String of Successes
Our exclusive guide will help you generate more revenue from your stringing business.
By Mitch Rustad
Whether you’re sitting at the top of the pro rankings or languishing at the bottom of your club’s singles ladder, you won’t win a single point without them. And even the most high-tech racquets are merely well-honed sticks of graphite without this essential product.
Be it natural gut or good old-fashioned nylon, tennis strings are one of a retailer’s best sources of regular income, if they treat them as a category on par with racquets, shoes, and apparel, and if retailers can afford to have a little patience while building their clientele. With some savvy sales and marketing help, your stringing operation can create repeat business at your cash register.
“You have to wait it out, because it’s hard work,” says Randy Stephenson of Frisco, Texas, who’s been stringing full-time for 11 years and was named RSI’s Stringer of the Year in 2004. “There is no easy way to do it but to put your time and effort into it.”
But how exactly can you turn your stringing business into a cash cow? RSI caught up with some of the best stringers in the tennis business to find out.
Nobody Does It Better
One of the best arguments small retailers can make to grab customers from the big-box outlets is having the clear edge in more personalized interactions, especially when it comes to stringing. “Don’t even try to compete with the big-box stores,” says Vince Chiarelli, owner of String Along With Vince, a retail shop in Largo, Fla., that relies heavily on its stringing business. “They cannot provide the level of service that you can provide, so you want to use that as your building block.”
Offering each customer professional suggestions and making them aware if they’ve received a less-than-stellar string job from another store, says Chiarelli, can build a loyal following and plenty of repeat business. “I constantly get frames in here that are strung incorrectly,” he says. “Just putting strings in the holes doesn’t do the job.” By finding out your customer’s style of play and taking their age, skill level and frame into account, you’ll be building a solid customer base, says Chiarelli.
“I think you can be successful in any size store, it just depends on what kind of service you give the people,” he says. “But in some cases, smaller is even better, and that’s how I’ve built my business.”
Of course, getting certified by reputable professional associations like the USRSA (see page 32) is almost a prerequisite these days to being successful. Mark Campanile, owner of The Racquet Man in Northbrook, Ill., a racquet repair and customization company that strings about 80 frames a week, says, “Anytime you can become accredited in your profession, it’s a feather in your cap.”
Joining the USRSA will give you access to all the professional resources that can help your stringing business, and you’ll get a certificate to display that indicates to your customers that you’re keeping abreast of the latest developments in strings, racquets and customizing techniques. The next step with the USRSA is the Certified Stringer level, then there’s the ultimate designation, the USRSA’s Master Racquet Technician, who is schooled in all aspects of racquet customization.
“I try to display my certifications and let players know I know my stuff,” says Stephenson. “Surprisingly, most tennis clubs could care less whether they have a good stringer.”
Another route to keeping your stringing business fresh and competitive is to keep on top of the latest techniques. One of the best ways of doing that is to apply to work at local pro tournaments or travel with a manufacturer’s “team” to a Grand Slam event, where the best stringers in the world are customizing and stringing for the best pros.
“It helps if you can get to travel on the pro tours,” says John Li, who with his brother Julian has owned Rackets Racquets, two shops in Burbank and Arcadia, Calif., since 1991, and who has previously worked for Team Babolat in France. “We’ve done it since 1993, and it’s a great way to get to know all the stringing techniques.
“Year after year we’ve learned more and more,” says Li, who has traveled as far as Shanghai to string for the pros. “It’s also a great way to get started and exchange information with other stringers.”
Education means potential income in the stringing business, but it’s not necessarily going to bloat your bankbook overnight, says Chiarelli. “Some people think they’re going to go to the Slams to make money, but often it won’t necessarily even pay for your trip,” says Chiarelli, who strung at this year’s French Open. “It depends on each sponsor. It’s just something I really enjoy doing, and it doesn’t hurt business to say you string at pro events.”
Customize, Customize, Customize!
Providing a perfect string job is a must to keep customers happy, but knowing how to add those special touches to complement each string job — such as adjusting a frame’s weight, grip, etc. to the preferences or style of each player — can turn a successful business into a booming one.
“Knowing how to customize each racquet can really get your income up,” says Li. “Try to learn from the best and then create new ideas — and even new products.”
For example, Li worked with a chemist to create Glide Stick, a dry material that you apply to the steel track of a stringing machine, which then serves as a lubricant for the machine. Li says he’ll market the product to other stringers and retailers to supplement his business, but he remains focused on customization.
“We make enough profit on the racquet, but we make the real profit on the strings and grips,” he says. “The racquet is less important, so we just want to sell the racquets out and then get repeat stringing customers.”
But Li knows there’s no second chances in this business; you have to be perfect — and innovative — right from the second a new customer walks in the door.
“After one string job, we’ve got them hooked,” he says. “Tennis is very hard. If you don’t think of new ideas, you have to close down the shop. You need to keep being creative and know what you’re doing and keep updating with the latest technology. We’re always on the lookout for new ideas.”
Tips for generating stringing revenue
Show It Off: Make your stringing machine a showpiece in your business; don’t hide it in the back room. If customers see you or a staff member stringing a racquet, they’ll want to know more — about the machine itself, about different types of string, about the customizing and stringing process. And don’t ignore the effect that a well-known stringing machine brand can have on your customers’ perception of your business.
Know Your Customer: “Decide what your clients are like and go from there,” says Stephenson. “Most of my clients are retired; they want comfort from the strings, so I use multifilament string. It’s easier on the arm, and that in itself can make a big difference to people.”
Offer Deals and Specials: Build up your business with programs that offer incentives to have racquets strung. For instance, offer a special string deal if a player buys a new frame from you. Or offer so many restrings, then the next one is free. Maybe offer a half-price string job on a player’s birthday, or offer teams a special restringing price. Be creative, and you can get more players hooked on regular string jobs.
Be Consistent: “This is a pure volume business, so one of the things you can do is offer consistency,” says Campanile. “I make sure that six months later your racquet will come out exactly the same as the one you get from me today.”
Don’t Forget Your Demos: Demo racquets can serve another purpose, too — they can show off particular strings and tensions, in addition to showing off your expertise in stringing and customizing racquets. Don’t let your demos get ratty; you want them to play their best at all times. Keep a file on your demo racquets that lists string and tension.
An Eye For Detail: “The little things can make a difference,” says Stephenson, whose eye for detail goes down to the finishing touch — the finishing knot. “I make sure the knot tail always faces the some direction, rather than going down or up. It always looks the same no matter that tension or type of string, so the frame always looks clean after it leaves my machine.”
Keep Notes: Keep a file, either handwritten or on computer, on your customers and their stringing preferences, to make it easy to duplicate things they like and change what they don’t like. Also, send your customers reminder notices when it’s time to restring their racquet, according to the last restring date you have in your files.
String by Appointment: “The big-box stores take too long to string racquets,” says Stephenson. “I make sure no matter how busy I am to get the frame done as soon as possible. There isn’t a tennis player out there who isn’t anxious to get their frame back. I insist on same day delivery, absolutely, that’s a must. I also string by appointment, they can wait while I string.”
Get Certified: Join the U.S. Racquet Stringers Association, then look into becoming a Certified Stringer and a Master Racquet Technician. It will show your players you really know what you’re doing.
An Educated Consumer …
Strings don’t have to break to go bad. As they get older, they’ll lose tension and will feel different. That will affect the player’s shots, making them less and less effective as the player struggles to compensate for the racquet’s change in feel.
The rough rule of thumb is that a player should restring as many times each year as he or she plays each week. But a better, more technical way is to measure the string-bed stiffness of the freshly strung racquet and get it restrung each time it loses 20 to 30 percent of its freshly strung value. (This is where good record-keeping comes in.)
You need to educate your players on the value of regular tension checks and restringing. When possible, offer to do a quick tension check and visual inspection of the strings. Check for notches or frays. If a player uses “string savers,” make sure they understand that while they’ll make the strings last longer, the strings will still lose tension and resiliency over time.
See all articles by Mitch Rustad
About the Author
Mitch Rustad has been a long-time freelance writer based in New York City.