How to Shop for your Customers
Confused about what apparel lines to carry? Making sure you bring in lines that will easily find their way back out the door is one of the toughest tasks you’ll face. You need to pick what appeals to your customers visually and financially, and is comfortable to wear. And you need to know what sizes to stock.
First, know your market. Take a close look at who’s playing at your club. Chances are your players are a mixed bag of sizes and shapes, from fitness divas to mature figures who need more forgiving styles and fit. Ask a cross-section of members what sorts of things they look for in tennis apparel. But be wary of basing your orders on just one person’s opinion.
Don’t just look at the catalogs or website of apparel makers. Ask questions of the rep or manufacturer about the way their clothing fits and what types of players are more likely to wear one of their product lines over another. Then compare the manufacturers’ target markets to the people you actually have playing at your facility or visiting your shop.
Always ask about advance ordering or pre-booking policies. Larger manufacturers may pre-book orders, but odds are you won’t be guaranteed all you order. Since many manufacturers forecast a specific number of units to be produced, larger retailers may receive all or most of what they ordered over smaller shops, and once a product line is gone, it may gone for good, with no backorder leeway.
In some instances, there are no guarantees, especially if clothing production is overseas. But that’s not true of all manufacturers. That’s why it’s best to check and see what each apparel company’s ordering policies are and what availability will be throughout the season before you commit to a certain line.
A few apparel manufacturers offered some insight into how and for whom they design their clothing.
The LBH Group has three different lines of clothing. The Lily’s and LBH lines, both made in the U.S. by the same manufacturer, may appear somewhat similar, but there are some subtle differences. Lily’s has been on the market for about 30 years and features a slightly more forgiving and traditional fit with more “sweep” to the skirt, whereas 10-year-old LBH has a more active fit, employing high-tech Coolmax fabrics featuring racer-back tops and built-in bras. Wimbledon, the third LBH line, is very traditional, catering to the “country club” niche, sporting more white, pleated skirts and cables.
LBH’s Katie Curry says their market caters to women who are reading fashion magazines and want their tenniswear to mirror their everyday ready-to-wear clothes. Their lines are composed of many complimentary pieces and components suitable for the well-dressed team as well as style conscious individuals.
Lejay is made in Miami and offers two catalogs per year featuring six fashion groups in each. Within their fashion groups, Lejay features a variety of styles/silhouettes to appeal to a broad age range. They may offer different tops in all the same color/print so that customers have a choice of style. Trish Levin of Lejay says a camisole would appeal to the younger, more fitness-oriented customer, while the cap sleeve may be desirable for the more mature player.
Lejay’s lines, which feature built-in bras, are more fitted and have more cross-over pieces for active wear. The designs also reflect fashion trends, and Levin says their typical customer is active, energetic and fashionable. The company also offers more than 25 styles for team play to mix and match.
Bälle de Mätch lines are performance-driven and focus on kids, and men and women ages 18 to 45. This young, Southern California brand features the recognizable “Yippee Man” on many of its tops and bottoms, as well as more sophisticated looks for active adults. But owner John Embree notes that you don’t have to have the perfect body to wear Bälle clothing, so it’s “user-friendly.” Besides making a lot of team clothing, Bälle carries children’s tennis/activewear to include ages 4 to 14.
Tail has been in the business for more than 30 years, targeting the recreational, semi-competitive player, aged mid-20s and beyond. The company makes use of high-tech fabrics, with lines that are geared toward the 25- to 40-year-old woman who seeks a more athletic fit and more aggressive styling. But within those collections are more relaxed fitting fashions for the more mature women.
About 80 percent of garments in many Tail collections feature a more classic fit, while the remainder are geared toward a younger consumer with the more athletic fit. Tail does a lot of team business, and all clothing collections are “team friendly,” with plenty of crossover components.
See all articles by Cynthia Sherman
About the Author
Cynthia Sherman is a contributing editor for RSI magazine.