Tennis Industry magazine


Retailing Success: Basic Training

Driving sales in your store often involves a simple formula.

By Kent Oswald

Whether trying to improve one’s game or shortcut a path to greater sales, it is easy to get caught up in the excitement of the search for the secret or the new. However, as a brief roundup of recent retail success stories suggests, the recipe for success often is rooted in the more mundane: Execute the basics.

Be Open to Opportunities

In St. Paul, Minn., Tennis on Selby has been the sports’ sole independent outpost on the city’s east side for about five years. Owner Deb Irvine welcomes both the hardcore and non-traditional tennis customer into her 1,000-square-foot shop with a no-pressure atmosphere that encourages active browsing for some customers and just gathering to watch the televised tennis for others.

That approach attracted a local Vietnamese man who saw a need for community building and organized tennis play. On a day soon after the roll-out of the Babolat AeroPro Drive Play, he walked into the store while Irvine was experimenting with the racquet. His intrigue led to hitting with it, buying it and then introducing it throughout his network. That introduction has led not just to increased string, shoe and accessories sales, but specifically to the vending of repeated shipments of Aero Pros and a level of customer engagement that serves as a conduit of her store’s principles to his network.

Testimony of the bridge that has been built comes directly from Irvine, who remembers, “Several of my customers were anxiously awaiting their Play racquets and could see that they were available from one of the online retailers immediately. My shipment was stuck in the work slowdown on the West Coast, but because they value having a local tennis shop here in town, they waited until my stock arrived to make their purchase.”

Listen to Your Customers

Jan David’s original plan for Tennis “R” Us, southwest Florida’s largest tennis specialty shop as of their 2014 move, was to allocate floor space and inventory evenly among all manufacturers. Before opening the Bonita Springs store, “I bought equally from all [and] was somewhat rooting for smaller brands,” he says. The idea was to let his customers choose what they wanted in a marketing-neutral environment.

Choose they did, zeroing in on Babolat racquets, and causing some rethinking: “If Babolat did so well without full support,” David says, “it was time to get behind the brand.” He embraced more opportunities to take advantage of the marketing support they offered, and, today, while major and some smaller manufacturers all have their wall space, it is the Babolat line that consistently increases its presence in David’s store, satisfies his growing customer base, and adds to the bottom line.

Have and Convey Faith in the Products You Sell

Paradoxical to the advice to trust customers is the need to build trust with a sales rep and convey faith in a product to players. That is one lesson to learn from Jeff Hawes, director of tennis at the New Orleans Country Club, whose rep was enthusiastic when introducing Dunlop’s Black Widow co-poly string a few years ago. Hawes’ experience play testing was as positive as he had been led to believe, which meant a strong order when it became available.

“We started off recommending the 16 gauge to keep it from breaking,” says Hawes. Members “loved” it up until about the last 20 to 25 percent of the strings’ life. He began stringing more racquets with the 17 gauge (often in combination with the company’s S-Gut strings), which wore out slightly sooner and avoided giving players that “dead string” experience.

Because of the nature of the club, Hawes is careful to avoid seeming “to sell” the strings. A favored story is of how he went out for a lesson with one of the better hitting men and made the suggestion that not hitting quite as flat might help keep a few more balls in play and help his game. The player demoed the Black Widow string, came back to Hawes, closed the office door and asked that all his racquets be strung anew … and that Hawes stop selling the string to anyone else.

“We let members play with it and go from there,” Hawes says, a strategy that took a new string from a trusted rep to the best selling string for players who trusted a recommendation enough to try it for themselves.

Talk Honestly with the Sales Reps You Trust

Chuck Ellis, co-owner of Chuck & Mike’s Tennis in Louisville, Ky., has been an enormous advocate of Asics shoes — so much so that he lets them crowd out other brands in his other outlets, which also serve as a source for non-playing customers referred to the shoes by local podiatrists. But when Asics first introduced the BZ100 racquet, Ellis was no fan. He remembers the prototype as a “dull-looking” stick without “shelf presence,” and he did not shrink from sharing the impression or feedback about what he believed would work in his store. “If [a customer is] going to spend $200 on a racquet,” he says, “it has to look nice.”

But when he looked at the BZ100 Asics ended up putting into production, he saw that his (and presumably others’) styling recommendations had been noted. To his eyes it had been given a “rich look,” with a throat piece that stands out and inspires customers to touch it. Ellis was so impressed with the look and play that he highlighted the racquet as part of the store’s demo program — customers can try a new racquet for a week at a time over a two-month period — and also features it in the middle of the wall. The combination of it all has taken the BZ100 to the second best selling racquet in his store. The racquet isn’t yet quite as successful for the store as the shoes, which Ellis says he no longer brings out at the end to close a shoe sale, but as part of the first batch to save himself time, but it is a large step forward from his initial disappointment.

Sell Products that Mesh with Your Store’s Expertise and Customer Expectations

New Jersey’s Tao Tennis Shops owner Gerald Sarmiento sells his store as a place to fine-tune a stick off the wall and “get you the right racquet.” As a result, the brand promise of Dunlop’s iDapt racquet line with its built-in customizing features was a perfect complement to what the store was already providing two large niches of customers, the more demanding adults and high-performance kids.

Playtesting convinced Sarmiento and his staff of the iDapt’s quality. Its conception as a product quickly de- and reconstructed helped Tao by reducing the amount of time it took to individualize the racquets for demos. This in turn made for easier comparisons not just within but across brands during the week customers were given as part of the racquet demo program.

Additionally, being able to change grip size instead of buying new racquets when a child’s hand grew was a big selling point for parents making large investments in their child’s development. Those selling points, as well as in-store marketing and merchandise displays to create conversations about the new product, resulted in an estimated eight of 10 players choosing an iDapt over other companies’ product when purchasing from Tao in the first months after going on sale, as well as one of its hottest launches for a new product … and continuing strong sales.

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About the Author

Kent Oswald  is a contributor to, producer at the and a former editor of Tennis Week magazine.



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