Racquets: Demonstration Sport
Demo programs are a key to selling more racquets. Here are some tips that may help send more frames out your door.
By Kent Oswald
Tennis retailers have the most difficult matchmaking task ever conceived. They oversee the courtship of players and racquets, a process fraught with the challenges of too many choices and too much information, which is determined, ultimately, by the unquantifiable “this one feels right.”
“Every person comes in and says they want power and control,” says Chris Gaudreau of the Racquet Koop in New Haven, Conn. “We all want that.… I try to look at the person: big, small, man, woman. I interview them to try and find out what they are looking for out of a new racquet that they are not getting from their current racquet.”
The goal is to find the right fit, but there is no mathematical formula to which one can plug in how a customer describes their game in order to choose from all the technologically advanced racquets available. They really need to try before they buy.
From the eight manufacturers represented on his wall and 80 or so frames, Gaudreau will suggest a likely six frames to be tested — two at a time for up to five days at a time. The store’s demo program — including otherwise unlimited playtesting — applies a $20 upfront charge to a credit card against a racquet purchase. The idea is not just to guarantee the racquet’s return, but reduce the chances of customers shopping around.
It’s All About Service
“Service is No. 1 for small retailers,” says Kevin Klabunde, Babolat’s Southeast sales rep. He sees the personal connection as a local retailer’s great advantage over the online vendors who don’t have to pass along tax charges or pay local rents.
As much as Klabunde supports demo programs, he is also aware of their biggest drawback. Customers walk in the door with money to spend, but the usual practice of trying out a racquet “doesn’t keep people in the store.” If there is any chance at all for a store owner to take advantage of a nearby hitting space — or even create one within the store as one of his accounts did — it will be a great boost for sales.
Klabunde believes retailers should carry demos in every SKU (if possible, with a couple different grip sizes) even if they will need to special-order the racquet, as another strategy to avoid losing sales to online vendors promising a full inventory. Since demo racquets need to have their strings and grips constantly kept fresh — a hidden cost for demo programs — Babolat reps, like others, often are willing to make deals on reasonable requests, as well as offer the company’s sales incentive on frames and the rest of the line.
As an example of the types of incentives available to support a demo program, Wilson’s Jim Haneklau notes that, “When we introduce new products we offer demos at a greatly reduced price, sometimes free, based on a retailer’s commitment to the sales program.”
Haneklau, RSI’s 2008 Sales Rep of the Year, adds that as an additional incentive, stores can sell that free frame at the end of its lifecycle, emphasizing that the sale has to be made after it has been discontinued. And, like other manufacturers, Wilson will sometimes highlight the newest member of the line, in the past offering promotions such as a can of balls or pair of socks to customers demoing a particular racquet.
Test, Test, Test!
One of the biggest challenges to a good demo program is that there are so many good choices from so many manufactures. “I would be able to find a racquet in every brand for you, for me, for everybody,” says Bruce Levine, general manager of Courtside Racquet Club in Lebanon, N.J.
Not wholly unsurprising from someone who is a technical advisor to Tennis magazine, Levine “strongly, strongly encourages people to test, test, test” racquets before they commit to one. That said, he also appreciates how manufacturers have expanded their lines, offering “tour,” “standard” and “lite” versions of the racquets pros are playing with because for some players what they see — in this case that they play with the “same” racquet as their favorite — is just as important as what they feel.
Levine says that like most of the tennis industry, the bottom line revolves around “the personal.” He recommends considering both near- and long-term inventory needs when fostering a relationship with any manufacturer. His pro shop often will order a number of racquets, but split delivery. To maximize the benefits available, they might take immediate shipment on half their order and agree to take the remainder within six months, and based on what sticks customers actually demo and decide upon.
The club also tries to buy heavy into the overall line to maximize benefits and deals that combine purchase of racquets, shoes, bags, clothing and accessories, which can be particularly useful when it includes special deals on a “house” string that can be used either for the demos or as an additional sales incentive for racquet sales.
The fact is there is at least one perfect match for every player, and the demo program almost always is the best vehicle for pairing them up … unless the player is commitment-phobic. Unfortunately, as Gaudreau notes, some of those folks do exist, and they throw a monkey wrench into the working of even the best demo program.
“We have people who try for six weeks and still can’t make up their mind,” he says. “We can guide them; we can’t choose for them.”
Tips for a Successful Demo Program
- Stock demo models for lines you will support through sales, so as to maximize manufacturer support.
- Ask your sales rep for specific support and to find out about all available support. Don’t just assume your needs will be met.
- On demo models, offer different grip sizes, particularly smaller sizes for women and juniors.
- Have as many demos as possible — if you can, at least two of popular models.
- Keep demos fresh with new strings and grips. But also, don’t forget to take into account the cost of re-stringing and re-gripping your demos.
- Consider charging a fee to demo racquets, which then can be applied to purchase.
- Be aware of customers who will take racquets to weekend tournaments.
- Consider (re)stringing a demo to a special customer’s exact tension.
- Maintain contact with customers while they have your demo racquets; don’t let too many days go by without interaction to avoid their shopping around.
- Use your customer database to know when a customer has been playing with his or her current racquet for a while, so that you can suggest they may want to demo a newer model.
- Do whatever you can to create a hitting space in or near your store. If players can actually hit balls when they’re at your store, there’s a better chance they’ll purchase.
See all articles by Kent Oswald
About the Author
Kent Oswald is a contributor to TennisNow.com, producer at the JockBookReview.com and a former editor of Tennis Week magazine.