Tennis Industry magazine

 

Footwear: Kicking It Up

Becoming a shoe expert will boost your store’s sales and your customers’ loyalty.

By Bob Patterson

The growing trend in tennis shoes is lighter weight for increased speed and maneuverability. Manufacturers are accomplishing this using lighter materials, less layers and a profile that puts the foot closer to the ground.

According to tennis shoe manufacturers, as the game has progressed to a hard-hitting slugfest, the need for speed has never been greater. But as with most things in tennis, not every player has the same needs. As a retailer, it’s important to keep abreast of trends to ensure your inventory is relevant, but you also need to assess your overall inventory needs.

While it is definitely true that today’s game is faster, we must not forget that tennis appeals to a broad audience. In my “old man” USTA League, speed is measured with a calendar, so comfort and stability are the characteristics that are most important to us. Just like there is no “perfect” racquet for everyone, the same is true for shoes.

Knowing your customers and your inventory will ensure your sales grow, inventory turns and your customers are satisfied. Make sure you have a wide selection that appeals to a broad range, but tweak your inventory so it fits your customer profile. If the majority of your customers are seniors, then you’ll want to skew more styles to comfort and stability. On the other hand, if juniors are your base, you’ll want to stock more shoes for durability and speed.

Just like fitting a racquet to a player, knowing what shoes work best for each player will take some education, but the effort will pay dividends. Shoes must be fitted to the foot shape, the style of play, the court surface and then prioritized to the importance of the individual’s preference. Some players may choose to give up a little cushioning and comfort for a lower profile and lighter weight. Others may want stability above all else, so choosing the right shoe and the right fit is vital to having a satisfied customer.

It’s About the Fit

We often see references to pronated, supinated and neutral foot types, and this is often used as the basis for shoe selection. Several of the experts we interviewed say that while this is very true for running shoes, it has little reference to tennis. Unlike running, a tennis player is moving in all directions, so most tennis shoes are designed to be foot neutral.

The Wilson design team explains, “In tennis, feet move in all directions, especially laterally with a lot of start, go and breaks. Players also tend to be on their forefoot most of the time to be more reactive. Players are often encouraged to add orthotic insoles versus buying by a foot type, as you would do in a running shoe. Pronation control could create discomfort on the push back for example, or supinator products could enhance ankle twists.”

The toe box is another area of fit that is important, especially to aggressive competitors. Again, balance is the key. The forefoot needs support but a toe box that is too tight will cause discomfort.

Fitting Your Customers

So how do you know how to fit your customer? Unfortunately you can’t have a shoe demo program like you do with racquets, but you can go through a similar process right on the sales floor.

Have the customer try on several different shoes in the store. Have them do some quick starts and stops, as well as lateral movements mimicking court movements. Get their assessment of how they feel in the shoe.

Of course, the first order of business is to make sure you know your inventory. Knowing the nuances of the fit and make-up of each shoe is vital to helping your customer find the right fit. Listen to what your customers say about each and recommend the next model for them to try just as you would in the racquet demo process.

Taking the time to become the shoe expert will not only make your customers have more confidence in their purchase but will also lead to more sales and more repeat business in the future.

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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 Executive Director for the U.S. Racquet Stringers Association.

 

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