Fitting your customers with the right clothing.
With so many apparel choices out there, choosing the right tennis clothes — something that fits comfortably and is flattering — may seem to be a daunting task, both for customers themselves and for retailers who want their players to look their best. To help you cut through the high fashion and the hype, we asked retailers what they do to properly fit their customers.
“Know your customers, know your inventory — those two things are really key,” says Mimzy Lynne of Michael Lynne’s Tennis Shop in Minneapolis. Like any type of clothing, tennis players shop based on their own demographics, so knowing the audience you serve and having pieces that cater to them — including styles, colors and fit — is important if you want to move things out of your store.
At Michael Lynne’s, all store staffers wear the clothes they sell, so customers get a feel for how clothes look and fit and can see how styles may look on different body types. Mimzy suggests stocking a variety of sizes “because you never know who’s going to come in. Also, make sure you offer to special-order outfits.”
But she adds, “Manufacturers need to listen to retailers when they say not all women are jocks. There are designers who don’t play the sport coming out with the wrong styles and fabrics.” She also believes manufacturers need to better address issues of quality and durability–especially in their basic pieces.
Robert Lester of Courtside Tennis and Apparel in Sacramento, Calif., says it’s important that customers “try things on to see how they fit. Every manufacturer’s fit is different and you don’t know what you’re getting” if you can’t try on the pieces.
Part of the problem may be due to so-called “vanity sizing” — some manufacturers want you to feel good, so they put a smaller size label on their clothes. Also be aware that letter sizing — S, M, L, XL, etc. — has no universal standards, so a small for one manufacturer can be a medium for another.
At a specialty tennis shop, says Wendy Damm of Match Point Tennis in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., generally “the staff plays tennis and will wear clothes from different lines,” so they’ll be able to offer the best guidance in choosing apparel. Even better, employees who are of similar age and have similar life experiences, and even who may have similar skin or hair coloring, as your customer may be able to help more in the selection and fitting process.
Each apparel brand has a line cut to a particular body type, says Damm, and since every customer will have different needs, it’s important to know what lines look and fit the best on particular customers. Damm suggests ordering clothes that are designed to go after different age groups — obviously choose the groups your shop caters to. Apparel companies segment their lines, for instance some clothes are geared to fit younger players, others are geared to older players who may not have that slim and trim body.
And pay attention to colors. What colors your customer has already and what shades flatter them is another factor in the decision-making process, says Lester. Generally, women want colors and fashion that make them stand out — clothing that’s different from everyone else’s.
Some studies indicate that the average body shape in the U.S. has changed over the years, from an “hourglass” shape to more of a triangle. The average woman today is more triangular or “pear” shaped (hips wider than shoulders), while men are leaning more toward an inverted triangular shape (shoulders wider than hips). Some designers, however, continue to make clothes to fit the “hourglass” shape.
The best thing for your customer may be to forget what the label says and just go for how a piece fits. And be honest when your customer asks your opinion. You want repeat business, and telling a customer an outfit looks great on her when it may not won’t build loyalty.
No one wants to walk out of the store thinking they’re going to look great on court, only to have the look, style, fit or color not quite right.
Tips for the Best Fit
- Know your customers and your inventory.
- Encourage customers to try on clothes.
- Carry a colorful variety of clothing in an assortment of sizes.
- “Special order” for customers.
- Have your employees wear the clothes you sell, and make sure they’re knowledgeable about how different lines and items fit.
- Ideally, when customers try on clothes, they should wear the same type of undergarments they’ll be wearing on the court.
- Brand loyalty can be important — customers will come back to a particular line if they know the fit and style works for them. It saves them time and reduces risk.
See all articles by Cynthia Sherman
About the Author
Cynthia Sherman is a contributing editor for RSI magazine.