Strings of Success
How do you know what to stock for your shop? We provide expert guidance that can help you — and your customers — find the right strings.
There are a ton of strings on the market today; the number and variety available is mind-boggling, to say the least. In our September/October 2006 issue, we reported on testing (performed by the U.S. Racquet Stringers Association) on 478 different strings from 31 manufacturers for stiffness and tension loss. In this issue, our annual String Survey points out that plenty of those strings meet the criteria as favorites for USRSA members.
But regardless of the size and scope of your stringing operation, chances are you can’t stock all the strings on the market today. So how do choose? And more importantly, how does your customer choose?
Even for a veteran stringer, choosing which string you need for your inventory can be a daunting task. It seems that manufacturers constantly are introducing new strings made from new materials or with new techniques. Should you stock the new or stick with the tried and true? Since you can’t stock them all, how many is enough? How many is too many? How many different gauges? How many colors?
The questions seem endless, but making good decisions about your string inventory, presentation, and your staff’s product knowledge can make a big difference in your bottom line. According to the most recent dealer survey from the Tennis Industry Association, stringing and racquet service is by far the most profitable segment of the tennis retail industry. However, those great margins can be eroded by poor inventory selections and not providing the consumer with the product they want or need. That’s why we’re here to help.
Superior racquet service begins with your selection of string. While having a vast assortment of strings available for your customers to choose from may be impressive, it can also be confusing. You need to walk the fine line between too much and not enough.
Although there are plenty of new introductions, many of the most popular strings have been on the market for years. To satisfy a variety of players, you will need to carry a good assortment of string types, gauges, and colors. Exactly how many different SKUs depends on your volume, how much display/storage space, and money you have to invest.
Once you determine the correct size of your inventory, you’ll need to decide what strings make sense for your clientele. You need to carry at least a couple of choices in each category, along with a variety of gauges to meet the varying needs of your customers. Try to offer as many brands as possible. By having a wider selection, your customers will have more to choose from and won’t feel like they are being steered to a certain brand because that is all you offer. But again, too many choices can be confusing to the customer.
You should be able to provide distinguishing characteristics of each string. If you find yourself explaining that “these three are basically the same,” then you can probably eliminate two of them and free up room to bring in a couple of others that have something different to offer.
If your competitors have four different strings to choose from and you offer a choice of 20, that alone will set you apart. But if you can explain a clear difference in each of the 20, along with the benefits of each one, that will really separate you.
Although you should certainly consider new introductions, don’t be too hasty to drop a string just because something new comes along. If a new string has something to offer, it should certainly be considered.
Some of your customers will be anxious to try the newest products, but many have found a perfect string and tension set-up that works for them and aren’t interested in changing. If suddenly you no longer stock their string, they may look elsewhere rather than switch.
By constantly evaluating your sales you can determine which strings should stay in your line-up and which are expendable to make room for new ones. As you add new strings, make sure you keep a good balance of the various categories making your overall selection complete.
Having a distinct, professionally appearing racquet service area and a well-merchandised selection of string, grips, and overgrips says a lot to customers who come into your shop or store. If your stringing machine and selection of string is prominently displayed, there is no question that you service racquets. Don’t make the assumption that everyone will know that you do. If your machine is tucked away in the back room and your string is kept in a drawer, the customer may assume that you don’t service racquets.
Displaying your string selection can be impressive and informative. Try displaying strings in a methodical manner. Group them according to brand, or better yet, by category. If your customer is looking for durability, you can point out your selection. If it is comfort that is most important, then they are all grouped together. It will make explaining the selection easier for the technicians and the customer can better differentiate their options.
Know your string inventory. There is plenty of information available, starting with the manufacturer’s information, but don’t rely solely on this. When considering a new string to bring into inventory, gather as much information as possible from a variety of sources.
The USRSA’s annual string test and member survey provide a wealth of information, as do the monthly string playtest in each issue of RSI. Probably the best evaluation is testing the string yourself. Put a set in your own racquet, even if it is something you would not normally play with. You can determine for yourself if it meets the marketing claims from the manufacturer and whether or not it will fill a void in your inventory and be beneficial to your customers.
But knowing your inventory is only half the story. To take full advantage of your product knowledge, you need to apply that knowledge to the needs of your customers. Taking a few minutes to get to know your customer and his or her game will allow you to make suggestions of string type and tension that may help them get the optimum performance from their racquet. They will appreciate your expertise and willingness to help them rather than just selling them a string job.
A small investment of your time will earn a customer for life, and a happy customer will spread the word to many other players.
See all articles by Bob Patterson
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