2007 Chain retailer/mass merchant of the year: The Sports Authority
By Mitch Rustad
Skiing to scooters. Paintball to basketball. In today’s highly competitive (and overly saturated) sporting-goods market, a tennis player could be forgiven for feeling a little lost in the shuffle. But don’t tell that to the execs at The Sports Authority, who are dedicated to keeping racquet-wielding enthusiasts of all levels happy.
“We’re kind of a Wal-Mart blended right into a specialty store,” says Steve Dunlap, vice president and divisional merchandising manager of Fitness and Racquet Sports for The Sports Authority. “We make sure to hit all angles of the sport.”
But how can a chain store with more than 420 stores nationwide accomplish this task? In a nutshell, by stocking everything from pre-strung junior racquets to the latest racquet technology — not to mention the mass-merchant rarity of offering on-site stringing — with a special focus on showcasing equipment and balls geared to juniors.
This comprehensive approach puts smiles on the faces of customers and industry manufacturers alike, and helped The Sports Authority earn RSI’s 2007 Chain Retailer/Mass Merchant of the Year Award.
“What we really like is that they cover the bases for all of our consumers,” says Kevin Kempin, vice president of sales and marketing for HEAD Penn Racquet Sports. “Unlike some other chains that may focus only on the $50 frames, [TSA] will carry the latest technology used by pro players right down to the frames for a recreational player. It’s great to have a partner that will display our entire line.”
But Kempin is particularly impressed with the attention TSA is giving the junior game. More floor and wall space has been dedicated to junior frames and most stores carry foam and/or transition balls tailored to youngsters, which ultimately benefits the health of the sport, he says.
“The fact they’re giving more space to junior tennis is great for our industry and really sets them apart,” says Kempin. “They could have given it to soccer or other sports.”
Having former tournament players and teaching pros, such as Dunlap, heading the tennis category gives The Sports Authority another crucial edge, says Kempin.
“That’s very helpful for all of us in the industry, because we can talk to corporate leaders who also have a passion for the sport,” says Kempin. “They have a vested interest and passion for tennis beyond just the numbers.”
“I know what the whole industry is — and has been — going through over the years,” says Dunlap, “and that includes where the USTA is going and what the teaching pro initiatives are. We have a head start on that kind of stuff, and that helps.
“We still follow and play the sport, so we can put ourselves in the shoes of the customer,” adds Dunlap. “We can playtest new frames ourselves and understand what might sell, and basically hit all angles of the sport so we know what we need to carry in our stores.” And to keep ahead of the latest racquet and string technology, TSA gets plenty of face time with the leading manufacturers.
But that doesn’t mean TSA is merely satisfied to stock new technology, says another top manufacturer. “We’ll sit down with a buyer and figure out how we can build a product that no one else has,” says Joe Keenan, vice president of sales/national accounts for Prince Sports.
For example, when Prince came out with a national promotion for one of its high-end racquets — a purchase included a 4-pack of balls and a new tennis bag — the company asked TSA to sweeten the deal for customers by pre-stringing each frame. Though the move was atypical for a large chain, the pre-string strategy was a hit, says Keenan.
“The sales of our performance category has grown thanks to this kind of instant gratification strategy,” he says. “They’re not locked into one buying strategy, they will go outside the box and try new things.”
Tips for success
- Don’t forget the basics. Without exception, always have items such as tennis balls, strings, grips, and junior and opening price point racquets in stock.
- Stock the latest and greatest. If there’s a hot new racquet on the market, make sure you’re stocking it before anyone else. Always stay on the cutting edge of new technology.
- Be sure to feature “was, is” racquets — older but still popular frames from previous years — at competitive prices.
See all articles by Mitch Rustad
About the Author
Mitch Rustad has been a long-time freelance writer based in New York City.