CUSTOMER SERVICE Courting Success Leading specialty stores are hitting winners by focusing customer service and local markets. By Judy Leand

What a year we’ve had, with Covid-19 turning business—and everything else— With good news on the tennis participation front, retailers across upside down. For retailers, an assortment of problems continue—increased the country are moving product internet shopping, supply-chain issues, direct competition from key vendors, just and servicing more players—and watching the sport, and their to name a few. But there is a silver lining: Tennis participation is on the upswing, profits, grow. which is good news for the entire industry. The tennis specialty shops featured here are flourishing despite the ongoing challenges of the pandemic environment, thanks to a laser-like focus on customer service and a willingness to go the extra mile to meet the needs of their local tennis communities.

26 RACQUET SPORTS INDUSTRY June 2021 People flocked to us over the summer and we grew the sport. We reach out to high schools, we offer free clinics and we donate , racquets and equipment. Community outreach is very important in building loyalty and trust.

2 2 Bunny’s First Serve Pro Shop Des Moines, Iowa

Bunny Bruning opened her stand- alone pro shop in 1988, located at the Wakonda Club in Des Moines, where she serves as the tennis director. She is also a USPTA Master Pro and has been on the Missouri Valley USPTA board for more than 15 years. The shop’s clientele is primarily comprised of club members who span all age groups, from toddlers to seniors, but players in the community also come in for racquets and shoes—the two core categories that account for the bulk of Bruning’s sales. “Right now, racquets are selling well, and Head and especially K-Swiss shoes are re- ally popular,” she notes. “Our biggest competition is online, but the internet lacks customer service and there’s also the danger of receiving counterfeit product,” she says, adding that her pro shop doesn’t sell online. At the start of the pandemic last 1 boom recently. “Customers are getting year, business was understandably back into the game and newcomers slow, but that proved to be temporary. Swetka’s Tennis Shop Mountain View, Calif. are trying it out,” Swetka says. “This year, everything’s going gang- Stringing and adult racquet sales are busters,” Bruning reports. “We had a a big part of the business, and footwear crazy good season last year and now At Swetka’s Tennis Shop, customer is also a key category. He reports that we’re trying to stay one step ahead.” service is king. Owner John Swetka’s the Wilson Clash, Pure Drive But sales are only part of what parents opened the business in 1969, and the Head racquet line are all sell- makes Bunny’s First Serve Pro Shop and the store is proud to have many ing well. The store doesn’t do online successful. A devotion to the local ten- longtime employees. sales, instead focusing on customers nis community is an integral part of “We have a great, experienced face to face. The main challenge is get- the business. staff, including stringers who really ting enough goods to sell. “There are “People flocked to us over the sum- know what they’re doing, and a great, still supply issues,” Swetka says. mer and we grew the sport. We found dependable store manager. All of this Going forward, his strategy is “to niches to add programming,” she says. fosters outstanding customer rela- keep doing what we’re doing. We try “We reach out to high schools, we tionships,” he says. The shop offers to have relationships with teaching offer free clinics and we donate shoes, one-day stringing and also runs a suc- pros in the area, and to be dependable. racquets and equipment. We help high cessful demo program. “It also helps There’s potential to grow and prosper.” school coaches, and they in turn reach that we’re in an area with good clubs, He adds, “We’re known in the area out to the community.” public facilities and instructors, so lots by people who play, and we have a lot Bruning also runs three Park & of tennis is being played.” of faithful customers who have a lot Rec programs, all of which now have During the height of the pandemic, to do with our success. But lots of new waiting lists. “Community outreach is the store had to close for a couple of people are coming into the area, so we very important in building loyalty and


“Clay courts offer a multitude of benefits — RETAIL from a physical perspective to improving STARS 2021 playability, and to the simple aesthetics of a beautiful looking court” — MOLLY HARDIE, KESWICK HALL 3 4 ers to keep up with the business—it’s The Tennis Set Michael Lynne’s nothing for us to string 100 racquets Overland Park, Kan. a day in the summer.” Lynne reveals Tennis Shop St. Louis Park, Minn. that the shop strung 13,000 racquets in 2020, with eight machines going SPORTS SURFACES As the real estate adage goes, it’s all full blast, full time. about location, location, location. The Founded by the husband-wife team Lynne notes that tennis and “Combining the luxury and Tennis Set, founded in 1977, is in the of Michael and Mimzy Lynne in 1990, pickleball are both growing, and he is Underground Evolution beauty of red clay with the heart of the area’s many clubs and this 5,500-square-foot store boasts a considering expanding the pickleball responsible innovation of public courts, with all tennis facilities huge selection of tennis and pickleball area. “Pickleball will get bigger, and we Beautiful courts built from the ground up HyQ sub-irrigation enables within a 10-minute radius of the store. products and draws customers from co-sponsor a number of tournaments, us to offer one of the most “We recognize 80 percent of the cus- all around the region. some of which draw 480 players. We desirable and exclusive tennis tomers who walk in the door, and they “We service all ages, from toddlers have a big display of shoes that bring in ave you ever and its control center irrigates automatically and facilities in the country,” rely on our expertise and knowledge. to players in their 90s,” says Michael a lot of pickleball customers as well as looked at is completely digital. uses approximately 40% said Robert Hardie. “We are Consistency is key,” says Matt Rodney, Lynne. “We have big adult and junior platform tennis players,” he says. “The president of The Tennis Set. racquet areas, and our pickleball wall challenge now is getting inventory.” a perfectly Appealing to the next less water. so excited to make these “Last spring through the summer, is nearly 42 feet long—we can’t keep To help solve that problem, the groomed court generation of tennis court amazing courts available to tennis participation ticked up, and paddles in stock.” In the winter, the business warehouses a large amount Hand wondered how it stays maintenance personnel, For Molly and Robert Hardie, our club members and future our business has been doing well. We store also does a lot with platform of equipment. At present, Babolat, so pristine? Often the answer HyQ features fine-tuned owners of Keswick Hall, a guests alike.” like to be a hands-on, family business. tennis, thanks to the large number of Yonex, Wilson and Volkl racquets are is buried beneath your feet. controls on a digital touch storied and beloved hotel Customers come to us for direction on clubs in the area that offer the sport. selling well, as are pickleball paddles. pad that makes responsive property in Charlottesville, With a HyQ Court, it’s easy what they actually need. You just can’t “Right now, business is fabulous,” Although the store has a website, its In the late 80’s and early adjustments to within a Virginia, the system was to see and understand the get the same service online.” The store he says. “People are playing sports purpose is for information, not sales. 90’s, clay court tennis 10th of an inch. perfect for the complex’s entire sub-surface irrigation has a web page, but no shopping cart. outdoors now. Our big season started But of course, everything always underwent a revolution newly renovated tennis process at a glance, and Sales of racquets, shoes and ap- in early March, nearly a month and comes back to serving the customer. with the introduction of The HyQ Court’s intelligent facility. “Clay courts offer a quickly act to adjust water parel are fairly evenly distributed, and a half earlier than last year. But even “We’re known for our excellent sub-surface irrigation. The design optimizes the multitude of benefits — from levels to the perfect level stringing—along with re-gripping and with Covid, last year was good for us. service,” says Lynne. “Once you spoil racquet customization—is a huge part I think this summer will be dynamite! customers with great service, there are self-regulating systems amount of water on a court a physical perspective to every time. “Our HydroCourts of the business year-round. “We sell In fact, we’re looking for more string- not many other places for them to go.” used a capillary action to to help achieve desired improving playability, and really changed the industry,” tons of shoes, especially with pickle- continually draw water to the playing conditions. Four to the simple aesthetics of said Tracy Lynch, Vice ball picking up, and we sell lots of rac- court from under the playing preset controls allow users a beautiful looking court,” President of Sales & quets in summertime,” notes Rodney. surface. Water usage, daily to save preferred settings said Molly Hardie. Marketing for Har-Tru. “And “Apparel is also a constant.” 4 maintenance, and time for Hot & Dry, Cool & Wet, many customers still rely on Rodney is optimistic about the spent grooming the court or any other conditions Several courts at Keswick and prefer the HydroCourt future. “Tennis participation hasn’t were all greatly reduced. regularly encountered on were upgraded to a striking system. But HyQ, with really ticked up or down much in the a court. The digital control European Red Clay surface, digital real-time control, past, but the state of the game is now In 2000, Har-Tru panel allows for further and three of those courts is going to be the industry the best it’s been in the past two de- engineered its first advancements such as were converted to the standard of the future.” cades. We appreciate every customer and every sale.” Modified HydroCourt — Wi-Fi connectivity that state-of-the-art HyQ Court making it easier to build enable control of the system. The new courts So the next time you see and install. Two years ago, system from an app that provide the most consistent an impeccably groomed they introduced yet another can be accessed from a clay court experience clay court, take a minute breakthrough in irrigation phone or tablet anywhere. possible while using less to appreciate the unseen with the HyQ Court. water and decreasing the technologies that make for Perfect playing conditions surface material loss from ideal playing conditions. HyQ (pronounced High-Q), 24/7. That’s the goal of wind and erosion. Then get out there and play! brings sub-surface every court owner. HyQ irrigation technology into Courts stay uniformly the 21st Century. The moist, smooth, and firm system fills faster and for a consistent bounce, responds to adjustments exceptional footing, and Hy much more quickly, beautiful court. The court PHOTOS COURTESY MICHAEL LYNN'S TENNIS SHOP, SHUTTERSTOCK TENNIS SHOP, MICHAEL LYNN'S PHOTOS COURTESY


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5 Gillip credits much of the store’s Top-selling racquets include the Wil- House of Tennis success to outstanding service. “We’re son Clash, Babolat Pure Aero and Pure Las Vegas, Nevada very e cient and knowledgeable and Drive, and Yonex VCore and EZone. as long as a customer leaves with a Shoes from Nike, Asics and K-Swiss smile on his or her face, that’s every- are also in demand, Gillip reports. This relative newcomer to the Las thing to us,” he says. “Las Vegas is a growing city and we Vegas tennis scene opened in June A few other aspects also help to want to expand our reach. We’d like 2019 and claims to be the only premier set the store apart from competitors: to eventually add two or three micro tennis shop in the city. As its name “We’ve created an in-store experience. shops around the city, mostly to help implies, House of Tennis specializes We’re very shoppable, easy on the with basics such as stringing,” he says. in tennis but also caters to pickleball, eyes, and we have a great selection. We “As long as we keep margins high, racquetball and squash players, result- also o er 24-hour stringing service.” don’t try to battle with online retailers, ing in a booming business. House of Tennis doesn’t sell online, and keep our customers happy, things “Over the past year, our business nor does Gillip see the internet as an will be fi ne.” has been absolutely amazing,” says imminent threat. “We’re in a di erent He adds, “Tennis has started to grow owner Raymond Gillip. “With Covid, market,” he explains. “Our customers again, so the challenge for us is to also people are home more and they have want to touch and feel the product, continue to grow and fi nd new custom- more time to play tennis. We cater to and they want it now.” ers. We have a new generation of pros everyone, all ages and ability levels, as On the product side, footwear, rac- and players, teaching pros are thrilled, well as junior academies and country quets and are the shop’s chief and there’s a new infl ux of junior play- clubs.” tennis categories—there is no apparel. ers. It’s all very exciting to see.”

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30 RACQUET SPORTS INDUSTRY June 2021 We provide advice and information that customers can’t get online. People want to talk to us about racquets and strings, and want to try on shoes. We have a demo program, and customers usually buy from us after they try the racquets.

6 players ages 10 to 18, but in the past 6 Racquet Pro year we’ve been getting a lot of adults Houston, Texas coming back to the game.” Flores makes a point of offering top- notch customer service, and doesn’t Located in Webster, on the southeast sell online. “We provide advice and side of Houston, Racquet Pro has been information that customers can’t get serving its community since 2012. online. People want to talk to us about Owned by Ruben Flores, the business racquets and strings, and want to try began when his children got into ten- on shoes. We have a demo program nis but had nowhere to buy product. and customers usually buy from us “We wanted to open a second store after they try the racquets. Our string- in 2020, but the problem [at that time] ing service is very important—we offer was a lack of product,” he says. “When same-day stringing. We also keep a big the supply chain problems are over, inventory of shoes and a large selec- “We always work with the USTA we’ll try to expand the business.” tion of racquets. When we sponsor and other charity tournaments, and Flores is delighted at how well tournaments, we often donate balls, so we like to give a lot back,” Flores notes. Racquet Pro, and the sport itself, is we keep 200 to 400 cases in the store.” “We promote our store through tour- doing. “People who used to play tennis In fact, the store supports many naments because we can go directly are playing again,” he says. “Our key junior tournaments in the area and to the players. It’s good for us and for customers had always been junior provides high school sponsorships. tournament organizers.” • PHOTO COURTESY RACQUET PRO RACQUET PHOTO COURTESY June 2021 RACQUET SPORTS INDUSTRY 31