Tennis Industry magazine


Retail Stars: For these three tennis retailers, success starts with a passion for the sport.

Tennis is the sport for a lifetime; retailing is a day-to-day business. While both can be great fun at the highest levels, neither can be a completely fun diversion.

Like most pros trying to make it on the tour, tennis specialty shop owners’ income and savings are always on the line. For players, a pivotal missed forehand or an untimely double fault can lead to a loss that starts a downward spiral in the rankings. For retailers, a lack of attention to a customer, or a mistiming in communications with a manufacturer, can send store revenues trending red.

Avoiding the negative and staying at the highest level of your craft requires focus, attention to details and, most of all, consistent execution. Of the thousands of players on the tour, only a fraction stand out. There is similar competition in the retail space, and you want to be one of the stores that gets noticed. Here are three that have succeeded in doing just that, while having fun along the way.

1/ Woodside Tennis Shop, San Francisco

One way to stand out is to counter the prevailing approach. Most people recommend putting your own business first, but consider the instincts of Julián Fernández, who has a history of reaching out to others. Soon after meeting the new neighbors of his Woodside Tennis Shop outside San Francisco, Fernández rushed to their roof to help put out a fire — before the fire department arrived.

At a more tennis-specific level, Fernández considers teaching pros “a lifeline” for referrals, not as competitors for racquet sales. He will even work with other store owners as “collaborators,” sharing his own inventory if a customer is in another owner’s store but the product they want is still on order for them.

Also, rather than living in fear of the size and reach of large Internet retailers, Fernández competes on his own terms. He doesn’t combat them with a website of his own (preferring social media as a way to communicate with his customers), but rather, he uses and refers to their sites as research resources. He has no problem if customers shop around online before they come into his store for hands-on care, personalized discussions and, ultimately, the immediate delivery of the desired product.

Fernández also encourages his staff to remember names and a fact or two about their customers, some of whom have been coming to the shop for 30 years. A significant part of his inventory management is based on the established patterns of the customers he knows well.

In retail, says Fernández, you have to stay on top of everything. “Business is like an octopus, and the tentacles are always moving. What I do is pretty fundamental stuff, but it works.”

2/ La Cienega Tennis Center, Beverly Hills

While some may think running a tennis retail store is exhausting, those who do it well find it exhilarating.

“I love the sport,” says Hally Cohen, who started part time as a teaching pro at the Beverly Hills’ La Cienega Tennis Center and is now the general manager of the public facility.

A hands-on, heart-in kind of supervisor, Cohen hires people with a passion for the sport and creates an environment that lets them pursue it. Cohen believes it translates to a staff that caters to players who are choosing to come to the public club as their venue of choice to spend their recreational time — and are happy to be there.

Part of the joy for both players and Tennis Center employees is in exploring the latest fashion, shoes and racquets available in the 500-square-foot pro shop. Staff are encouraged to demo everything so they can be the most informed and helpful for players. There are blow-out merchandise sales and demo days for racquets, and manufacturer reps are used to help make sales.

“A lot of what I have learned on the retail side is listening to customers,” says Cohen. “Online competition is the hardest, but people like touching and seeing racquets, and talking with people who know how they play. Our advantage is in the playing.”

Building upon that advantage is her philosophy, “Don’t put somebody in the wrong racquet!” Cohen acknowledges that some people will not listen to even the best advice, but as she tells her staff, “People are coming in to a specialty store, and we have specialty knowledge. I know I can’t make everybody happy, but I can come pretty close. If you believe in what you are selling and you have a good product, they can benefit.”

3/ Solow Sports, Long Island

“Every day I come to work, it is because I enjoy it,” says Solow Sports owner Julien Klein, in explaining how his company has developed such a dedicated following in its Long Island, N.Y., locations. One factor might be the Ping-Pong table in its 2,000-square-foot store in Huntington that allows customers to wait for a same-day stringing job by trying their hand at a different racquet sport.

A more significant point of pride is the store’s attempt to carry every single racquet in production from a major manufacturer and many from smaller brands, including those catering just to teaching pros. There are no pre-strung racquets or low-end tennis balls, and extremely minimal overlap with the inventory or sales philosophy of the big-box retailers.

“We target more of an avid tennis player,” Klein says. “My players might string 50 times a year with us. We see our customers often, which makes it easy for us to extend ourselves because of the relationships we establish.”

A key to making those relationships work is having a staff that gets along. Klein encourages his staff to work and play together at the Huntington store and the smaller shop at the Robbie Wagner Tournament Training Center in Glen Cove, N.Y. The combination of extensive space for inventory and a courtside location works as a key to maintaining stock — and providing staff the opportunity take customers onto the adjacent courts to spend as much time as needed to determine the best fit for their game.

Klein, who estimates he spends about 100 hours a week at his sites, speaks on behalf of every specialty retailer who is seeing success during these tough times. “The first step,” he says, “is that we enjoy tennis.”



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