Racquet Sales: Tip sheet
Tennis retailers tell us their strategies for selling more racquets.
By Kent Oswald
Co-Owner of Orange County, Calif., institution Irvine Tennis and its smaller, sister store Corona Tennis
- It’s not rocket science. Know which racquets are popular and understand what type fits a certain type of player. “All we ask is their type of play and swing style and then we do our best to fit their niche.”
- Recognize that there are big players with big budgets on the internet, so scale your focus and spending accordingly. “We are so old school we don’t have any lists or ads or campaigns. We are strictly word of mouth. We do have a Facebook page and a domain name (IrvineTennis.com), but don’t post ads much on there. Being a smaller but strong business, going against online mega-stores isn’t worth our time.”
- Be flexible in pricing, keeping in mind the larger picture of maximizing all sales and long-term relationships, not just getting the most for individual product. “We classify ourselves as a new-age discount store. We don’t advertise it but all of our clients know we discount racquets, and all our products for that matter. We stick to the same model all year round, which is be respectful and honest in guiding customers.”
- “Be honest and true about product, and most importantly, treat the customer as a friend, not a customer. I live by this: Treat everyone as a friend until proven otherwise.”
- “Customers come back to us because they trust us and rely on us to keep them updated and progressive in their game. We aren’t trying anything new except reducing the wide variety of racquets.”
Owner of Rocky Mountain Racquet Specialists, the Boulder, Colo., store with an incredibly loyal local following
- Spend time qualifying what the customer wants. Interview customers to find out whether they want latest and greatest or their own tried and true. “We listen and are happy to sell customers what they say they want, but do want to bring them our own expertise if they are interested.”
- With demo racquets, use a nicer quality synthetic and (unless it is a special customer who knows what string they want and whose purchasing past deserves a new string job on a demo) string all demos at that caliber at a medium tension so there is a benchmark.
- Treat every customer respectfully. Word of mouth is always the best advertising … or a slippery slope to driving people away.
- So many people are searching for tennis merchandise on the internet that you should at least experiment so a [potential] customer knows about new racquets and offerings through social media. The problem, as with all advertising, is to have customers let you know how you reached them so you can build on that success.
- With pricing, make sure you’re in the mix in the marketplace — both versus local and internet competition — and go from there.
Owner of Players Racquet Shop PDX, the Portland, Ore., racquet specialist
- Try the counterintuitive to get people thinking about their racquets. For example, even though Portland is not known as particularly tennis-friendly in the winter, the store ran a January string and grip replacement special.
- Establish a working relationship with the area’s key teaching pros. “We try to help them with their personal equipment, and provide them with bags consisting of four to five demo models of their preferred brand. They, in return, send their clients to us. It works well, especially if you keep close tabs and don’t let them get more than they give.”
- Target your advertising. “For the last two years we’ve run a 30-second commercial in the Portland area during the US Open.”
- Let people know about new racquets before they get established in their routine, or search them out elsewhere. “We send out an email blast once a year (around January) introducing the new products, and announcing any sales or price drops on the previous year’s frames.
- Train your staff. As part of training, make sure staff knows racquet specifications, as well as the latest deals with manufacturers, including which racquets make the most money. They shouldn’t be selling based on what brings in the most money since that could hurt long-term relationships with customers, but they should also make sure to include a profitable racquet in the demo mix when it wasn’t asked about, but could be an appropriate choice.
- With MAP pricing, a lot of the profit comes not with the sale but with the purchase price. The question to ask your rep is not what the racquet will sell for, but what is the store’s real cost with the particular frame.
Racquets manager of The Tennis & Golf Company, the Royal Oak, Mich., independent sporting goods purveyor that recently celebrated its 35th anniversary
- Work with your sales reps. You want to maximize manufacturer help with your advertising efforts and encourage manufacturers to provide good quality demo strings to pair with their racquets in order to make the whole package as appealing as possible.
- Keep posters and other point-of-purchase advertising materials up-to-date and visible. Also, know your customers — passing along an extra poster or other piece of promotional merchandise to the right influencer can go a long way in spreading good word of mouth.
- w Make sure new racquets are conspicuously displayed and that you have a good selection. “We carry eight different brands (and 350 different demos). Availability really helps us because when you come to our store, there is a very good chance you can hit immediately with the racquet you are interested in.”
- If at all possible, create a lane in the store where people can demo a racquet.
- Consider a membership policy. The initial fee (modest as it may be) helps with buying inventory, and the “special membership pricing” it buys ties members even closer to the store when they think it might be time to upgrade to a new frame.
- Provide a discount for people who bring in a racquet to be replaced that is still in good enough shape to be donated to a local school or community group promoting tennis.
- Hire staff who are nice, knowledgeable and able to share their real experiences with the products. “People come to our store for a number of reasons. The selection. The supply. And salespeople can not only tell you stats about the products, but can also tell you their experience and that of others. Product. Price. Service and knowledge. There’s not much else you can ask for [when looking for a new racquet] other than free posters, which I also give them.”
Owner of Grand Central Racquet with its three Manhattan locations and one at USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center
- Make the most of your wall space. Get as many models as possible facing out, take advantage of racquet company point-of-purchase signage and on-racquet advertising materials. Consider a brushed aluminum or other background that can help racquets pop, as well as a row of spotlights set to highlight the products.
- Educate your customers about pricing and value. Take every opportunity when talking with [potential] customers to educate them about MAP pricing and how a racquet bought in the store can work as a better deal, particularly when extras and service are considered. “My hat is off to the internet companies for giving a false sense of savings to consumers.”
- Figure out what draws customers to your location. “I like to get people into my store for stringing and gripping and then take advantage when they show interest in a racquet. I also pay someone six hours a day to stand outside in Herald Square and hold a giant tennis racquet [to direct tourists and office workers to the store].”
- As manufacturers cut back on things like covers and dampeners, consider making up your own. For example, the store is creating a nylon sack (wholesale cost $2.50 to $3) with a drawstring to accompany new racquet purchases that will also be sold separately. It will serve as advertising and also eliminate any disappointment for a customer who spent a lot of money and expected the traditional accessories, even if they didn’t use them.
Owner of the Twin Oaks Racquet Shop inside The Edge Sports & Fitness Center in South Burlington, Vt.
- Show your stuff. Particularly if the physical space isn’t prominent, make sure to be visible with new racquets — in the club, if applicable; in the community, whenever possible.
- Create demo days that attract a large audience. Select racquets with an eye to what the manufacturers are already successfully promoting in print and on TV. Work with manufacturer reps. “They sent goodies, made it into a tennis carnival and we attracted a wide audience.”
- Provide teaching pros with demo models, keep talking with them and make sure to have an appropriate relationship with them about compensation when they send sales your way.
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.