Tennis Industry magazine

 

First-String Service

Stringing provides your best margins. Here’s how to get the most out of this vital area.

By Tony Taverna

Today’s economy presents a serious challenge to local pro shops and tennis specialty stores. The risk associated with maintaining large inventories of racquets, shoes and apparel is substantial. The opportunity to make a good profit with less risk really resides in stringing. Those who set themselves apart in this area have a tremendous opportunity to grow their business and become more profitable.

A key to building business is educating customers. Every customer who walks into the shop is a potential opportunity to advance string-related revenue. For example, an adult player inquires about an arm brace. Well, why do they need one? Yes, the racquet could be too heavy, light, long, stiff, etc., or they may not have the best stroke technique. But your customer may not want to buy a new racquet or spend the time to change his strokes. What’s the easiest and most inexpensive way to ease arm soreness? Restring their current frame.

Anytime a customer either brings his racquet in for inspection or inquires about string, it is an opportunity for you to educate him or her. Some players believe if it’s not broken, don’t fix it. It’s important to communicate to customers that if they haven’t broken a string within six months, they may be using the wrong string. Once players are aware that they may be losing power and performance, they often will gladly leave you their racquet.

Even if they are using their ideal string, they need to understand that all strings lose tension and resiliency over time. At some point, loss of tension results in loss of control, while a decrease in resiliency leads to the string’s inability to transfer energy back into the ball. The vast majority of players who ask whether they need to restring are already way past due.

The general rule of restringing the number of times per year as you play in a week is a good one, provided you add the caveat “with a minimum of twice per year.” So even when strings “look” good on the surface, if it’s been more than six months since a customer’s racquet has been restrung, you can confidently assure him that he will feel a significant improvement if he allows you to restring his racquet.

With each conversation you have with a customer, you are planting seeds that will lead to future business and opportunities to provide expert service.

Ask the right questions

The best service begins with asking the right questions. Ask your customer about arm soreness, power, control, spin and durability.

Arm Soreness

Always ask whether the player has any arm soreness. It is to everyone’s benefit to do as much as possible from a racquet-service standpoint to help players improve arm and shoulder health.

The best string for helping with arm soreness is natural gut. While it is more expensive, its cost pales in comparison to the pain, expense, and time off the court that accompany an arm injury. Furthermore, natural gut maintains its tension and resiliency better than synthetics and thus plays better longer.

If cost is still an obstacle, the next best option is a gut hybrid. With this set-up, your customer only pays for a half-set of gut and still receives excellent arm protection. Since the main strings are responsible for about 70 percent of the total workload, the best bang for the buck is to install gut in the mains. However, for string breakers and those who have trouble keeping gut in their racquets, we recommend installing gut in the cross strings.

In lieu of natural gut, customers who need maximum arm protection usually do well with a multifilament nylon. In each of these arm-related solutions, select the lowest tension the player can control. Moreover, most players report an increase in comfort as the gauge of the multifilament is increased. In other words, thinner, softer strings at lower tensions will best protect the arm.

Power and Control

Next, ask about the amount of power and control the player is seeking. The same strings and tension that help with arm soreness also provide the most power. Natural gut is the most powerful string available, followed by nylon multifilaments and then premium performance nylons. Lower tensions provide more power due to the “trampoline effect” of the string bed.

While players seeking more power from their strings are usually less concerned about control, and vice versa, the control aspect is still important to discuss, because some players want more power and control. Furthermore, some players are better able to understand power, while some can communicate more effectively about control. If we don’t discuss both aspects, we may not be getting the whole picture from our customer.

For some players, control means dialing back on power. These players usually tend to overhit, so higher tensions and stiffer and thicker strings normally help this type of player.

Others achieve control through spin, and still others produce control through feel and touch or “feeling the ball” on the racquet. Obviously, a thicker, stiffer string at a high tension will not suffice for a player who produces control through feel, and a thicker string is generally not going to improve control from spin. So we need to listen in order to understand not only how much power and control a player wants, but also how he perceives and achieves that power and control.

Spin

Next, ask about spin. In today’s game, spin is a characteristic that is highly coveted. However, not everyone produces spin effortlessly and the string we use can help. Players looking for more spin usually benefit from one or more of the following: 1) thinner strings, 2) stiffer strings, or 3) shaped or textured strings. This can require some experimentation, since not all players feel the same increased spin benefit using these string types.

Durability

Every customer has his own idea about how long a string should last. Generally, if a player is not breaking a string within six months, then durability is not an issue. For those who are breaking frequently, it is more important to determine how much they are playing rather than how many weeks or months have gone by.

The most accurate judge of durability is the number of hours played. The useful lifespan of a string job is between 50 and 70 hours of play. If a player is on the court four times per week for two hours at a clip, that makes about eight hours per week, or 32 hours per month. Someone playing that much probably shouldn’t get much more than two good months out of his strings.

For aggressive singles players and players who use excessive spin, expect about 30 to 40 decent playing hours per string job. Players who are breaking strings before 25 hours certainly can use more durability. Increasing durability is usually best done in stages, so as not to cause poor playability and/or arm soreness.

If the customer loves the string he plays with and wants improved durability, the first step is using a thicker version of the same string. The next level of durability depends on the current string’s construction. If it is a nylon multifilament, then try some type of premium solid-core nylon. After that come solid-core nylons with added wraps. Then try a polyester main string coupled with a nylon cross. Finally, try all polyester. Be aware that while Kevlar strings provide even more durability than polyesters, they can be much tougher on the arm.

Cost

The last thing to factor in, if necessary, is cost. Most players realize they’ll pay between $24 and $40 for synthetics. It’s usually not critical to make this a subject for discussion unless a customer inquires or is considering natural gut. If you sense that price may be an issue or the customer inquires, then simply let him know what your price range is for synthetics and natural gut.

Prioritize characteristics

In your discussion with your customer, make sure you note any areas in which he or she would like to improve, and how much improvement is desired. You may need to adjust more than one variable, such as string type, string gauge and tension, to achieve the desired result.

Have the customer prioritize the playing characteristics he wants to improve, because there might be potential conflicts. For example, power and arm protection go hand in hand. Control and durability are also very compatible. But if the same player who wants maximum arm protection and increased power also needs extra durability, you’ll need to discuss a trade-off.

Sometimes, there will be no one string that can accomplish all the player is looking for. For these scenarios, suggest hybrids, which will allow you to target different attributes for both the main strings and cross strings. In the example of the player who needs maximum arm protection with increased durability, you might suggest a soft co-polymer in the mains and natural gut in the crosses.

Choosing string types

For most stringers, it’s advantageous to be able to offer at least two string models that address each of the categories discussed above: arm soreness, power, control, spin potential, durability and cost. Moreover, try to offer each string model in two gauges. This way, each string you stock meets a certain need.

String types or categories can be broken down as follows:

Offering multiple gauges makes it easier to bridge the gap between string types. For example, if the customer loves a thin string but breaks it too quickly, offer a poly in a 17 or even an 18 gauge. This maintains the thinness the customer desires, but also helps to bolster durability. The very best criterion for choosing a string is how each string plays vs. other strings from the same category. This is where playtesting can help. Ask employees and good customers to get involved; the feedback you receive will be of considerable help when facing inventory decisions.

The importance of consistency

In order to keep your customers coming back, you need consistency. This is especially important when you have more than one person stringing racquets. Using the same string, gauge and tension doesn’t guarantee similar results.

Consistent technique, keeping machines cleaned and calibrated, as well as accurate record-keeping all contribute to consistency. One helpful suggestion that we employ is to take a string-bed stiffness reading after every string job. This not only provides an immediate comparison, but also allows us to figure out how much tension a customer has lost at any point in the future.

Tony Taverna is a USRSA Master Racquet Technician and a USPTA Level 1 pro. He and his wife, Kathy, own two tennis retail shops in Connecticut. Taverna and his staff string more than 3,000 racquets per year.


Before recommending a string make sure you and your customer discuss:

  1. Arm soreness
  2. Power level
  3. Control level
  4. Spin potential
  5. Durability
  6. Cost, if necessary

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About the Author

Tony Taverna is a USRSA Master Racquet Technician and a USPTA Level 1 pro. He and his wife, Kathy, own two tennis retail shops in Connecticut. Taverna and his staff string more than 3,000 racquets per year.

 

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