Frame Outlook 2017: Frames in Mind
Racquet franchises and built-in frame customization may help retailers move more product this year.
Maybe the best way to characterize the state of the tennis racquet market right now is that it appears to be in a period of transition.
One trend we all want to see in 2017 is increased retail sales, as racquet purchases at pro and specialty stores going into the fourth quarter are lagging behind the previous year, according to TIA data.
As we begin 2017, it’s hard to put a finger on any emerging racquet trends in the traditional sense, such as changes in weights, balances, string density or colors. But we have observed some interesting developments pertaining to what racquet companies are offering:
Growth in Franchises
No, we’re not talking about a franchise like a fast-food restaurant. A “racquet franchise” is a fairly new term for our industry, which several manufacturers are using to describe their product line-ups.
In the past, every frame had a unique name — for instance, the XYZ racquet. If a frame came in more than one head size, they were called the XYZ 95 and XYZ 110. Now, we’re recognizing an XYZ “franchise,” with frames such as the XYZ Tour, XYZ Lite or XYZ Team.
With this concept, manufacturers have taken their most popular models and expanded on their success. Substantial marketing dollars go into developing a model name and building a following, so rather than having a racquet line-up with 30 different and unique models to cover all the various needs of all different types of players, a company will have 30 racquets that fit neatly into four franchises, to capitalize on existing marketing and franchise reputation. It is a smart business strategy and one we expect to continue.
Usually, the variances within a franchise are subtle — length, weight, swing weight or head size being the most popular. Cosmetics will also vary, but only slightly — enough to distinguish models from each other, but keeping an underlying theme that make each model clearly identifiable within the franchise.
Dunlop introduced the customization concept to tennis with its iDapt frame in 2014. Then Head introduced variable string patterns in the same frame with ASP (Adaptable String Pattern). This spring, Head is launching Adaptive racquets that can also change length, weight and swing weight to fit the needs of players.
For this industry, built-in customization is a great trend, as it calls for the expertise of an experienced technician or advisor to help the customer choose what modifications would best benefit their game and style of play. Then it compels the customer to act upon it.
This is an emerging trend that we hope to see more of in this industry, for it appears to have been successful in the golf industry.
Reversing the Retail Decline
Tennis racquet sales have been trending downward over the last few years in spite of slight increases in participation and play. The first step in reversing this decline is for retailers to stop “taking orders” and start actually selling racquets.
In this day of quick-click buying, it is up to tennis retailers to slow the consumer down and make sure they are purchasing what they actually need.
When a player has his or her mind set on a specific frame, most shops are afraid to say anything that may jeopardize that sale. But rather than saying, “Yes, we have that model in stock,” and making the sale, you need to slow down the process. What you should say is, “Yes, we have that model. May I ask how you determined that was the best frame for you?”
Your customer may respond with a great answer and you still make the sale. But chances are you will get a response such as, “A lot of pros use it,” or, “My friend bought one and loves it,” or, “I read about it online and it got great reviews and sounds like a good tennis racquet.”
This is a chance to not only make a sale, but to capture a customer and ensure future sales. Offer them a demo of the frame they asked for, but begin interviewing them about their game and style of play. Based on the information you glean from them, suggest a couple of other frames for them to demo. Show them that your goal is to get them a racquet that is going to fit their particular needs.
The customer may still just want to buy the frame they came in for, and if so, nothing is lost. But if they try the demos and rely on your guidance, they will end up with a frame that will enhance their performance on the court and their enjoyment in the game. They may refer friends to your shop because of the experience — and soon your customer base, and racquet sales, will be trending upward.
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 Executive Director for the U.S. Racquet Stringers Association.
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