the exception of a quick cash sale from an out-of-town visitor). That information is used to create e-mail blasts designed for specific customers based on a specific brand or interest, or even when apparel in a hard-to-find size such as extra small arrives at the store. Customers are also e-mailed individually when a newly strung racquet is ready to be picked up.

“People are grateful we do it,” Gugel says. “It keeps them coming back.”

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About the Author

Cynthia Cantrell is a contributing editor of RSI magazine.

 


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