A well-thought-out marketing strategy will help you attract and retain customers.
You can put together all the best tennis programs in the world, offer the best lessons, stock the best products in your shop. But if you can’t get people onto your courts or into your store, it’s all a waste of time and money.
That’s where marketing comes in. To attract and retain customers, you need to market your tennis facility, shop, or business. And you need to target your marketing to the right customer group or groups for maximum effect.
Marketing, of course, is a huge topic — every year, dozens of books are published about the subject. But that’s because all businesses — including yours — need to do something to market their products and services. Even if you don’t currently have an actual “marketing plan,” you’re already doing some things that would be considered “marketing.” Otherwise, you’d be out of business.
Many of the tennis directors and retail shop owners that we talk to regularly say the best marketing for their business is simply the great attributes of tennis itself. “Let’s just tell people the truth about all the good things that tennis has to offer,” says Ajay Pant, the general manager of the Indian Creek Racquet Club in Overland Park, Kan. “Tennis is good for you, tennis is wonderful.”
But whether pushing the sport or your specific business, “marketing” involves a lot of different areas — sales, advertising, pricing, customer relations, etc. And while we obviously can’t cover all the areas of marketing that you need for your tennis business on these pages, we can present some ideas and strategies that you may find useful in boosting your business and reaching the right customers — the ones who will boost your bottom line.
It’s About Information
Successful marketing depends on a few keys:
- Research, which will help you determine what your customers want and need.
- A marketing strategy that you develop after analyzing your competitive advantages.
- Targeting the markets that you want to serve.
- Determining what marketing components will best help you attract and retain your customers.
Market research, according to the American Marketing Association, is the systematic gathering, recording, and analyzing of data about problems relating to the marketing of goods and services. Timely and relevant market information is important to all businesses. This type of market research may sound time-consuming and expensive, but it doesn’t need to be. In fact, you’re probably already doing things that could rightly be deemed market research.
For instance, have you ever asked former players why they may have dropped out of the game, or asked a current player why he switched racquet or shoe brands, or would rather play on one court surface over another? Have you ever checked out what your competitors are doing in terms of pricing? All of this is a form of market research.
“I keep track of our customers, what they buy, when they bought it,” says Chris Gaudreau of the Racquet Koop in New Haven, Conn. “We keep records on customers’ brands, type of shoe, type of string.”
You can also do more detailed research. For instance, ask your customers to complete a brief questionnaire about their playing preferences, equipment choices, ideal playing partners, or programs they’d like to see. And, of course, you can always hire a specialist to do even more detailed and formal marketing research into your business and your customers.
Don’t forget that a wealth of information about the tennis business and tennis players is already available through the annual U.S. Tennis Participation Study by the USTA and TIA. The TIA (www.tennisindustry.org) also has many other research reports available that you can use to help determine your marketing.
Ask the Right Questions
To come up with the right marketing strategies for your facility, pro shop, stringing service, or any business, you need to ask the right questions when gathering information. For instance:
- Who are my customers and potential customers?
- Where do they live?
- Can and will they buy my racquets and apparel, sign up for my programs, book court time?
- Am I offering the kinds of products, programs, and services that they want?
- Are my prices consistent with what customers consider value?
- Are my promotional programs working?
- What do customers think of my facility or shop?
- How does my business compare with my competitors?
Keep in mind that researching your marketplace is not an exact science — people’s opinions and feelings are influenced by many factors and constantly change. But gathering facts this way will tell you what your customers want and how to present it to them in an attractive way. Timely and relevant research into your customers also will help you reduce business risks, spot upcoming trends or problems in the market, and identify sales opportunities.
Don’t forget that your own employees may be one of the best sources of information you have about your customers and players. Encourage your employees tell you what your customers are saying. Employees will hear about the big complaints, such as court times that constantly get screwed up, and they’ll hear about the minor gripes, too, such as no soap in the restroom. They’ll also pick up on products that your customers want but you may not stock.
Want to get even more involved in gathering research, but have no real budget for it? Consider asking a nearby college or university business school for help. Your business might even be taken on as a class project.
Plan Your Strategy
To create your marketing plan, take into consideration whether you’re giving your customers the right products and services, offering the programs they’re looking for, and indeed, even reaching the right customers in the first place. A good strategy will help your business focus on the target markets it can serve best.
But planning your marketing strategy doesn’t just involve tailoring your products and services, it also gets into pricing and your promotional efforts to reach your potential customers. Think of the marketing plan as your roadmap.
The plan determines “what paths you will take, which turns you will make, and, most important of all, where you are going,” says “guerrilla marketing” coach Al Lautenslager on Entrepreneur.com. “A plan offers a simple strategy or set of strategies, a marketing calendar, an evaluation system, and a selection of weapons and tactics that give you complete control of your marketing.”
The information you gathered from the market research will help you develop initiatives, action plans, follow-up plans, accountability, and measurements that will help you run your business more effectively, and allow you to attract and retain customers. Keep in mind, though, that your plan needs to be somewhat flexible to respond to changes. “Markets change, customers change and company intentions and activity changes,” says Lautenslager.
Also consider your target markets — concentrating your efforts on a few key market segments may bring you the highest return on your investment. And never forget the value of word of mouth.
“I believe that if you do a good job of word of mouth, that will work,” says the Racquet Koop’s Gaudreau. “I do no advertising.”
That’s echoed by Steve Vorhaus, owner of Rocky Mountain Racquet Specialists in Boulder, Colo. “We do some very traditional print advertising,” he says. “But from an outreach standpoint, our most successful venues are word of mouth, and institutional business with local parks departments and local high schools, so we get infused into those communities.”
The Marketing Mix
The U.S. Small Business Administration identifies a few key components that combine into an overall marketing plan: products and services, promotion, and pricing. “Any marketer has to go into any project with integration,” says Scott Hazelwood, the marketing director of the Four Seasons Racquet Club in Wilton, Conn. “All these different parts have to be working together.”
Strategies that involve products and services may include narrowing or limiting your product line. For instance, if you determine that your market is mostly older couples without children, you probably don’t need to stock junior racquets, and you may want to have more “forgiving” frames. Or if you have “serious” league and tournament players in your area, beef up your stringing and customization business. You may have a lot of team tennis players in your area that need to coordinate apparel and find team uniforms.
Promotion strategies involve things like advertising and customer interaction. What is the best way to reach your customers and potential customers? Can you reach them through ads or articles in local papers or on the radio? Is there a pro tournament in your area that you can help sponsor or run an ad in the program? Should you reach them by direct mail, or through an email campaign? If you’re a Tennis Welcome Center or a Cardio Tennis site, have you taken advantage of the opportunities those programs and websites offer?
Obviously, with pricing, you want to maximize your total revenue. But through your research, you need to set prices that will appeal to your target customers. Keep in mind that some racquet and footwear manufacturers are rather strict on their pricing policies.
At least every quarter, take a look at how your marketing program is doing. Are you doing all you can to be customer-oriented? Are your employees doing all they can to satisfy your customers so that they’ll come back again? Is it easy for your customers to find what they’re looking for?
The number of promotional tools that you use is limited only by your imagination and your budget. For instance, Ajay Pant says the Overland Park Racquet Club recently had a wine- and cheese-tasting party, where players drilled on court, then came in for socialization and refreshment. “But it wasn’t just our members,” says Pant. “They brought guests with them.”
At Overland Park, events like this are promoted on a special kiosk at the club, and members tend to bring their nonmember friends to them. Staff also promotes the events by mentioning them to members frequently. “Before you know it, we have a waiting list for our special events,” says Pant.
Brad Blume of Tennis Express says his company sponsors three big tournaments a year in the local Houston area, where they have their name on the tournament T-shirt that every participant receives, along with signage on court.
“We also donate to local schools for auctions, including big-name player autographed merchandise,” says Blume. Tennis Express, which is both a brick-and-mortar store and an online retailer, also markets its business through fliers and coupons at tournaments and public tennis centers. In addition, “Our Yellow Pages ad is really good for us,” says Blume.
Doug Cash, the former chief operating officer of TCA and now a tennis industry consultant, says promoting a free 30-minute workout has been extremely effective. “Come in and take a free lesson from one of our pros,” says Cash. “It gets people into the club. We leave business cards that has this offer on it at various businesses in the area.”
One idea that veteran tennis director Larry Karageanes of Club & Resorts Tennis Services (www.jobeasier.com) promotes is the “can of fun,” geared to getting kids to come back for lessons and clinics. “Each kid receives an empty ball can that they can personalize with colorful stickers and things,” says Karageanes. Then, each time they come back, they fill the can with various fun handouts that they can color and learn from, for instance handouts on tennis scoring. “It’s a bit more valuable than just giving them candy.”
Overland Park R.C., which is part of the TCA organization, takes pains to schedule programs when their customers want them. “Most places will program based on the pro’s schedule,” says Pant. “We won’t. We’ll program everything based on what the members and potential members want, then we’ll find the right people to work the program.”
There are a million ways you can successfully market your programs and products to your players and customers. It’s just a matter of finding what works best for your business.
What Are Your Competitors Up To?
For your business to succeed, not only is it important for you to analyze your own market, it’s also important to understand your competition. Here are some tips adapted from the U.S. Small Business Administration (www.sba.gov) that can help you get the drop on your competitors. First, ask yourself some questions about your competitors:
- Who are your five nearest direct competitors?
- Who are your indirect competitors?
- Is their business growing, steady, or declining?
- What can you learn from their operations or from their advertising?
- What are their strengths and weaknesses from a customer standpoint? How can you capitalize on their weaknesses and meet the challenges of their strengths?
- How do their products, programs, or services differ from yours?
You may want to start a file on each of your competitors that includes advertising, promotional materials, and pricing strategies. You probably do some of this unconsciously already, for instance noting your competitors’ ads in local publications, or picking up their brochure or catalog.
Review your files periodically to determine your competition’s advertising venues and frequency, their promotions and sponsorships, and how often they offer sales. Take note of the text they use in their advertising and promotional material.
To gather information on your competitors, check out what’s available on the internet, including your competitions’ websites. Also, why not visit their locations? See how they interact with customers, what the facility or shop looks like, how they display their products.
Talk to customers. Find out what they’re saying about your competitors. Finally, analyze your competitors’ ads to find out about their target audience, market position, products, services, prices, etc.
Ideas To Help You Market Your Business
- Develop quality marketing tools. Put some thought into how you want your message to get across to customers and potential customers. You want to create a cohesive image for your business.
- Don’t forget the phone. For many customers, especially new ones, it’s often the first point of contact with your business. Is the person answering the phone pleasant and knowledgeable? When a call has to be answered by voice mail, is the outgoing message, professional, friendly, and clear?
- Get out there. Sponsor community events, get involved in local tournaments, link up with a school or team for fund-raising programs. And network — join local civic groups and the chamber of commerce. The more you and your staff get involved, the more visible your business becomes.
- Get local news coverage. So many of the things that you do can be used in local newspapers. Got a new ball machine? Send a press release to the local paper, along with how it will enhance your lessons and programming. Hired a new pro? Get his or her photo in the paper.
- Get on the air. Develop relationships with local TV stations and when you start up a new program, for instance Cardio Tennis, call them and have them cover it.
- Get on the web. Not only should you have a website (and keep it updated!), but offer an emailed newsletter, which can help establish you, and your business, as the experts.
- Offer free samples. For example, you may want to create a program where new players can take a free half-hour lesson or get in on a clinic, or if you have an avid player base, develop a restringing program that, after so many paid restring jobs, customers get one free.
- Try cross-promotions. Are there other businesses that you share customers with? For instance, are there a lot of high-end luxury cars in your parking lot? Maybe you can work out some type of cross-promotion with a Mercedes or Lexus dealership, where customers who test drive a car get a complimentary lesson. Or maybe there’s a health-food store in your area that can offer coupons for your facility or shop, in exchange for you doing the same.
- Thank your best customers. Let the top 15 or 20 percent of your customers know that they’re special. You can thank them with small gifts, or maybe extended court time, free string or regripping. Let them know that you appreciate their business.
- Offer a guarantee. Let players know that if they’re dissatisfied with a lesson or clinic, it’s free. Guarantee your string and customization jobs.
It’s Not Rocket Science!
USRSA Members Share Simple, Inexpensive Tips for Creating Business
Free Publicity Dispensers
Take a tennis ball and (using an Exacto knife) carefully cut a 1/4 inch circular piece from the side opposite the stenciled brand name. This hole will keep the ball from rolling over when you set it on a counter, table or bench. Then cut a straight line across the stenciled brand name about half way around the ball. Put a stack of business cards into the slit. Customers can’t miss an optic yellow card dispenser.
Also take some of these ad-balls to the public courts and push them halfway into the fence. Players are always curious about a tennis ball stuck on the fence. With these balls, it is not necessary to cut the round hole in the bottom and I use our mini-flyers rather than business cards.
Ad-balls get high visibility exposure and bring awareness of our business directly to the tennis playing public.
— Rick SantaMaria, Edison, NJ
Turn the plastic lids on tennis ball cans into an ad-lid. Avery 2-inch round labels (Item 5294) are just the perfect fit for this piece of advertising real estate. Design and print your ad or promo-related messages on these labels and simply stick ‘em on the plastic lids. These ad-lids will surely find their way onto the tennis court where other players will see it. Snap the ad-lids on the tennis balls you sell, or on the promo freebies you give away.
— Rick SantaMaria, Piscataway, NJ
I give my customers a choice of a T-shirt or hat with my shop’s logo whenever they reach $100 in stringing services. Instead of giving them a discount like most shops, I give them something that will help promote my business.
— Leigh Cherveny, Sheboygan, WI
Anyone who purchases a new tennis racquet over $99.95 receives a free T-shirt with our logo on it. The customers appreciate the free shirt, but we appreciate the great advertising we get around town.
We also retail the shirt for $9.95. It’s not much mark-up, but it is great advertising.
— Ron Schultz, CS; Joe Heydt, MRT; Bob Schultz, Lincoln, NE
A great way to market your racquet service is to offer free string and grip jobs as prizes for club activities (league and tournament winners, etc.). This helps familiarize players with the quality and professionalism of your racquet service. The next time they need new strings or a grip, they know where to turn.
— Jason Jamison, Glendale, AZ
Follow Up for Follow-Up Sales
We send out thank-you cards to customers after they purchase a racquet. We include coupons with savings for shoes, clothing, bags, accessories, etc. Customers appreciate the thought and often come back with their coupons to purchase something else.
— Al Klieber, MRT, Victoria, British Columbia
Each time we sell a tennis or racquetball racquet, we record the customer’s name, date, telephone number and model of racquet purchased. Twenty-five to 30 days later call them to check on their satisfaction with the racquet. We place special emphasis on whether they are pleased with the strings and if the grip is properly sized.
We are repeatedly thanked for each call. It is a step beyond what a racquet buyer expects. It further adds to “word of mouth” advertising (the best by far). The time consumed is minimal and is just one of many little things that makes our business a success.
— Ron Schultz, MRT; Joe Heydt, MRT; Bob Schultz, CS, Lincoln, NE
I set up a tennis night for local coaches and pros. We play doubles for several hours followed by a reception at my shop where I tell them about my services, let them see my shop/equipment, and explain the process I use in preparing a racquet for their players.
We all have fun and the coaches and pros remember me and recommend my shop to their players and students.
— Leigh Cherveny, Sheboygan, WI
I write and distribute a newsletter to my customers. Each time customers receive one, they think of me and their equipment. This idea has generated many more customers who return to me for service … and do so more often!
— Chip Brenn, MRT, Albuquerque, NM
Offering free stringing to customers after every 5 or 6 stringings is great for maintaining repeat business. Free stringing can also be used to increase business. I offer existing customers a free stringing for every three NEW customers they send to me. It is easy to administer and definitely increases business. So, remember to ask new customers who referred them to you and show that person how much you appreciate their help.
— Jim Wojcio, Fanwood, NJ
Promote Your Certification
I had some ball caps embroidered with the MRT logo. They look great. They are good advertising around public courts and when visiting tennis facilities where stringing is not available.
— Bill Thompson, MRT, Farmville, VA
See all articles by Peter Francesconi
About the Author
Peter Francesconi is editorial director of Tennis Industry magazine.
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