2006 Pro/specialty retailer of the year: Swetka's Tennis Shop
Most specialty shops stand out for one or two things. Maybe it’s the wide selection of products available. Or it could be the knowledgeable and helpful staff. Or possibly frequent sales, which keep customers coming back.
But when you walk into Swetka’s Tennis Shop in Mountain View, Calif., you’re getting the whole package — excellent service, knowledgeable staff, innovative programs, regular sales that offer value to customers, and much more. It’s this combination of A-pluses that makes Swetka’s Tennis Shop RSI’s 2006 Pro/Specialty Retailer of the Year.
And when you provide great service, selection, and sales, business just keeps getting better. “We haven’t had huge increases in business,” says owner John Swetka (right), “but we’re up consistently a few percentage points each year. This year, we had our best August ever.”
There are a number of things that Swetka’s does to stand out. For starters, the 2,800-square-foot shop set up a regular schedule of sales (in April, July, late August to early September, and November), which have proved hugely popular with customers.
Another innovation is having a ball machine to rent to customers. For $20 a day, players can rent a Tennis Tutor portable machine. It’s not a huge moneymaker, says Swetka, but it does bring in players and customers, and it also has led to some Tennis Tutor sales, too.
But even more innovative is Swetka’s racquet demo program. For $40, a customer can try as many racquets as he’d like for up to four months. They’re allowed one week per racquet, until they find the perfect frame, and if they buy within that four-month period, the $40 goes toward the purchase of the racquet. It’s a program that Swetka’s has offered for more than 25 years.
“There’s always new product coming out and people get curious about it and want to try it out before buying,” says Swetka. “We figure over 80 percent of people on the demo program make a purchase.” Currently, the store has 700 racquets to demo, and there are 300 customers involved in the demo program.
“Our demo program helps us get to know the people who come in each week to drop off a racquet and pick up another one,” Swetka says. And that customer-staff relationship works for both parties.
“At Swetka’s, it’s a very personal buying experience for the consumer,” says John Rushworth, the Prince territory manager for Northern California, who’s done business with the shop for 20 years. “It’s a unique situation. There’s hardly any turnover in employees, and it’s a really nice family-run business, the opposite of some of these big-box stores. It’s just really nice to do business with them.”
Rushworth first dealt with John Swetka’s father, Alex, who started the store with his wife, Sally, in 1969. “They were both schoolteachers, then my dad really got into tennis,” says John. The Mountain View location is about 45 miles south of San Francisco, near a public tennis facility, which is convenient because the staff are avid players.
The store also provides top-notch stringing, with three stringing machines that “are going nonstop,” says Swetka. “Right now, we string 30-plus racquets a day.” Ken Arnold, who’s been with the shop for 20 years, is the U.S. Racquet Stringers Association certifier in the region. Jim Miller, a Master Racquet Technician who has been with Swetka’s for more than 10 years, is the main stringer. And Thanh Huynh has also been stringing for the store for many years.
“John and his staff are knowledgeable, passionate guys, totally focused on tennis,” says Sean Frost, the area’s rep for Völkl Tennis. “They really know the sport.”
Swetka’s tips for success
- Offer a frequent stringing program. Swetka’s Tennis Shop gives customers a card to fill in; once they have 10 string jobs, the 11th is free.
- Swetka’s took a cue from retailer Dale Queen in Atlanta and offers customers buying a new racquet the chance to buy a second racquet of the same model for 20 percent off, when purchased at the same time as the first frame. “It’s been a real success,” says John Swetka.
- Work with teaching pros in your area. Swetka’s directs customers to teaching pros, and pros send customers to their store.
See all articles by Peter Francesconi
About the Author
Peter Francesconi is editorial director of RSI magazine.