Tennis Industry magazine

 

Racquet Stringing: Skill Set

Don’t just be an ‘order taker’; employ your customer-service skills to help your players select the right string.

By Bob Patterson

When helping a customer with racquet service, do you utilize your expertise as a racquet technician? Or do you find it easier to comply with “just do it the same…” instructions?

Don’t get me wrong, there is absolutely nothing wrong with “the same” if at some point in the past you have taken the time to analyze and discuss the customer’s game, needs and desires in order to help them choose the proper string and tension to optimize their performance on the court.

But if you haven’t done this and find yourself just taking orders and giving advice only when requested, then you are doing your customers, as well as your business, a disservice.

Sure, if you have a decent flow of business it is easy to just fall into an order-taking mode and string them up and collect the fee. But, if you are willing to invest a little time to really find out something about your customer and his or her game and work with them to get the right set-up that will elevate their game, alleviate their sore arm, or whatever else they are looking for, you will have a lifetime customer who will be doing more word-of-mouth advertising for your business than you can ever buy.

I’ve been in this business for decades, yet I’m still constantly amazed at what customers ask for. When asked, “Why do you want that particular string?” their answers vary, everything from, “My favorite pro player uses that” to “That’s what my friend said was the newest and best” to everything in between.

It may be easy to simply install the stiff poly string at 64 pounds for the 65-year-old 3.0 player just because he asked for it. But when he hates it, or if it takes his game down a notch or puts him out of the game to heal his arm for three months, he isn’t going to blame himself — he’s going to blame you. So, instead of having a customer singing your praises to everyone and increasing your customer base, you have now alienated one more.

The Poly Trend

For a variety of reasons, the current trend is for polyester-based strings, and the demand for poly seems to have no end. I have nothing against poly strings — in fact, I think they are a great innovation. But they are not for everyone, and in this case, they should not be for the majority of recreational
players.

In our May 2015 issue, we discussed this topic in “The Evolution of Poly Strings” with a panel of experts from various string manufacturers who nearly unanimously agreed that they shouldn’t be for every rec player. So why does such a large contingent of recreational players still use them?

I believe much of the blame falls on us for not educating our customers. We’ve all dealt with some hard-headed players who — despite you having solid credentials and experience fitting customers to the right racquets and strings — will still ignore your best attempts to advise them.

But there are many other customers who will listen, provided they are given the proper information in the proper format. I think, though, that we often fail to do just that, because it is easier to give them what they want — without taking the time to educate them.

Before we simply give them a string and take their money, we owe it to their games, their health, your business and our profession to, at the very least, let them know why we may not recommend a particular type of string for them.

For a customer who insists on using a poly string, two key areas that must be discussed are stiffness and longevity.

Stiffness

Poly strings are much stiffer than other strings and must be installed at much lower tensions than other types of strings. This takes some detailed explanation to make them understand why this is necessary. Stringing at higher tensions is basically going to negate most of the good attributes of the string. It will feel much harsher, impact more shock to your arm and be much less forgiving on off-center hits.

While most manufacturers recommend a 5 to 10 percent drop in tension when stringing poly strings, I believe for recreational players it should be a larger drop than that. To reap the best benefits of the string — spin potential — the strings have to be able to move in order to achieve that superfast snap-back effect that puts extra spin on the ball. Most recreational players don’t (or can’t) swing the racquet fast enough to achieve this, especially with strings at high tension. Lower tensions will not only help with this, but also will slightly lower the shock factor and provide a bit more forgiveness on those off-center hits.

Longevity

For most players, poly strings are much harder to break and thus are often considered a good choice for durability. This is true if you are a string breaker, meaning that you break strings long before they lose their resiliency and effectiveness.

The truth is that poly strings generally lose resiliency and tension retention faster than other types of string. This is why you see the pros going to a freshly strung racquet so frequently. Poly strings may not break easily, but they lose there “stuff” fast!

This is a big problem on the junior circuits where long days of training put a lot of stress on strings and on young players’ bodies. Many juniors can go through a set of nylon-based strings every session, and some even faster, especially if using an open pattern racquet. So, for the sake of the budget alone, parents switch to a poly string.

The trouble is that since the poly string doesn’t break after four hours like the nylon may, the junior plays on it longer than he or she should. It becomes much deader and the player is working harder to get depth, so he or she is putting more stress on the wrist, elbow, arm and shoulder and taking a lot more shock that will eventually lead to injury.

Adults can see the same problems, too, since poly strings most likely will show no signs of wear after three months of league play, and so they keep on playing with the strings until the pain comes and it is too late.

Trends are good, but don’t let them dictate your recommendations. Give customers your best advice. If they still insist on trying something you don’t recommend, offer advice on things they should watch for as signs the string or tension they have insisted on may not be working, or may be doing them harm.

In the end, all you can do is give it your best shot, but we owe it to our customers to give them the value of our knowledge and expertise.

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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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