Rules of Engagement
It’s been a tough couple of years for apparel retailers. But with careful buying, trimming inventory, creative merchandising and expert customer service, these shops are surviving and thriving.
Players World of Sports, Hilton Head Island, S.C.
Though Players World of Sports does fine with racquet sales and stringing, “Soft goods is where the money is,” says Jill Swanker, who owns the store with Tom Jilly. “With almost a 45 to 60 percent margin on apparel, we’re always moving around the clothes to make it look new.” Players World moved into its current space in 2008 and since then has seen a yearly boost in sales.
Swanker orders more fashion pieces than basics, though she makes sure to pick staples, which customers can pair with fashionable tops or skirts. She also buys lines with certain types of customers in mind — returning affluent customers vacationing in Hilton Head, who always come in to buy the latest styles.
Players World also has incorporated the “crossover” fitness element showcasing Under Armour in its apparel selection, which attracts a variety of customers. While the demographic appears to skew toward the more forgiving fit of Bolle and Tail, the varied customer base that comes to Players World also buys Nike and the fashionable Lija line. Carrying a variety of shoes, Swanker says K-Swiss is their best selling brand with customers gravitating toward tried and true models.
— Cynthia Sherman
Players World of Sports Apparel Sales Tips
- Keep women customers happy since they’re the main shoppers.
- Make sure you have certain staples in your inventory that can be paired with other pieces.
- Put sales racks in the back so customers have to move through the store.
- Know the preferred sizes and styles of your customers to keep control of ordering and inventory.
Midtown Tennis Club, Chicago
Midtown Tennis Club pro shop manager Lynda Reis says that while soft-goods sales dropped off in 2008, clothing sales made a resurgence last spring. Midtown carries women’s Nike, Adidas, Fila, Bolle, KSwiss and Tail, and sometimes Reis will order Eliza Audley or Lija for something different and stylish. “It depends on what’s being offered that year,” she says. “But customers are always looking for sales and mark-downs because there are sales everywhere.” Knowing too that dresses sell more in the summer, she orders accordingly.
Being a tennis club, the retail setup at Midtown is somewhat unique — the pro shop surrounds the reception desk on all sides. The sale racks are in the back, along with racquets and shoes. While Midtown stocks strictly tennis clothes for men, Reis has brought in fitness/crossover lines for women, which are increasingly popular. The club also logos Under Armour clothing. Displays are changed all the time to keep things fresh looking, says Reis.
Midtown does a brisk men’s business, keeping men’s clothing up front, so the men players pass the clothing on their way to reception and don’t have to go past racks of women’s clothes. Reis says children’s clothing is a growing category. Midtown has created a kids’ corner, with clothing, racquets and shoes, which has proven quite successful.
— Cynthia Sherman
Midtown Tennis Club Apparel Sales Tips
- Look ahead to see what’s coming in and make adjustments/cuts on current orders as necessary.
- Move merchandise around; don’t leave it in one spot for more than a week or two.
- Have a feature rack in front, and keep it fresh.
- Change men’s displays regularly.
- Emphasize service by having pro shop staff available to customers.
Tennistopia, Rockville, Md.
Darrell Haines, owner of Tennistopia, says frequent rotation of merchandise displays is key. "We try to follow the seasons," Haines says. "We do some neat window displays for things like Valentine’s Day, Mother’s Day and Father’s Day, and we do tie-ins with Wimbledon, the French Open, the US Open and so on." The display in Tennistopia’s large front window is changed about every three weeks and Haines says he tries to rotate merchandise around in the store, from back to front, at least every month.
Apparel is throughout the store, with a discount rack in the center. Haines says there’s also strong interest in the juniors’ apparel section. Shoes are toward the back, so that customers walk through apparel and equipment to reach them.
In choosing stock, "We try to follow what the pros are playing on the tour because we know that can drive people in. We also listen to our sales reps because they’ll tell us that an ad is going to be appearing in a magazine with Nadal wearing a certain shoe or shirt,” says Haines.
But ultimately, he adds, it comes down to a staff familiar with shoppers’ tastes. "Sometimes, the reps will have something, but we know it isn’t going to sell well to our customers."
Shoppers may come in to look at pieces that tour players are wearing, but, says Haines, the real test is in the dressing room. "They want to see the style and the color, but they really need to know it fits."
While all brick-and-mortar shops face stiff competition from online retailers and the variety of merchandise they can offer, independent stores have the advantage of knowledgeable personnel onsite at all times, says Haines. "Plus, there’s not many places you can go as a consumer that the owner is standing right in front of you. And that’s what you get with a tennis shop: you’re dealing with the owner. That’s optimal customer service."
— Mary Helen Sprecher
Tennistopia Apparel Sales Tips
- Change front window apparel displays every few weeks.
- Follow the seasons with your displays, and gear displays to holidays, special occasions, Grand Slam tournaments, etc.
- Listen to sales reps so you can tie into advertising that will appear showing pro players in particular clothing.
- Make sure your staff knows what your customers like and will wear.