2005 Online Retailer of the Year: Tennis Warehouse
Passions run high when talking about online retailing in the tennis business. Many traditional brick-and-mortar store owners who are not also selling on the internet obviously feel it cuts into their business, while those successfully selling online see internet retailing as a logical extension. But there is no denying that online retailing can, indeed, be big business in this industry.
Those successfully selling online are doing more than just moving product, though. They’re changing the nature of retailing in the tennis business. And no online retailer has had a greater impact than Tennis Warehouse, which is why the company based in San Luis Obispo, Calif., has been chosen as RSI’s Online Retailer of the Year, the first time we’ve given an award in this category.
Tennis Warehouse was started by Drew Munster in 1992 as a 500-square-foot specialty tennis shop in San Luis Obispo, where TW still maintains a storefront. Prior to that, Munster (above) had founded ComputerWare in Palo Alto, Calif., which became the largest Apple Macintosh-only dealer in the U.S. and earned the No. 5 spot on Inc. Magazine’s 1990 list of 500 fastest-growing companies in America, with a five-year growth of 21,900 percent.
“Tennis Warehouse really started more or less as a software project for me,” says Munster, the owner and CEO, who wrote the software that continues to run TW. “The idea was to sell the software, rather than grow the business that ran it, but at a certain point I saw more of an opportunity in the [Tennis Warehouse] business than in selling the software.” In 1995, tennis-warehouse.com was launched, and full online ordering was made available in 1998.
Now, TW has up to 120 employees during high season. And TW offers more than simply the ability to order racquets, shoes, apparel, and other equipment online. For instance, TW has a racquet demo program that consumers rave about. Customers can demo up to four frames for a week, paying just the two-day freight costs. “It offers convenience and selection that you can’t find anywhere else,” says Munster, who came up with the program.
TW also does all its own racquet and shoe playtests and does its own measuring and specifications for racquets. The company uses string test data provided by the U.S. Racquet Stringers Association, and at any one time, there are more than 20 Master Racquet Technicians on staff, with new stringers coming up the ladder, their sights set on taking the MRT test.
Consumer education is a big deal for TW, and the website’s “Learning Center,” created and constantly updated by TW’s president, Don Hightower, is packed with information, from how to customize a racquet, to proper footwear and apparel sizing, to understanding the latest racquet technologies, and more. “People come to Tennis Warehouse as an information source, as much as to purchase product,” says Hightower.
Also important to Tennis Warehouse — and to its website visitors — is “Talk Tennis,” which the company says is the most active tennis equipment message board in the world, with an average of 10,000 posts per month and more than 30,000 page views per day. “A big part of what we do is listen to our customers,” says Hightower, adding that that’s simply what successful brick-and-mortar shops do, too.
But Tennis Warehouse, and other online retailers, are to some extent forcing change on the tennis retailing business. “We react very quickly to changes in the market,” says Munster. “I think we’ve simply increased the pace in which business is done. The whole point is to build a better mousetrap, and that’s what we’ve tried to do.
“It all comes down to execution, at all levels,” he continues. “We try to have the right products and do a good job with people’s orders. As unglamorous as it may be, it’s a simple execution model at all levels: details, details, details. We’re more interested in what our customers think of us than what our competitors think of us. Ours is a story of momentum, rather than of overnight success.”
Tennis Warehouse’s tips for success
- Actively interact with, and listen to, your customers.
- Be an information source for your customers. Help them understand the new technologies, the details about racquets and customization, etc.
- At all levels, pay attention to the execution of your business, and pay attention to the details.
See all articles by Peter Francesconi
About the Author
Peter Francesconi is editorial director of RSI magazine.