Tennis Industry magazine

 

Gender Specific

Wilson’s new “W” line of frames is designed for women players.

By James Martin

What do women want? Wilson hopes it has the answer.

This fall, the company is releasing a group of racquets, called the W line, that are designed specifically for female players. Of course, you may be asking yourself, how do you make frames for women without patronizing them? “Women expect to be respected as athletes first,” says Wilson’s Jon Muir, “but they also appreciate style.”

Wilson will be putting the emphasis on the latter. The W line is, on a certain level, a vanity product. It consists of three models (the 117 sq.-in. W2 117, the 107-sq.-in. W4, and the 97-sq.-in. W6) that are available in multiple colors and patterns. The super-oversize comes in three colors, the oversize in four, and the mid-plus in two, giving the consumer a total of nine different cosmetics from which to choose. They are racquets as objets d’art.

But these aren’t the cliché colors of pink and powder blue, which racquet companies have used in the past to create the image of a lady’s stick. Rather, Wilson paints these frames with vibrant and distinctive colors and gives them names that sound like shades of lipstick: Blue Shadow, Spicy Ruby, Savage Sapphire, and Wild Crimson, for example.

“We did extensive research — five focus groups around the world — and we learned that the cosmetics had to be bold and strong,” Muir says. “There has to be a sense that the racquet’s cosmetic is an extension of the player’s personality. That’s why we’re offering so many selections.”

But to Muir’s other point, about respecting women as athletes first, W racquets aren’t just pretty frames. There’s substance behind the style. They feature Wilson’s nCode technology for stability and a solid feel. The heads of each frame are also unique — oval instead of the traditional round shape, in order to increase the length of the main strings for more power. Other features include shock-absorbing grommets and softer grips for comfort. And the racquets are all fairly light and maneuverable.

The W racquets will carry a premium price, ranging from $199.99 to $269.99 suggested retail. Will women pony up? It’ll be interesting to see. The W line, which will feature a new “W” logo, is the first time a tennis manufacturer has marketed racquets with such an image-conscious strategy. In other industries, this type of marketing has worked wonders. Take Apple. It has successfully branched off its iPod with mini iPods, where the main appeal is that they come in different colors yet still deliver the solid performance of the original.

Muir compares the W line to the Apple strategy. The thinking is that female players will identify with a particular W model as a way of expressing themselves on court.

But you have to wonder whether the W line will cannibalize Wilson’s nCode racquets. The company’s top female players, Lindsay Davenport, Justine Henin-Hardenne, and Venus and Serena Williams, endorse different nCode models. Will the women’s-only frames simply siphon sales away from nCode, or will they generate new customers and expand the size of Wilson’s pie?

And despite all the talk about technology and performance, will serious tennis players be turned off by racquets that put style ahead of substance?

While Wilson awaits the answers to these questions, it’s putting marketing muscle behind its launch at this year’s US Open. The racquets will come with attractive head cards, with a picture of the line’s spokeswoman, ex-WTA touring pro Barbara Schett, on them, along with other point-of-purchase materials. In addition to the frames, the W line will include accessories such as bags, overgrips, visors, caps, and trucker hats that correspond to the racquet cosmetics. And a portion of the proceeds from the sale of W merchandise will be donated to breast cancer research.

Distribution will also play a key role in Wilson’s prospects. “We believe that the W line is not for every retailer,” Muir says. “This is a franchise product. We want accounts who believe in what we’re doing and can carry at least three to four SKUs. You need that many to tell the story.”

800-272-6060; Wilson Tennis

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About the Author

James Martin is the editor-in-chief of Tennis magazine and TENNIS.com. He is the former editor of Tennis Industry magazine. You can reach him at jmartin@tennismagazine.com.

 

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