String Retailing: String Theories
With the right inventory, presentation and product knowledge, you can help your customers find the right string and optimize your string sales.
Nothing seems more robust in our industry than string manufacturing. In 2006, our USRSA database showed 478 strings available from 31 manufacturers. Currently, we list over 950 strings from 45 manufacturers. We continue to see new brands emerging while existing brands continue to develop new and innovative products.
With so many choices, it is hard for dealers to know what to stock and even harder for players to know what might be the best choice for them. Obviously, you cannot stock every string on the market, so how do you choose what to offer?
Like any buying decision, there is a fine line between having too much and too little. Having too large of a selection not only eats up inventory dollars but can also make choices confusing for your customers. On the other hand, not having a varied selection may leave your customers wanting more and ultimately seeking another option.
Be methodical in choosing your inventory. Make sure you have strings in all categories and a variety of gauges to cover all player types. Categories include natural gut, multifilament, basic synthetic gut and poly or co-poly strings. If you have a lot of string-breakers, you may want to add an aramid string as well.
As a minimum you’ll need to stock at least a couple of choices from each category. If your volume and budget allows, you will want to expand your selections within each category to offer various gauges, colors and price points to meet the needs of a wide range of customers. Generally people like to have options but don’t want to be overwhelmed.
You will want to skew your inventory to your customer base. If juniors make up a large part of your business, you’ll want to go heavier in durability strings. On the other hand, if seniors make up the majority of your clientele, you may want to stock more heavily in the comfort strings. Know you audience and stock accordingly.
Although there are so many new strings, some of the best sellers have been around for a long time. Many players will find a string that works for them and are very reluctant to change, so be careful about changing your selection too much. But you can’t ignore new strings, either. As new strings are introduced, you will need to make a decision as to whether they will fit into your inventory plan or not.
“When new strings are introduced, we will often give it a test period, but if sales are not good we will drop it,” says Kim Cashman, MRT and owner of Advantage Yours Tennis in Clearwater, Fla. “We also determine how many other strings [in our inventory] are similar and if it will affect those string sales.”
This is a valid point. You’ll want to make sure your selection is varied. If, when you are explaining your selection to a customer, you find yourself saying, “These three are basically the same,” then why are you carrying all three? Drop two and bring in two other new strings.
You will also need to adjust your inventory to keep pace with technology in racquets. A growing trend now is racquets with more open string patterns. These frames often require an adjustment in string thickness. Accordingly, we are seeing introductions of 1.35 mm and thicker strings that were rare just a year ago.
“Sometimes companies stop production of a popular string. In that case we look for a comparable string to take its place,” adds Cashman. The USRSA website, racquettech.com, has a great tool to assist with this. String Selector allows members to enter any string and search for comparisons based on gauge, stiffness and tension loss. It is also a good idea to know these numbers for the strings you stock so that you can better help your customers choose what will work best for them. The String Selection Map Tool can also be helpful in choosing your inventory to make sure that you have a good variety. You can easily compare string characteristics across all the brands.
Having a distinct, professional racquet service area and a well-merchandised selection of string says a lot to customers entering your store or shop. Manufacturers invest a lot in developing packaging that ties into their overall marketing. If you stick your string inventory in a drawer, you are doing them and yourself a disservice. Display your strings proudly in your racquet service area. This not only creates a professional-looking area, but also shows that you have a wide variety of options. Displaying your string selection can be impressive and informative. Present your string in a rational order by brand, category or some other logical method.
In my retail store, we started with natural gut selections on the left, followed by multifilament synthetics, basic synthetics and poly. Within each category, we sorted each string by gauge. Strings offered in multiple colors were also given separate pegs. This not only makes it easier as you talk to your customer about their selection options, but it also makes managing your inventory easier. A quick glance will let you know when a specific string is running low and needs to be reordered.
Know your inventory. There are plenty of resources to help, starting with the manufacturer’s information, but don’t rely solely on this. When considering a new string, gather as much information as possible. The USRSA is a valuable source as well. Our extensive database of string specifications can help with the process, especially comparing strings to one another.
Probably the best evaluation is testing the string yourself. Even if the string would not be something you would play with, you will at least be able to give a first-hand account to prospective clients.
But knowing your inventory is only half the story. Putting that product knowledge to work by applying it to your customers’ needs is the key. Help your customers narrow down their string selection by finding out more about their game, what they feel is important and what they have used in the past. With this knowledge you have the information to make suggestions to help them achieve their goals.
Cashman says that communication is vital to getting your customer in the right set-up. “We discuss, at length, with our customers about their string choices. Even if they come in for a restring, we ask if things are going well, how are you playing?” she says. “Are the strings lasting long enough? Any arm issues? Usually the response is ‘just the same,’ but every once in a while we hit upon something we can tweak to make it even better.”
Taking those few minutes to get to know your customer and his or her game will allow you to use your expertise and product knowledge to help them get optimum performance from their racquet. They will appreciate your knowledge and willingness to help them rather than just trying to sell them a string job.
The small investment of your time will earn you a customer for life, and happy customers will spread the word to other players.
See all articles by Bob Patterson
About the Author
Bob Patterson , the founder of the RacquetMAXX customization service, is a Master Racquet Technician with more than 20 years of experience. He was RSI's Stringer of the Year in 2005. He is Special Projects Manager for Tennis Industry magazine.