Retailing, especially apparel, has certainly been a challenge recently. But there are some tennis retailers who are pulling in business, and serving their customers in such a way that they’re growing and positioning themselves better for the future. Here are some of their stories, and tips.
Tennis Cabana, Phoenix, AZ
With three stores in the greater Phoenix area, Tennis Cabana manager Cheryl Megli is kept very busy. The stores, which have a strong demo program, carry most of the major racquet brands and stringing is a key business component. Apparel sales have been strong, Megli says, and the stores carry Nike, Adidas, Bolle, Tail, Jerdog, K-Swiss, and New Balance. Comfortable fitting rooms enhance the shopping experience.
The stores do some team business, women’s leagues, and partner with local teaching pros, so referrals go back and forth. They’re also flexible with teams, ordering extra pieces and ensuring clothing samples and lines are in the store so team members can see it before ordering.
Tennis Cabana works with Peach League Tennis and provides gift certificates to tournament winners, so involvement with the tennis community is an important part of the operation. They also work with the nearby Surprise Tennis Center, which is run by John Austin.
“We have excellent partnerships with stores throughout the state,” Megli says, “with the majority of stores interconnecting — we all rely on each other, which enables us to get product for customers from another store.” Megli also confirms the challenge of ordering early since manufacturers are keeping their production close to what stores are pre-booking. Megli says under these tighter circumstances, customers will buy sooner rather than later since future supply is limited.
- Go above and beyond in customer service. Fill special orders, discuss stringing and racquet needs. This encourages repeat business.
- Have knowledgeable tennis-playing staff that wears product in the store; have teaching pros who string, if possible.
- Offer discount programs — for seniors, for frequent restringing, for high school teams, etc.
Tennis Set, Kansas City, KS
In the middle of the country, Tennis Set finds itself in an exciting and expansive position. Located near Kansas City, KS, owner John Tidrick moved and enlarged his store operation from 1,500 square feet to a 6,000-square-foot showroom two years ago. Additionally, he added a website, which has spurred a growing business. Having the luxury of space, he incorporated a real experiential marketing aspect to his store by putting in a nearly full-size singles court with net, so consumers can demo racquets on the spot, allowing quicker point of sale.
Since more women than men buy clothing, Tennis Set has three comfortable fitting rooms and carries Nike, Adidas, Tail, Bolle, Fila, Wilson, Eliza Audley and Prince. He also does a big team business. Carrying a full array of shoes and racquet brands keeps his six to 10 staff people constantly busy. The two stringing machines are always in use, often providing same-day service. Because of the larger store, he stocks more inventory. But with manufacturers’ levels much tighter than a year or two ago, re-ordering to fill in a line after the fact, he acknowledges, can be challenging. Tidrick also has ties with park and rec programs and youth leagues, helping them with product needs. Sponsoring the biggest tournament in Kansas City, The Kansas City Open, also helps him promote his business.
- Customer service is top priority. Learn about your customers as individuals, address their likes and needs.
- Carry top products and selection — be price sensitive and competitive.
- Put in the time. It takes hard work and long hours.
- Get involved in local tennis programs.
Pete Carlson Golf and Tennis, Palm Desert, CA
While Pete Carlson Golf and Tennis caters mostly to a golf market, General Manager Diane Thacker says their tennis business is growing. Starting out in a 1,000-square-foot space 29 years ago, the business has increased to 12,000 square feet, including administrative offices. In the heart of the desert, they get a big draw from the tournament at Indian Wells as well as a steady supply of tourists. Thacker says most of the smaller pro shops in the area have gone out of business, so sales at Pete Carlson’s have risen. Shoe sales have increased 40 percent in the last five years, with New Balance leading the way.
Clothing sales have been brisk, too. They carry Tail, Bolle, K-Swiss, Peachy Tan, Down the Line, Fila, New Balance, Prince and Sergio Tacchini, and they’ve tailored their inventory to a changing desert demographic. Thacker sees a growing presence of younger families because of more affordable housing. “It’s not the same desert it was 20 years ago,” she says. “Now it’s more of a year-round community.” Because of more children’s tennis programs, Thacker carries more kids’ clothing now. In general, they’re buying more tennis apparel than in years past, which has put them in a good spot with manufacturers. “The challenge now is space,” Thacker says. “But we know how much we can put into our space and still be in a comfortable shopping environment for the customer.”
- Know your customer’s likes and dislikes. Keep customer files detailing favorite brands, styles, etc.
- Hire experienced sales people who know their customers’ preferences.
- Offer volume and varied selection.
I Play Tennis, Atlanta, GA
Dan Kester, owner of I Play Tennis in downtown Atlanta, is a survivor. He’s been in retail all his life, including as v.p. of Sport Mart in Chicago. He opened I Play Tennis in 2006 after doing extensive demographic research. “I blended the retail that I knew with the tennis that I loved,” he says.
Despite the challenging economy, Kester says business in his 1,200-square-foot shop has increased in double digits every year. He does a brisk stringing business and carries all the major racquet and shoe brands. In addition to stocking Nike, Adidas, Fila, Tail, Prince and Wilson apparel, he fills in with staple pieces from each brand, and recognizes that his consumer ratio is more men than women, so he buys accordingly. He also carries children’s clothing and shoes.
With his retail expertise, Kester runs a tight ship and has a very detailed point-of-sale system, allowing him to buy differently than the average pro/specialty shop.
- Educate your customers. As a specialty shop, you’re in a good position to use your expertise to help consumers make educated decisions.
- Be visible at local tennis events. Sponsor tournaments, donate to school fund-raisers.
- Be fiscally responsible, and be an opportunist — buy closeouts when you can.
- Tailor your buys to your customers’ preferences rather than manufacturers’ preferences.
See all articles by Cynthia Sherman
About the Author
Cynthia Sherman is a contributing editor for RSI magazine.