String of Success
Unit sales have increased, but even bigger is the growth of the premium string category, which means more profit for you.
With the good news of improved participation in tennis along with the increases in racquet and ball sales, is your racquet service business keeping pace? Stringers across the U.S. report increases in the overall number of string jobs for the last two years and many have experienced longer growth periods. “I have seen steady growth in strings sales the last three years,” says David Pavlich of North Shore Tennis in Louisiana.
But while unit sales of string have increased, the more significant growth may well be in dollar sales, which are way up, dealers say. Premium strings are more in demand than ever, and that’s a great indication of how the sport of tennis is viewed by consumers: Players, it appears, no longer just want the cheap stuff in their frames.
In the tennis retail arena, stringing and racquet services are no longer add-on items. In recent years, both dealers and manufacturers have realized the importance of this segment in the marketplace. Consumers may not necessarily be more knowledgeable about their equipment and in particular their strings, but they are asking more questions. The opinion of several dealers across the country attributes the consumers’ quest for knowledge to several factors.
“Our customers are asking more questions,” says John Gugel of eTennis in Florida, “which are being driven by TV commentators to a great extent, and teaching pros to a lesser extent, and the internet.”
TV broadcasters are talking more about the strings and racquets that players use and consumers are seeing that the pros value the role their strings play in their performance. Manufacturers are spending money to market and advertise strings more than ever. The internet provides an opportunity for them to make available more information about all their products through their own websites as well as dealer sites and those of industry organizations. Dealers can use the tools provided by the manufacturers to draw attention to stringing and educate players to its importance in their overall performance.
making the consumer more aware, there is a great opportunity to introduce the player to premium strings that are specifically suited for their racquet and style of play. This means the player will not only feel better about their game, but they will likely play more often.
Manufacturers are marketing stringing on several fronts. For instance, Head is the official string and racquet of the USPTA. “Our affiliation with the USPTA is one of our best endeavors to promote our brand at the grassroots level,” says Ben Simons of Head. Simons introduced the “Please String Responsibly” campaign for Head dealers last year.
“While we have been a major player in the industry with racquets, we are relatively new with strings,” says Simons. “The campaign is a fun way to point out the importance of putting a premium string into a premium racquet. Our sales have seen substantial growth, especially in the premium string category.”
Companies are providing dealers with point-of-sale items such as posters, charts and floor mats to catch the eye of the stringing consumers.
“We offer our dealers anti-fatigue mats with our slogan and logo printed on them to dress up the stringing area and provide a little comfort to the stringer,” adds Simons. “We also offer poly bags to put finished racquets in just like the pros.” All of the point-of-purchase merchandising is backed up with advertising in major tennis magazines.
Wilson Sports has made a big effort to increase their presence in the string market by establishing the Wilson Pro Tour Stringing Team. The team is the official on-site stringing service for the US Open. Wilson also initiated the String Maniacs program last year that utilizes racquet technicians at Wilson dealers from across the country to test new strings and grips and provide the company with feedback on the products and programs.
And important in all this — and a good sign that stringing, and tennis on the whole, is moving upward — is the investment that manufacturers are making in premium-priced string. For instance, Wilson with its [K]Gut, Prince with Recoil, Gamma with Asterisk, and Tecnifibre with X-One Biphase and NRG are introducing a whole new tier to the string market, one that pushes the premium-string envelope to near natural gut prices. While some dealers expressed skepticism about whether consumers will pay these higher prices, manufacturers clearly feel this market, and the sport, is worth the investment.
Buying programs are another important incentive manufacturers provide to dealers. Strings sales should provide the highest profit margin in a tennis store or pro shop. With the labor cost factored in, most retailers report margins of 60 to 80 percent — certainly more than other categories.
“You can make a pretty good margin on stringing with a string that you didn’t pay very much for,” says Gugel. “We use strings that are proven and not necessarily the least expensive, but we do not pass up a really valuable string program.”
In addition to standard volume discount programs, many manufacturers will work with their dealers on creative ways to promote their products. “I’ve entered into an agreement with one of my vendors to use a specific premium string in all of my demos,” says Pavlich. “This vendor gave me a very good price and it has resulted in higher sales of this and other premium string. It’s a good way to get premium string on the minds of the customer.”
With all signs pointing up for our industry, don’t let your stringing sales lag behind. With a careful buying plan and some creative marketing, you can make your No. 1 profit center soar.
String Them Along
Educate consumers about stringing. It can lead them to premium strings, which can both make them perform better and add to your bottom line.
Use manufacturers’ point-of-purchase material. They help get the word out about what you offer and about your racquet-service business.
Take a chance on premium strings. Concerned that your customers may not want to pay higher prices for string? Let them decide — they may well be looking for something that will help their games, even if it costs them more. Explore the possibilities of what these new strings can do for your players.
Have a mechanism to get players to restring regularly. Whether it’s a software program that automatically sends out email reminders, or note cards you keep in a constantly updated file, or free testing you offer players to see when they’ve dropped tension, get your players to restring regularly.
Work with customers to find the right string for them. Once you get a player hooked on a string, you have built-in repeat business.
See all articles by Bob Patterson
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