Tennis Industry magazine

 

Fall Introductions: The Sum of Its Parts

Dunlop’s new iDapt racquets can provide players — and retailers — with unique opportunities.

By Peter Francesconi

By Peter Francesconi and Bob Patterson

By now, you’ve probably heard about the new Dunlop iDapt racquets. You may not have had a chance to see this product yet, but you may have heard some of the descriptive words being used, such as “revolutionary,” “innovative,” “exciting,” “unique,” “impressive.” And there is the often heard, “game-changing.”

These aren’t just coming from Dunlop’s marketing and p.r. people — this is what retailers had to say at a Dunlop launch event held in early August in New Orleans. The company gathered about 60 top dealers and 30 others, including Dunlop staff and media, at the event.

The group first playtested whited-out models. Then shortly after that, Kai Nitsche, V.P. and general manager of Dunlop Sports Group Americas, unveiled what it was the group had hit with — to a completely surprised crowd. As Nitsche continued to describe the product, the audience’s surprise turned into nothing short of amazement, and even gratitude for the support for the pro/specialty retail business.

Putting It Together

Basically, iDapt is a racquet that comes in three pieces: the head, the handle, and a rubber piece in between called a “Shock Sleeve.” There are four different head options (98 square inches, two 100s — one with a more open string pattern — and a 105), three different Shock Sleeves (Soft for cushioning and forgiveness, Medium for a blend of response and comfort, and Firm for maximum response and feedback), and, all told, 12 different handle options (six grip sizes, each in 27- and 27.5-inch lengths).

All the pieces are interchangeable, and, with the different cosmetics available, Dunlop says a total of 432 different racquets can be made up of the parts. Once a customer picks the components he or she wants, it takes a certified Dunlop iDapt retailer just 60 seconds to assemble the frame.

During the playtest in New Orleans, none of the dealers had a clue the frames they were using had just been put together a few hours earlier. They said the racquets felt solid during their hitting sessions. Because the string and tension were consistent among each of the different head sizes, the differences they noticed in feel and performance were due to the different Shock Sleeves in the frames.

How does this work for consumers? They’ll pick the components that suit their style of play, along with the cosmetics they want, then pay for the completed frame, which the certified retailer will assemble right there, using a special, custom-made tool that only authorized retailers will have. It takes less than a minute. And the suggested retail price is $199.

Years in the Making

Nitsche approached his superiors in the U.K. seven years ago with this concept, which was green-lighted four years ago, and since then, the company has managed to not only keep this secret, but to constantly tinker with, change, and playtest dozens of iterations.

“Whether it’s mobile phones, skis, golf clubs, or any number of products on the market today, consumers have come to expect the ability to have direct input into what they use,” Nitsche says. “Dunlop is a brand with a tremendous history of innovation. With iDapt, we’re giving players of all levels access to individualized technology that has historically been available to an elite few.”

Simplicity is the key with iDapt. The main connection, where the throat meets the handle, with the rubber Shock Sleeve in between, is held firmly by an aircraft-grade aluminum bolt, which also has a dab of a specially formulated locking compound to help form a solid connection. Authorized Dunlop dealers will receive a custom tool, actually a long torque wrench, to assemble and, if a customer wants to swap components, disassemble the frame. (The adhesive on the bolt does not hinder disassembly.) Dunlop says its testing shows that the area where the handle joins the head is stronger in iDapt than in conventionally built racquets.

Dunlop even changed and simplified its naming convention for its frames, to make it easily understandable based on head sizes: iDapt Force 98, iDapt Force 100, iDapt Force 100S (open string pattern for more spin) and iDapt Force 105. The Shock Sleeve, too, isn’t couched in marketing terms or magic; it’s just a form-fitting piece of rubber in different thicknesses that changes the feel and response of the frame.

To build an iDapt racquet, dealers simply use an awl to remove a small plug in the butt cap, insert the desired Shock Sleeve on the end of the desired racquet head, insert the bolt into the bottom of the handle, then tighten with the special torque wrench until it clicks into place. Put the grip band and handle plug in place, and the racquet can go right out on court.

Player and Retailer Benefits

For consumers, it’s all about choice. Players choose the right size head for them, and the look they want (each of the four different heads come in three cosmetics, from somewhat conservative to a bit more wild). Then they choose the Shock Sleeve to determine the feel and shock absorption they want. Then they pick the handle, either 27 inches or 27.5 inches, in grip sizes 0 (4 inches) to 5 (4-5/8 inches). Frames can even be “handed down” to family or friends who can just spend $30 for a different grip or a few bucks for a new Shock Sleeve to change the feel and performance for the new owner.

For retailers, there could be major ramifications and benefits. First, the amount of inventory and the number of different models to stock can be vastly reduced with iDapt. There’s no need to stock dozens of demo frames since they can be created on the spot for customers, then tinkered with instantly to give players an even closer match to their style of play, increasing the chances for a sale. Wall space is reduced, because Dunlop has developed a 5-foot by 7-foot wall display that can show all the components to make up all 432 racquet combinations. Shipping is in smaller packages, and stockroom space is reduced.

Importantly for pro and specialty retailers, the custom tool needed to put together and change the frame will not be available to consumers, so players need to come to your store if they want a quick adjustment. That’s even a potential advantage over online retailing — while the frames will be available online, chances are players won’t want to wait days for it to return to them if they want to make changes; they’ll stop in to a local retailer for a 60-second fix.

Another feature of the iDapt frames are the Aero Boost Grommets, which are wider holes that are “spring-loaded.” Dunlop says that will increase the sweetspot, power and touch. The frames also use “parallel drilling” for the grommet holes, which the company says also enlarges the sweetspot, allowing the strings to move more freely for more snapback and more spin.

Players can take the customization even further if they use “Blast Zone” strips. Each racquet has five Blast Zones delineated on the frame, where players can place Blast Zone strips made of non-toxic silicone (rather than traditional lead tape) to enhance power, sweetspot and/or stability. The strips weigh 3 grams, but are scored so they can be cut to 1- or 2-gram lengths.

“This will renew the interest of the consumer,” says retailer Horacio Tamborini, owner/director of Flint Canyon Tennis Club in La Canada, Calif. “It seems to be a very solid product and a good concept.”

A Retail ‘Game-Changer’?

While only time will tell if retailers and players go for this new type of racquet customization and choice, all of these traits — and not least the pricing — had retailers at the New Orleans launch transfixed.

“When I was told that Dunlop had a ‘game-changer,’ well, that’s wrong,” says Jim Augis, owner of Racquets Etc. in Westfield, N.J. “This is an industry-changer. In all my years in this business, I’ve never seen a group of retailers that is so fired up. What makes racquets sell is the simplicity of the story. Everyone was so mesmerized by the whole concept and simplicity of it.”

“There’s so little risk — it’s a small dollar investment and such a versatile product,” says Rachel Heise, general manager of Game Set Match, with four stores in the Denver area. “I think everyone’s been waiting for something like this. I’m so excited to have one of the vendors finally care about specialty retailing, instead of the big boxes.”

Dunlop says the iDapt line, which started shipping to retailers in mid-August, won’t be available everywhere. “We’re selecting dealers that have a good understanding of racquets,” says Hunter Hines, Dunlop’s director of marketing and product development. “We’re particularly targeting dealers that have USRSA Certified Stringers and Master Racquet Technicians on staff. The iDapt line requires people that understand racquets and can help the consumer choose the best fit for them. There are a lot of choices and we feel that having qualified dealers is essential in getting the right combination for players.”

Hines says that with its pricing, the iDapt line will “reduce financial exposure for retailers by over 70 percent, while still being able to offer more options and truly unique specialty service to customers.”

Marketing Support

Right now, the iDapt frames will only be available in the U.S. Dunlop is supporting the launch with the in-store wall display, court and store banners, customized in-store hanging graphics, and more. The Dunlop sales team will develop specific tennis events for each iDapt certified retailer, to be held from August to December either in-store or on-court.

Equipment for teaching pros will go through the retailers, not to the pros directly. In fact, Hines says teaching pros will not have the special torque wrench required to assemble or modify the frames.

The iDapt specific website, dunlop-idapt.com, will feature an interactive “build-it” module for players to create their own frames. They can then email the specs to others, including a dealer who can build it for them. The website will have a dealer locator zip code search feature.

“I love the way they thought this through,” says Kin Roseborough, a tennis professional and stringer in Charleston, S.C., and at Daniel Island/Family Circle Cup. “The whole concept of the colors and styles and individuality is great. It’s like a consumer going to Starbucks and ordering exactly what they want. And there’s no way you’ll know the difference when hitting with it. I think we’ll have a lot of interest in this.”

“The origin of this really came from dealers,” Hines says. “For years we have heard dealers that were overwhelmed with so many different models. Even knowing that players have different needs and wants, dealing with so many different frames is an inventory nightmare.

“iDapt technology gives players hundreds of choices to have a frame to best fit the way they play. It’s all about giving players the ability to truly choose what best fits them.”

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About the Author

Peter Francesconi is editorial director of Tennis Industry magazine.

 

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