Racquet World -- Pro/Specialty Retailer of the Year
By Mitch Rustad
When it comes to operating a small business, conventional wisdom says success is all about location. But you don’t have to convince specialty retailer Leon Echevarria of Racquet World in Miami. A decision to relocate his shop has turned an already successful business into one of South Florida’s tennis retail meccas.
Racquet World’s growth has led it to become so well-respected and successful — its merchandising, customer service, community outreach and promotions are top-notch — that it’s been named RSI’s Pro/Specialty Retailer of the Year.
Three years ago, however, the business was at a crossroads. “In order to really take a step up and make a difference in the business, we had to make some changes,” Echevarria says. He opted to shake things up and relocate his business from its old home in the far corner of a strip mall to a location about a mile away, just off of Highway US1, and its thousands of potential drive-by customers.
“I thought to myself, I can either stay at this level my whole life or try to make a move to the big time,” says Echevarria (at right in inset), who owns the store with his brother, Felipe (left). “I am getting smarter as I go.” The new locale allowed him to up the size of the shop from 1,800 to 2,800 square feet and add about 30 percent more merchandise to the sales floor.
But Echevarria didn’t stop there. To further heighten Racquet World’s profile, he asked one of his customers — who happened to be a marketing executive for the Nasdaq-100 pro tennis tournament — about potential partnership ideas. Today, Racquet World is the official store of the Nasdaq-100 (Racquet World operates a 1,500-square-foot retail space at the tournament site), with an exclusive deal to sell racquets, strings, bags, and accessories during the event.
“This also brings a lot business to the store year-round, and it gives us a lot of credibility,” says Echevarria, who sponsors or donates prizes to a bevy of smaller tournaments and leagues throughout the year as well. “So many people from all over the world are in the area, we just had to be a strong part of the event.” For further branding, Echevarria gives away a free T-shirt with every purchase during the Nasdaq-100, which creates customer loyalty.
But Echevarria also goes beyond the big pro event. Racquet World — whose website, tennisplaza.com, launched recently — also is the official stringer for the Orange Bowl Junior Tournament. And the store, in conjunction with some of its vendors, supports 12 to 15 leagues and local tournaments.
“Leon runs an effective business and he really understands customer service,” says Greg Mason, the director of marketing and pro/specialty sales at HEAD Penn. “He’s also one of the nicest guys you’ll ever meet.”
Inside the shop, however, is where Echevarria truly shines. A knowledgeable, exemplary, full-time staff of nine, a focus on customer service, and some unexpected personal touches keep his customers coming back.
Racquet World makes keeping its customers happy — no- hassle returns, warranties, and even restringing for free are standard policies — a priority, right down to the snazzy, personalized peel-off labels with the store’s logo that come with every string job. “It looks very professional, and people are always impressed,” Echevarria says.
“We take our stringing business seriously,” says Echevarria. “It’s the foundation of our store. A happy stringing customer has to come into the store once to drop off the racquet then again to pick it up, so you have two chances to interact with him.” Racquet World strings about 50 racquets a day, on three Babolat Sensor machines. Echevarria himself is a Master Racquet Technician.
For one industry insider, though, the “how” of Echevarria’s success is a no-brainer. “I’ve seen a lot of retailers come and go,” says Ana April, sales rep for Prince in the Southeast, who’s worked with Echevarria from the day he opened his doors in 1990. “He’s got one of the most successful businesses I’ve ever seen in Florida, and he’s built it up from ground zero. He’s the best.”
Racquet World’s tips for success
- Do everything within your power to please customers.
- Partner with vendors to support local leagues and tournaments. The exposure you’ll gain could be immeasurable.
- Great merchandise displays, and a clean store, will keep customers coming back.
See all articles by Mitch Rustad
About the Author
Mitch Rustad has been a long-time freelance writer based in New York City.