Outlook 2009: Manufacturers gear up
Despite worries about the economy, the makers of racquets, shoes, apparel and strings are optimistic that their products will strike the right chord with consumers.
While tennis participation continues to be strong — and by the latest research, growing — clearly manufacturers of tennis products are worried about the economy, and concerned that consumers will continue to cut back on their purchases. But that hasn’t stopped manufacturers from coming out with new and innovative products.
Many are searching for that holy grail of marketing — tremendous value for the money and a unique product that offers consumers a reason to spend. Here is a brief, and by no means complete, look at what you might expect in the new year.
Head (head.com; 800-237-5497), which just signed world No. 3 Novak Djokovic, is optimistic about 2009, says Roger Petersman, senior business manager of tennis racquets. The company also has pro Andy Murray, and he’s been hot lately, playing with his popular MicroGel Radical MP. Planned for first quarter are new products, including racquets, that Head says will provide retailers with “great opportunities to motivate their consumers to buy.”
For Prince (princesports.com; 800-2-TENNIS), the EXO3 line, which launched in the beginning of January in the U.S., is the big story. The initial line includes the EXO3 Silver 118, EXO3 Red 105, EXO3 Graphite 100 and 93, and EXO3 Rebel 95 and Rebel Team 95. Tyler Herring, global business director for performance racquets, says Prince will introduce additional models to the EXO3 line “in the back half of the year, in a continued effort to target the growing players sector, while providing racquets for all player types.”
It’s all about control for Wilson (wilson.com; 773-714-6400). “Power has been where it was at for many years,” says Marketing Manager Cory Springer, “but we took a closer look at control and it became clear that the player who was more controlled, which we took to mean fewer unforced errors, won their matches a larger percent of the time.” Wilson set about enhancing control in its newest [K] Factor fames: the K3 FX, the Cobra and Cobra Team FX, and the K Tour Team FX. All start shipping in the first quarter.
New frames from Babolat (babolat.com; 877-316-9435) will hit retail in March, but Tim McCool, managing director for North America, says the brand is not flooding the market with new models. “It’s about positioning and keeping our inventory under control and managing our product lifecycles,” he says. “It’s better for retailers because they can get the residuals from their investment with longer lifecycles, and it’s better for consumers, too.” McCool says the new racquets will target new consumer groups, to bring participants in the game.
Adidas (adidasus.com; 800-448-1796) says it expects color to continue to be popular in men’s and women’s tennis shoes in 2009. Its black and dark-based Barricade V that came out late last year has been very strong, says the company. Adidas also makes a traditional white-based version, too, to satisfy all players. New models for ‘09 include the CC Genius and Feather IV, which will continue the color trend.
Babolat says it is bringing its years of R&D working with expert players to the club-level player. This tennis-only company says that its shoe designs take into account that 80 percent of movement in tennis is lateral and diagonal and that players need effective “relaunch.” The company’s new Propulse shoe, worn by Andy Roddick, features “Footbelt” technology for a secure fit and emphasizes “relaunch” and durability. For women, the new Team Lady has a new design and improved comfort, says Babolat, with an exclusive last that is thinner in the forefoot and shaped to fit a women’s foot, for performance, comfort and light weight.
Greg Mason of Head says retail price points at $100 and below will be critical in today’s marketplace. “In product performance and value to shoppers, Head competes exceptionally well,” he says. New shoes for ‘09 include the Prestige Pro for men (shown at right, second down) and women.
K-Swiss (kswiss.com; 800-714-4477) is hoping its new shoe, the Defier MiSoul Tech, which launched in January, will be a runaway favorite among tennis players. It’s the first in a planned tennis line that allows players to customize the shoe for practice days and match days, using switchable insoles. The Cushion 1.0 insole is for practice days, providing long-lasting and comfortable cushioning, says K-Swiss. The Light 1.0 insole for match days provides a springier feel and extra support, among other features. K-Swiss is planning additional MiSoul Tech insoles that help with added stability, for those who wear orthotics and more.
Spring footwear for Prince includes two new colorways in the men’s and women’s T22 shoe, says George Poulos, the global director of footwear. Also, the company launched the new Cobra, a lightweight, low-silhouette shoe with lateral support, built on Prince’s NFS last. And the updated NFS Viper V has mesh for breathability and lighter weight. Three new Prince shoes are slated for later this year: an addition to the T Series, an “aggressive” update to the original M and O Series shoes featuring second-generation Precision Tube cushioning system, and a women’s shoe that combines a performance outsole with contemporary styling.
For Wilson, new shoes for 2009 include the all-court Tour Spin, a lightweight high-performance shoe that emphasizes comfort.
At Bolle (bolletenniswear.com; 301-362-0360), product manager Shawn Chesney says players are looking for quality and a good value, with an edgy, fashion-forward look. “We’re trying to look out for the consumer,” Chesney says, “so we’re not raising any prices, we’re keeping things the same. And we want our clothes to look great on the court as well as in the gym. Chesney says pink has been a staple for Bolle. “Every season, we do pink, and people love it,” she says. In addition to the Tennis line, the High-Performance line is geared toward a younger market, with silhouettes cut closer to the body, skirts slightly shorter, and more vibrant, loud colors.
Lauren Mallon, the global marketing manager at Fila (fila.com; 410-773-3000), says women are looking for performance and femininity, with dresses continuing to be popular. “Layering and mesh details incorporated into the design make it look more feminine, but performance is the most important,” she says. “Products are designed with the player in mind.” For men, color is a huge trend, she adds. And men are moving away from collared shirts — ”most of our business is in crewneck.”
Fila is building more products in its Eco category and introducing them into the tennis category. “The trend toward eco and green is here to say,” Mallon says. “It’s important that products perform and are eco-friendly.” Fila has a large “basics” business — led by team and league wear purchases.
Steve Crandall of Ashaway (ashawayusa.com; 800-556-7260) says that possibly as a function of the aging population, “Recreational players are losing their infatuation with high-end polyester — ’gut on steroids.’ They’re realizing that normal, everyday players just don’t get enough benefit from that type of string to warrant the cost.” Crandall says that instead, “They’re turning to more traditional multi-filament and synthetic gut strings, which offer a good combination of performance, economy and durability, and they play softer.” Ashaway’s line includes multifilaments such as Dynamite WB and 17, and its classic Synthetic Gut 16 and 17, among many other models.
Gamma (gammasports.com; 800-333-0337) is finding that more players want to use polyester strings, like their favorite pros. “But most polys are too stiff for the average club player,” says Gamma Sport’s Chuck Vietmeier. “We’re introducing softer, more forgiving polyesters that still offer good control but are much easier on the arm.” Vietmeier says Gamma’s Twist Technology poly construction, where the string is twisted right after extrusion, creates a textured poly for maximum ball bite. For 2009, two new strings will use this process, Zo Twist and Zo Tour Rough.
In March, Head will introduce its Perfect Match stringing system, which indoor court sports and accessories business manager Ben Simons says is designed to help all players make their racquets play better. Simons says last year, the industry saw string sales continue to increase. “I feel optimistic for the string business in 2009,” he says, “even with the challenges we all will be facing. For Head string and accessories, 2009 will be an exciting year.”
Luxilon (wilson.com; 773-714-6400) is adding a new product this year, M2, a multi-monofilament that uses a unique manufacturing process to combine the best qualities of a monofilament and a multi, says Wilson.
Tom Parry at Pacific (pacific.com; 941-795-1789) says that in 2008, the company found players were focusing on playing more tennis and regripping and restringing their old frames more often. “It seems that in ‘09, this trend is growing stronger,” he says. And in his travels around the world, Parry says it’s the stringing business that is keeping the doors open at many tennis shops. Pacific, which offers popular models such as Hybrid Power 16L, PolyForce and Xtrack, is the official string of the ATP World Tour.
Prince has a number of new strings out, some designed for its new EXO3 line of racquets. “We’ve taken poly strings to a new level with a co-extrusion technology that gives the player all the benefits of poly with 50 percent less shock to the arm,” says Dave Malinowski, global director of strings and accessories. In the multifilament segment, Prince’s Premier LT, which stands for “linear technology,” aligns the inner fibers and allows the string to play more like natural gut, says Malinowski. Twisted is a new, fun two-toned performance string. Other new Prince string includes the Poly EXP and Recoil.
At Tecnifibre USA (877-336-1613), Paul Kid expects players to be more cautious with their equipment purchases in the current economic climate and more inquisitive regarding the features and benefits of products. “This is a great opportunity for retailers to better educate players about the performance characteristics of products, especially strings,” says Kid. “Our concern is that players may look for more durable strings [opting to restring less often], but that might not be the best choice for that particular player. Also, though, a player may want to hold off on something as important as restringing by using a product past its prime performance, diminishing the player’s on-court performance.” Kid says that Tecnifibre’s NRG2 string, introduced in 1999 and used by the Bryan Brothers, is still the company’s most popular string.