Marketing and Promotions
One of the major gripes I have about watching tennis on tv is when the stands are mostly empty. I mean, can’t the organizers plan ahead and bring in school children and senior citizens or something? The seats are there. Great tennis is there. A real no-brainer.
Go by most tennis facilities between noon and 3 pm and you’ll see empty courts. How about starting to think of filling empty court time in the same way? The courts are there. Fun can be had. A real no-brainer. Now the question is, “Who can you bring to the courts and what can they do to have fun and somehow benefit your facility?” Here is just one idea to get you started.
Pre-school and kindergarten-age children – Normally these youngsters go to school in the mornings. We also know that they have parents who are looking to get them involved in fun, motivational, interactive, and beneficial activities. And we also know that if you can get the children interested in tennis early ahead of other sport options, there’s a better chance they will keep playing. We all know they have teachers who know how to work with them. Here’s how it could unfold.
Contact and meet with a local preschool owner about promoting an “afterschool” activity at an extremely inexpensive or free of charge introductory rate. Also considering hiring (or bartering for tennis lessons) the preschool teachers who already know the children to help with the on-court activities. Keep the classes short, limiting them to 30 or 45 minutes, and don’t get stuck on teaching tennis. Make them fun, seek laughter and creating happy faces among the children. Here are some of the benefits.
1. Some of these teachers may be terrific resources for your summer and holiday programs. Remember that they do not have to be tennis teachers in order to teach tennis to this age group. With very little training they will feel comfortable with some basic progressions. Most importantly, they already are trained with how to work with groups of children in this young age range.
2. If you have a snack bar, you may make in profit in that department what you did not make in immediate income on the court.
3. You are introducing families to your facility.
4. You are getting kids involved in a wonderful journey that starts with QuickStart Tennis.
5. You are introducing new players to tennis who will hopefully become regular participants in your programs in the future.
Conclusion? A win-win all the way around. Sure you may have to pay a little to one of your coaches. But, on the whole, I can’t think of any downside to this program. Can you? Do what it takes to fill empty time even if it means giving it away for free. The benefit of having extra traffic and activity at a facility totally outweighs the initial anxiety attached to giving away court time free of charge.
It’s important to remember that it’s the parents who support your junior development program. Sure you have to keep the kids happy and motivated, and their enthusiasm will reinforce to their parents that yours is the program for them. However, especially for the entry-level children, there are many activity and sport choices and tennis is just one of them. Creating an environment that stands out from your competition is guaranteed to grow your program to capacity and beyond. Here are a few ideas in addition to running a first-class program.
1. Provide a study room for juniors before or after practice to do their homework.
2. For the youngest age groups, incorporate counting, spelling, and other school subjects into their tennis training sessions. For example, if they are practicing control and consistency, have both players count cooperatively by even or odd numbers. Or, how about spelling words like elephant? “E” for the first hit, then “L” followed by another “E”, etc. For geography, try countries in Europe or Africa, or even cities in your region. For Biology, name animals that are aquatics, or have them create a list of birds, one for each hit of the ball. In other words, make them think and verbalize quickly while they are striking a tennis ball. Believe me, the parents will love you for it.
3. Another idea is to use visual and kinesthetic training aids and create hand-outs for the parents explaining how these aids accelerate the learning process. Again, you want to stand out from the other tennis programs and other sports programs in your general area.
The idea for this month is to package and promote activity programs that contain a certain amount of group instruction, a certain amount of private instruction, and a certain amount of supervised play. The reason this idea can generate greater participation than just an instructional or supervised play program is simple. Not everyone will want to sign up for supervised play and not everyone will want to sign up for instruction. Your audience and your participation levels should immediately increase when your programs contain components that are attractive to more people. You may also want to throw in a free one-hour ball machine rental as well.
The concept of Staff Specialization is simple but hardly ever orchestrated to perfection. Simply put, the idea is to choose staff and not just delegate or assign jobs, but to actually match target audiences (tots, juniors, seniors, fitness, doubles, movement, racket performance, league organization, etc.) and hiring staff, based on the passion and potential of each individual. But, don’t stop with the hiring process. The idea is that, generally speaking, you want to hire someone according to their individual passion and potential, rather than someone who has already achieved their own level of success in a particular specialization. The difference may seem insignificant, but it is actually the best way to build a strong team and keep staff for the long haul. And, once the hiring is done, the job is just starting. If you want to really separate your program from the others in your community, be sure that each staff member, in their own special area, keeps growing and improving. If they do, chances are your members will be happy, you will be happy, and your staff will be the happiest of all.
When you think about it, just about everything we accomplish in life, whether it be education, music, sports, or business, progresses incrementally. Measurable step-by-step progress gives us guideposts that motivate and reinforce middle- and long-range goals. Successful tennis programs work the same way. Tennis students should be clearly guided through a steady progression to higher and higher levels of play. The current USTA initiative called QuickStart Tennis is just one example of this concept.
Beginning students progress through three levels of play, each geared towards helping the players improve as quickly and effectively as possible. The court length starts from the 36-foot length doubles sideline to doubles sideline. This is called the Red Level and uses slow-bouncing balls and shorter racquets. Then, players move to a moderate speed ball and a court that’s 60 feet long called the Orange Level. The third stage is the Green Level and the idea is to play at full length with either a three-quarter speed ball or even a regular ball if the playing ability has developed sufficiently. This same concept is promoted by the International Tennis Federation (ITF) under the name “Play and Stay.” For more information on the details on this QuickStart Tennis program, please click here: http://www.oncourtoffcourt.com/c-58-quick-start-tennis.aspx
One stop shopping is one of the reasons that shopping malls have been so successful around the world. Literally three generations of family members can go to a mall and see products specifically designed for and age appropriate for each person. Make your tennis program the same way by offering a full range of activities and services for small children all the way through seniors. In an ideal world, you want to say “good morning” to an entire family of three generations coming through your doors at the same time. And, remember, that customizing programs to these varied groups can often set your program apart from your competition.
Here are a few winning ideas to help grow business in a tennis pro shop. First, how about working with charities to stay ahead of your competition. Homeless charities conduct food drives in practically every part of the country. How about offering a 10% discount on any purchase when the customer brings in a can of food? Another idea is to give a local charity the opportunity to conduct a bake sale at your facility. It’s a great way to gain local recognition, increase your customer base, and help a needy cause, all at the same time. Yet another win – win is to develop a special relationship with the high school and college teams in your area. To accomplish this, how about offering a 20% or even 30 % discount on racquet stringing.
On marketing tennis to juniors, here is a tip from a great tennis club marketer, Lenny Schloss. Lenny advocates breaking down programs into five levels. Each level is identified with a certain number of balls which participants will presumably hit during the lesson program. As closely as I can calculate the assumption is that each player will hit 3-400 balls per hour in their group lessons. Level One is called the 5,000 Ball Academy. In this level, the program and hours are arranged so that participants will end up hitting at least 5,000 balls upon completion of the program. Level Two is the 10,000 Ball Academy. Level Three is the 15,000 Ball Academy. Level Four is the 20,000 Ball Academy. And, Level Five is the 25,000 Ball Academy. Lenny suggests to guarantee participants at each level to achieve certain levels of competency, enjoyment, and fitness. For example, at Level Three, he recommends promising players to expect accuracy within 10 feet of their targets and the ability to control shots and make adjustments hitting up to 40 miles per hour.
Additionally, his promotional material motivationally compares the fitness benefits of each level to familiar exercise programs. For example, at Level Three, the weekly exercise received is compared to jogging briskly eight miles per week, a high impact 45-minute aerobics class three times per week, or a 45-minute stationary bike workout three times per week. With so much emphasis on health and fitness, Lenny’s concept taps into the mindset of his audience and encourages them to see tennis as an enjoyable alternative to what many people perceive as the drudgery of jogging or aerobics classes.
Now we’d like to share a common marketing practice to all successful businesses, namely to create a unique identity for yourself which is one step ahead of your competition. USPTA and PTR Master Professional Ken DeHart does just that. Ken has designed a complete series of pamphlets and flyers as part of what he calls his “Competitive Edge Training System.” The flyers include the following:
1. Five steps to recognizing what Ken calls the “monsters of the mind.”
2. Five steps to defeating the same monsters.
3. The return of serve – easy as 1-2-3-4.
4. Serving as simple as A-B-C.
5. Ten Tips for strategy.
6. Doubles positions – 4 positions / 4 job descriptions.
7. A flyer Ken calls “Today” with 14 motivational mission statements.
Here’s a mild thought-provoker: In recent years the average adult in America has spent 12 minutes less per day at work. However, they spend 7 minutes more per day watching television and 9 minutes more sleeping. Statistics and surveys also reveal that time at work has simultaneously become more stressful. Perhaps a natural marketing tactic would be to emphasize the anti-stress features of our lifetime sport. Let’s try getting people to spend their extra time on the court to relieve stress instead of watching extra television and extra sleep. Tennis is a great alternative and solution.
Here’s a phenomenal fund raising idea from several years ago that came from Karen Langs, the Petoskey High School varsity girls coach in Michigan. Karen found out that grocery stores in her community have on occasion donated one percent of grocery receipts on a certain day to non-profit organizations. By contacting a grocery store and advertising it well ahead, everyone in her community came out a winner. The store received recognition and increased business, the members of the community who intentionally supported that store were happy to contribute to the high school tennis team, and the team benefited by substantial fund raising which helped with many of their financial needs.
Offer a free 30-minute lesson to every person who expresses an interest in any of your programs. Benefits include bringing more people into the lesson program, developing an early rapport with new students, an increased customer base for programs beyond tennis lessons, as well as the added advantage of being able to accurately evaluate a new player’s game to place them in the right program.
Here’s a way to maximize indoor court time for instructional use. Simply divide the court in half. It takes a cooperative attitude from the pros and, as long as the player’s level doesn’t demand a full court, it can also be a little more fun for the student. The court can be used both lengthwise and crosscourt. This effectively doubles both the court availability and usage. Think about it. For beginning or intermediate juniors or beginning and most intermediate adults it would actually work out perfectly. Many indoor facilities simply don’t have enough court time during certain times of the week. Lesson rates, which include a court fee, could be lowered yet the overall income would increase.