These ideas can help boost your sales and provide your customers with excellent service.
By Kent Oswald
For most tennis retailers, it’s devotion to the sport that drives them. They put in untold hours, and what little time they may have left over is spent with family, friends or possibly squeezing in a quick set or two — not studying retail theories or reading consultant reports on best practices.
But even the most experienced tennis retailer can still benefit from a few tips now and then on how to squeeze sales from customers and provide top-notch service. And learning from the experience of others is more efficient than fighting through one’s own experiments gone wrong.
Consider the ideas below a sort of “SparkNotes” of best practices for selling racquets, shoes, string, apparel and accessories, having been gathered from years of RSI interviews and stories. Not every idea is guaranteed to work for every store, but each has proved valuable more than once as a way to get the most money out of retail square footage.
- Keep in contact with your sales rep and ask for specific product, programs or line support. Don’t assume the answer is “no” or that companies know what your needs are.
- Keep up-to-date on internet and local competitor pricing, as well as when a product has been taken off MAP (minimum advertised price), and price accordingly, particularly with slow-moving or soon-to-be-outdated inventory that you are better off selling for less profit than tying up money and shelf space.
- Allocate display space based on a category’s contribution to net profit, not on its physical size or impact on gross sales.
- Use track lighting to highlight a particular item; neon or other special lighting will draw attention to an area.
- Compete on service, knowledge and in your areas of strength. In other words, don’t try to out-inventory a big-box store or undersell fly-by-night websites.
- Enhance, or immediately start to build, your customer database — the more detailed, the better. With a solid database, you can contact a specific customer when a new version of their racquet or shoes comes in, or you can let a spouse know when someone with a birthday coming up has spent a lot of time recently looking at a particular outfit or racquet.
- Build tennis community relationships by participating in and supporting local events. Find room in your store to display information of interest to your customers and offer special deals to specific groups, such as senior players, high school teams or teaching pros.
- Stock multiple demo models for lines you will support through sales to maximize manufacturer support. Also, offer different grip sizes, particularly smaller sizes for women and juniors … and keep demos fresh with new strings and grips. Use a new, premium string on at least one of the most often requested demo models.
- Charge a fee-applied-to-purchase of demo racquets to help with cost of restringing and regripping your demos and to encourage customers to not demo with you and then start a price search that might take them elsewhere.
- Restring your most loyal customers’ demos to their preferred 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.
- Create a hitting space in or near your store. There’s a better chance players will purchase a racquet after they have actually hit balls with it.
- Consider displaying racquets by player type rather than manufacturer family to give customers a better guide to the racquet for their game.
- Pair a string “upgrade” or discounted first stringing with each new racquet sale.
- Make sure fitting rooms are attractive, private, convenient and inviting, with full-length mirrors and enough hangers and shelves for customers trying on clothes.
- If space permits, put men’s clothing up front (since they don’t generally “shop”); women’s farther back to get them through the store … with a sales rack even farther back to “guide“ them through all racks; and kids in their own section on the side to avoid store disruption.
- Move or re-pair clothing (with new accessories and sometimes in the same family, sometimes with a different manufacturer’s offering) every couple of weeks for a fresh look.
- Schedule orders so new merchandise is hitting your floor every three to four weeks.
- Stay abreast of manufacturer ads and the outfits star players will be wearing at the Grand Slam events and other televised tournaments. Display accordingly and don’t be afraid to let customers know that you have a particular player’s outfit.
- Offer a custom-embroidery program for individuals and local teams.
- Provide team coaches, local teaching pros and other “influencers” with samples of clothing and accessories in exchange for recommending your store.
- Don’t just copy the tension of previous string jobs; engage customers in a discussion of how their strings played so you can better fit them.
- Offer to string racquets while the customer waits. It’s a service the internet and big-box stores can’t compete with and it keeps customers in the store and shopping.
- Offer to make changes and adjustments in strings, tensions, lead taping and grip as amateur games improve.
- Show off your stringers and stringing machines on the selling floor rather than hide them in a back room to advertise business and engage customers in the craft of a well-strung racquet.
- Explain to customers how premium strings can help improve their game and why the extra few dollars may be worth it to them.
- Offer to inspect strings and test tension for free when a player drops by on his way to or from a court. Strings do not have to break to go bad.
- Use this high-margin product to increase sales of other lines and/or enhance customer relationships. Conversely, give away a commodity (for instance, a free can of balls) with every stringing.
- Volunteer to work with a manufacturer’s string team at tournaments to keep up to date on new techniques and industry innovations.
- Offer special pricing for teams or on birthdays or through other creative promotions to build business beyond the once-a-year norm for many customers.
- Shoes are a repeat-sale business. Even with completely new customers, consider each (potential) sale a hub for improving customer relationships and building loyalty.
- Have staff try on every shoe and compare them as part of training in shoe technology (which is often needed to support questions of price).
- Be strategic in your shoe display. Don’t let the sales floor display spread beyond the category’s monetary value to the store.
- Display shoes from waist to head height when possible, then merchandise around the area with socks, insoles and hats. Putting them on the floor actually discourages customers from trying them on.
- Promote durability warranties, particularly to parents, when selling “high-priced” shoes for juniors.
- Track sales of accessories as aggressively as you do main merchandise — track both how much is sold and with what other products they are sold in order to get ideas about stocking and display, as well as what might work in cross-promotional sales.
- Stock and display your accessory inventory keeping in mind that women traditionally are drawn to fashion items while men have a greater interest in “technological” items promising game improvements.
- In addition to having grips, dampeners, wristbands, colored shoelaces, visors, etc. in areas where they match with main merchandise (e.g., dampeners near racquets, laces by shoes, visors near dresses), test different products around the register to see what works as an impulse buy.
- Accessories have a high margin, so try providing a free “sample” to an opinion shaper, for example, slipping a free set of wristbands to the league team captain after she checks out.
- Consider adding energy bars, mints, and other sports-themed snacks to the area around the register. Generally, items under $15 will do best there.
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.