Tennis Industry magazine

 

Made to Order

Building up and promoting a racquet customizing business will reap rewards for you, and give your players unparalleled service.

By Crawford Lindsey

Most racquet manufacturers have many different frames available for all types of players. Generally, racquet makers cast a wide net and try to snare as many players as they can with their different models.

But, as a stringer, teaching pro, or pro shop or facility operator, you know that rarely do your players fit perfectly into the racquet manufacturer’s mold when it comes to a frame that can best help their game. In just about every case, your customers’ games can benefit from some type of racquet customization. Players should never have to change their games to adapt to a frame that is wrong for their style of play.

It’s like buying a new suit. Sure, there are off-the-rack suits that will fit fine, but to really look the best on you, the suit will need some tailoring. Certainly, touring pros — and many serious recreational or tournament players — “tailor” their frames to get the best performance possible.

For your customers, a properly customized racquet can improve their games and help prevent or lessen injuries, such as arm and shoulder problems. For you, it can be a gold mine — possibly the greatest untapped gold mine in the tennis retailing and racquet service business.

A customized racquet can add $20 to $50 to every sale, and it is the No. 1 service that you can provide to differentiate yourself as a consummate expert and to make your shop a truly “total” racquet-service establishment. Not only do you want to handle all your customers’ stringing needs, but for players looking for that “perfect” frame or looking to “match” their racquets, you need to let them know that adjustments you can make to their grip and racquet weight, balance, and swingweight will help them play better.

Why do so few shops customize frames? Is it lack of knowledge and equipment, or is it fear of the unknown? It’s probably a mix of all of the above. But there are a number of resources that you can use to increase your knowledge in this area and help you become familiar with the customizing process. In this and subsequent articles in RSI, you’ll learn how you can customize your players’ frames, and build your customization business.

Why Customize?

Customizing a racquet can affect a shot’s depth, spin, angle, and speed, as well as the feel, comfort, and safety of that shot to the player. It is truly a service that can make the technician/retailer/pro a hero to the customer.

The first step in customizing a racquet is to help your customer purchase the right frame off the shelf to begin with. This, of course, is done with a subsequent view to “optimization,” for which you plant the seeds with the customer during the selection process with statements like, “This racquet best meets your requirements on average, and we can then adjust its power, control, and comfort to optimize and match it to your needs and abilities.” Again, like buying a new suit, you want the off-the-rack product to be a good base from which you can start making alterations. The off-the-shelf racquet is just the beginning of the racquet fitting process. The new racquet is just a template from which to create your customized work of art and to demonstrate your expertise.

Even though all racquets should undergo some type of customization, today the most common reason to customize a frame is probably to match racquets. Player’s with multiple racquets want all of them to feel exactly the same for every movement in every direction.

You can customize frames by adding the correct amount of weight to the correct locations, which usually involves adding lead tape to one to three locations on the racquet. The goal is to match all the so-called racquet “weights”: stationary weight, swingweight, twistweight, recoilweight, spinweight, and hittingweight, as well as the balance point.

Keep in mind that it’s much easier to add weight to a frame than it is to take weight away. Also, you can’t change the stiffness of a frame, so when matching racquets, make sure your customer buys frames with the same stiffness.

Another reason to customize a frame is to optimize performance. The goal is to alter feel, power, control, and/or comfort. Optimization involves experimenting with adding weight to various locations and then having the customer hit with the frame to see how that affects performance. By trial and error and intelligent lead-tape placements (i.e., knowing the probable effect of each placement), the player will find a combination that he or she likes best. In general, serve-and-volleyers like lighter more maneuverable setups and baseliners like a setup with greater weight and swingweight.

A third reason to customize a frame is for stroke adjustment. For example, if a player is hitting too early, adding weight toward the tip will slow the head down. If the player is hitting too late, removing tape from the tip will speed up the tip, or adding it to the handle will slow the forearm in comparison to the tip, which brings the racquet through faster.

And last, a racquet can be customized with an eye toward injury prevention. For example, shock and vibration can be lessened by adding weight in the head or lowering string tension. But adding weight to the head could also create a late impact point, straining the wrist and causing injury. Customization is never done in isolation — how the player reacts to the customization is the important thing.


A ‘Weighty’ Issue

The four properties of the racquet that you typically modify are the total weight, balance, twistweight, and swingweight.

The overall weight of a racquet is easily measured on a scale and modified by placing lead tape at various points on the racquet. The balance of the racquet is the point along the length of the frame at which it balances. You can buy a balance board such as the Alpha board below, or you can make your own. The swingweight is measured using precise equipment, such as the Babolat RDC machine or the Prince Precision Tuning Center.

Ohaus scale and Alpha Viper balance board
Ohaus scale and Alpha Viper
Prince Precision Tuning Center
Prince PTC
Babolat Racquet Diagnostic Center
Babolat RDC

How to Customize

There are three basic ways to customize a racquet:

Lead weight application. This will alter the overall weight of the frame and will alter how that weight is distributed throughout the racquet. The four properties of the racquet that you typically modify are the total weight, balance, twistweight, and swingweight.

adding lead tape to the hoop of a tennis racquet
Lead tape applied to the hoop
adding lead tape to the handle of a tennis racquet
Lead tape applied to the handle

The overall weight of a racquet is easily measured on a scale. The balance of the racquet is the point along the length of the frame at which it balances. You can buy a balance board or you can make your own.

The swingweight is measured using precise equipment, such as the Babolat RDC machine, the Prince Precision Tuning Center, or the Alpha Accuswing. (The higher the swingweight, the more difficult the frame is to swing.) While these machines can be a bit pricey, they’re definitely worth the investment if you’re planning on boosting your customization business. If buying a diagnostic machine is not in the budget right now, you can use the online tools available at racquettech.com (for USRSA members) to measure and calculate swingweight and twistweight (twistweight is not measured by any commercially available diagnostic machine).

Handle shaping and sizing. This obviously affects grip, feel, and strokes, but it also will change the weight and weight distribution of the racquet, so it additionally affects how heavy the racquet is, its balance, swingweight, etc.

building up a tennis racquet handle with heat-shrink tubing
Handle sizing with heat-shrink sleeve

Building up a grip is easy with heat-shrink sleeves or overgrips, but decreasing the handle size or taking weight out of the handle is a bit more challenging and may be limited by the type of handle the racquet has. You can slightly shave down handles made of wood or polyurethane, but you can’t shave down graphite, plastic, or composite cushioned handles.

Stringbed customization. Stringing a frame is obviously also a method of customization. You can alter stringbed stiffness by varying the string material, gauge, tension, and if buying a new racquet, pattern. Stringing customization alters playing characteristics by affecting one thing — stringbed stiffness. The stiffness of all strings has been measured by the USRSA and can be found at racquettech.com/members/tools/string_selector.html.

Most stringers and retailers see themselves and market themselves as just that — stringers and retailers. If both presented themselves as “racquet performance optimizers,” customers would see their services in a new light and would be more curious and aware of the possibilities to improve.

Marketing Customization

It’s all about marketing your services effectively. Master racquet customizer Bob Patterson of Birmingham, Ala., who was RSI’s 2005 Stringer of the Year, says you should create a “Racquet Service Center” in your shop and “flaunt” your customization services (see RSI, February 2006, page 13).

Here are some other tips that can help you build-up your customizing business and offer real value to your players:

Be different. Offering “stringing” and “racquet sales” is about as exciting and different as, well, stringing and racquet sales! Everyone can and does do that, and if that’s what you advertise, that’s all customers will expect. But, corny as it might sound, what if you promoted your expertise as “Performance Optimizing Services” or “Performance Enhancement Experts”?

Make it the star. Create a customization center in your store, highlight it, display it, “trick it out,” and direct traffic to it.

Integrate it. Your performance services (stringing, weighting and balancing, racquet selection, handle adjustments, etc.) are a package and should be promoted as such.

Market the benefits. Don’t call it “racquet customization” or “racquet optimization.” Rather, emphasize the benefits: “Power boosting,” “control tuning,” “comfort-izing,” “feel enhancement.”

Guarantee satisfaction. With every racquet purchase, guarantee the customer will prefer the performance-enhanced racquet to the off-the-shelf racquet, or the customization (attempt) is free of charge.

Offer “performance enhancement days.” These are just like demo days, except players demo their own racquets but with lead tape added to change the racquet’s characteristics. The procedure is simply to apply lead tape to players’ racquets and send them out to hit a few dozen balls and then to relate their experiences to you. Based on the feedback, you will or will not change the amount and/or location of lead tape and send them back out again. You can probably orchestrate this with four to eight players per court.

Racquet customization can and should be a big part of your business. Your players need to know that, as good as the off-the-shelf frames may be, your expertise can help them tune the frame to exactly fit their games.


Rules for Customization


Advantage: USRSA Members

The online tools available at racquettech.com (for USRSA members) do all the heavy lifting for you. From comparing every property of every racquet and string to every other and choosing the best for your customer, to calculating the amounts and locations of lead weight placement for customization, these tools are essential to your success and to making your customers happy.

Racquet Selector

Racquet Selector starts with all the specs of your current racquet, asks you how you would like each of those changed, and asks you to prioritize your desires. For the choices at left, the Racquet Selector returned two racquets that matched all eight of the priorities listed. If the “all” box for manufacturers to search is checked, Racquet Selector will return 20 racquets on the market matching all eight priorities. If Racquet Selector can’t find a match for all eight of your criteria, it will list the racquets that meet your top seven, or six, etc. It always finds the closest racquet on the market to your desires.

Racquet Selector

Racquet Optimizer

The top three sliders set up the current specs of your racquet. The bottom four sliders allow you to do “what if” scenarios for different amounts and locations of lead tape placement. The results are displayed in the middle boxes. It is great for “tweaking” customizations preformed by the Racquet Customizer.

Racquet Optimizer

Racquet Customizer

This is your ultimate tool. You tell the Customizer what the specs of your racquet are, then what you want them to be, and it will tell you how much and where to add weights. In the example here, Customizer says to add 0.02 gm at 68.58 cm (the tip), 4.93 gm at 53.34 cm (approximately 3 and 4 o’clock), and 12.05 gm at 2.54 cm (in the handle).

Racquet Customizer


Racquet Customizer step 1

Racquet Customizer


Racquet Customizer step 2


Resources for Customizing Racquets

There are a number of resources available that are designed to give you all you need to know to service racquets effectively for your players.

For the skills and techniques involved in fine-tuning racquets, check out these media (available from the USRSA at racquettech.com or 760-536-1177):

The scientific concepts behind the racquet customization techniques are contained in two books (available from Racquet Tech Publishing at racquettech.com or 760-536-1177):

The measuring equipment comes in high-tech and low-tech flavors. High-tech equipment to measure weight, balance, and swingweight are

The low-tech, no-cost methods are provided at racquettech.com tools center (for USRSA members):

Racquet and string selector tools:

Calculation tools for customization:


Join the USRSA

Full membership in the U.S. Racquet Stringers Association, allowing access to all the online tools listed here, and much more, is $109 a year. Web-only memberships, allowing access to the online tools, is $55 a year, or $9 a month. To join the U.S. Racquet Stringers Association, visit racquettech.com or call 760-536-1177.

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About the Author

Crawford Lindsey  is co-author of The Physics and Technology of Tennis and Technical Tennis

 

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