Recreational tennis players shopping in a mall or a large sporting goods store don’t necessarily expect a mounted 4 foot fish or the stuffed head of a giant Canadian Moose on the wall. However, those same players entering a store that is 77 years old should expect the unusual and be prepared for a history-rich shopping experience. Enter Westwood Sporting Goods on 1065 Gayley Avenue in Los Angeles’ UCLA area. Owner Rick Hartman opened up to show what it takes to make a tennis shop survive 77 years.
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Walking through the front door at Westwood Sporting Goods is like experiencing time travel. Despite seeing all those flashy Babolat, Wilson, and Head racquets and trendy tennis accessories displayed throughout the store, you get the feeling of tennis history weighing real heavy on your shoulders. And you’re asking yourself is that’s what it takes to survive in tennis retail for 77 years? Is it the fact that the current owner Rick Hartman will never forget the past because it lives right here in his store?
Tennis retail is a tricky business. Only the best survive, as long as they have a good strategy and know what works and what doesn’t. Many small shops have gone out of business in recent years, and made space for big box stores where discount pricing is the mantra and customer service gets lost in the shareholders’ short term revenue objective.
Rick Hartman knows what works for his clients, and for many years now he combines competitive pricing with outstanding customer service when it comes to helping customers with all their racquet needs. Racquet stringing is his most popular service and the sheer number of racquets going through his store is staggering. On a typical weekday he and 2 helpers are stringing tennis racquets all day long on 3 racquet stringing machines. One of the machines has a counter for the number of string jobs finished on it. The machine is less than 5 years old and has strung over 15,000 racquets. And that’s just ONE machine of three.
In 1934 a gentleman by the name of Shelby Johns founded Westwood Sporting Goods as a general sporting goods store carrying everything from baseballs to rifles, bows and arrows. His son Bill Johns was Rick Hartman’s stepdad, who sold him the store in 2004. Customers walking through the store are getting constant reminders of the past and not only when it comes to tennis. Best example: the cash register. Shelby Johns had bought this apparatus used in 1934. Most intriguing: the cash register can only ring up a maximum of $99 per sale. So, a $150 tennis racquet has to be rung up in 2 stages. Extraordinary when you think of it…
Looking at the walls of Westwood Sporting Goods one can’t help noticing some large wildlife prepared, mounted, and displayed like “in the old days”. Two of those items are remarkable and worth mentioning.
- The 4′ Tarpon on the wall in the back of the store once belonged to Tony Trabert, tennis legend of the 60ies, and International Tennis Hall of Famer. Hartman reports, “Tony had caught this fish and had a life-size plastic mold made. When he brought it home to hang it up on a wall his wife said NO! The fish ended up in our store.”
- Another interesting item is the stuffed real head of a Canadian Moose on the wall above the ancient cash register. The Moosehead had a story, too (of course) and it is an interesting tidbit for lovers of tennis history and its players. Hartman continues, “The great Arthur Ashe used to work in this store for one summer while going to UCLA. He was reportedly the last person on this planet who dusted the Moosehead. No one was allowed to dust it since.”
While Hartman produces an old book titled “Dealer’s Record of Sale of Revolver or Pistol” with details of people who were buying guns in the thirties and forties (like age, height, skin color, eyes and hair color, occupation, etc.), he explains that he plays tennis at UCLA on Sunday mornings. He describes his level of play: “My stringing is better than my tennis.”
Racquet stringing is a high revenue item for Westwood Sporting Goods. According to Rick Hartman, more and more racquet owners are asking for hybrid stringing. He explains that hybrid stringing means 2 different types of strings are on the same racquet. “Often players want a Polyester string on the vertical (which means more durable strings here), and a softer gut or multifilament string as the cross strings (which results in more feel and control).”
Hartman says his team had strung about 200 racquets during the 2011 Farmers Classic ATP tournament at UCLA, and all but 2 players used hybrids. Currently the store employs 3 stringers. Dave Bishop is the man with the most experience: 40 years of tennis racquet stringing. Joseph Randoo and Bob Lamm have been stringing racquets at Westwood since January of 2011.
Normally, tennis racquets are being strung at anywhere between 55 lbs (for more power) to 65 lbs (for more control). Rick Hartman reports that Mark Phillippoussis had his racquets strung at 77lbs, Pete Sampras at 73 lbs. Asked about the best selling tennis racquet in his store he doesn’t hesitate one second and replies, Babolat Aero Drive (Nadal’s racquet), followed by HEAD Youtek Speed Mid Plus, Djokovic’s racquet.
So, the secret to the success of Westwood Sporting Goods surviving 77 years in tennis retail: High volume of string jobs combined with a huge selection of tennis racquets priced very competitively. Rick Hartman is THE source for tennis racquets and stringing, and the myriad of loyal customers are the best testimony for the success of his strategy.
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