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Table sport sales
June/July 2011

Selling tips:

How to grow table sport sales

Selling equipment for table sports like table tennis, pool or snooker presents the retailer with a dilemma: a table takes up a lot of floor space, but ensures much higher margins than accessories. Should a retailer therefore push table sales, or can he grow accessory sales to give him the same profits — if so, how? FANIE HEYNS asked some experts

Retailers with a keen eye on expanding their business and raking in the dollars in the pool-, snooker- and table tennis-industry, should heed six pivotal factors to attract more sales: visibility, professionalism, expertise, service, service and more service.

That is according to some experts approached by Sports Trader.

But, should they try and make one big sale with a table, or should they rather concentrate on getting as much — or more — value from accessory sales?

The only way in which retailers could convert the value of accessory sales into the same value as table sales, is by stocking more and a wider variety of accessories, says Derek Hawley of United Pool Tables and the SA Confederation of Cue Sports.

If table spares and a repair and maintenance service are added, this will automatically help grow table sport sales.

Accessory sales can be optimised by catering for all categories — clubs, the home market, pool hall operators and players. This means that retailers should render a comprehensive service.

Visibility

He also believes in attracting customer attention by, for example, displaying a big pool or a snooker table in a highly visible area. “Sport equipment is always about the feel. Having a table available will most certainly boost sales of pool or snooker accessories and tables,” says Hawley.

But, retail floor space is measured on return per square metre and a table takes up a lot of floor space, cautions Steve Gallienne, national sales director of Super-Brands, distributor of Dunlop table tennis, who agrees that visibility is crucial for generating sales.

It is impossible for most stores to accommodate a big pool- or table tennis-table as they simply don’t have the space. “They feel their floor space can be better utilised,” adds Andrew Wentzel of WET Sport Importers.

A well-known retailer has overcome this problem by creating a cube, consisting of the corners of four pool and table tennis tables, each with a backing — offering customers the opportunity to feel and experience different tables, without sacrificing too much floor space.

Besides, points out Charlotte van Jaarsveld of Sedgars, a table tennis table is also foldable and on wheels, which allows for easy storage.

If retailers can show customers comprehensive catalogues of the options available to them — tables and accessories, complete with specifications and colourful images — and are equipped to give professional service to the customer interested in these products, it would also boost sales, says Gallienne.

Showing accessories

If you want to optimise accessory sales, a trusted brand name is a key factor, just as in most other sport codes, he adds.

“Clear, illustrative packaging and merchandising will further make a statement in the store. The label and message on the packaging must be clear and make it easier for the customer to select product — if it is a table tennis paddle, for example, indicate if it is for spin, power or control.”

He reminds retailers that they must take care to present the products, as well as merchandise units, in a suitable way, preferably at eye level and not low down.

It is important to have an area dedicated to your table tennis accessories that is clearly branded so that one can create maximum exposure, says Wentzel. Catching the customer’s attention often generates impulse sales. “For example, we supply a nice table top container with table tennis balls that can stand at the check-out and catch the client’s eye.”

And, of course, you can only make sales if you have stock when the customer walks in, he adds.

Good quality always cost more, but in many instances it is good to stock alternatives. Never stock only cheap or inferior products, says Hawley. Retailers should always research products and try to keep stock on both ends of the market.

While prominent display of accessories is important,” says Kevin de Wet of De Wet Sports, “a more important factor in growing sales is the product knowledge of the staff and their ability to demonstrate the correct use of accessories.”

A retailer can only render a professional and knowledgeable service, which will generate repeat sales, if his staff know and understand the products they sell, all suppliers agree.

Know your cues

Entry level: On a scale of one to ten, a number-1 cue would be the standard one piece pub- or bar cues, made of Ramin (wood), which is inexpensive and easily replaceable, explains Mike Slabolepszy of Snooker and Pool Warehouse. Provided that they are durable, adds De Wet.

These cues will either have push-on or screw-on tips, which can easily be replaced on cues that can cheaply be repaired or replaced, adds Hawley.

Ash or maple: “Going up the scale, one would get an inexpensive Ramin (wood) two piece cue in different colour splices, moving up to the ash wood and then the maple cues,” says Slabolepszy.

De Wet says most pool cues are made from straight-grained rock-hard maple wood, while most snooker cues are made from ash wood. Stiffer maple cues would generally be cheaper than ash.

According to Hawley ash wood shafts are generally more flexible than maple, and the choice between the two is purely a case of preference and taste. Some players don’t like the visible grain on ash cues. They believe it distracts their eyes when they cue, whereas the maple grain is almost invisible. Ash or maple cues with leather stick on tips should be recommended in homes where pool is played more seriously.

The general appearance of the cue — the tip and its size and also the grain of the wood when it is an ash wood cue — will be an indication of the quality, explains Slabolepszy. If the grain of a two piece cue lines up when tightened, it is the sign of a good, expensive, high end cue.

Composites: Cues that have become more popular lately are the composite graphite or titanium models. According to De Wet composite materials add strength to the cue — you get the performance associated with hi-tech composite materials, but the feel of wood.

Composite materials are usually used to enhance the visuals, as it is very difficult to add colours to wooden clues, says Hawley. “But, no professional player in snooker or blackball uses composite materials. Control on the cue ball is limited with composite material cues.”

One- or two piece: Balance is affected when joints are added to cues, says Hawley, but it is very difficult to obtain and maintain good quality one-piece cues. This is why the best jointed cues are the ¾ splits, so that the joint is in the solid part of the cue, which is where the weight of the cue is.

Two piece cues are the most popular because of ease of carrying around and they are generally cheaper than ¾ jointed cues.

De Wet says one piece cues are sold mainly to pool club and pub owners who want a cheap and durable cue for the use of their patrons.

Wentzel and Slabolepszy would, however, also recommend one piece cues for recreational play at home.

“The two piece ash cue is used by players who might play some league pool and also by players who are looking for a better cue when they go and play at pool clubs,” says Wentzel.

Weight: Cue weights range from 17-22 ounces. The weight is usually marked with a sticker on the butt of the cue, and a new trend is to indicate the weights with a L for light (17oz), M for medium (e.g. 19oz) and H for heavy (e.g. 22oz).

Hawley says players who don’t have a perfect cue action will prefer heavier cues as this compensates for the cue action. The reaction on the cue ball is far greater with lighter cues.

Heavier cues, however, tend to tire out inexperienced players, says De Wet, who believes heavier cues are brilliant for intermediate and advanced players, as they are ideal for those power shots. He believes light cues are perfect for beginners as they give a better feel for a shot.

“As a general rule: if it looks good and feels good in your customer’s hand, then it is the cue for him or her,” summarises Slabolepszy.

Length: The standard length for snooker cues are anywhere between 57 and 58 inches long, however, 57 inches should be ideal for just about 99% of players.

“I think it is important to have a shorter cue than the standard 57 inch one for home use, as you often find that there is not enough space to play a shot with a regular cue,” says Wentzel.

Extensions are purely used for reach. It is a very important tool, especially for short people, as often it can make a difference between winning and losing.

Tips: Screw-on and slip-on tips are used for the cheaper cue ranges.

A good super gel glue is preferable when re-tipping a cue as it allows for the impact, whereas super glue tends to make the tip come off on impact, suggests Slabopleszy.

Generally speaking, tip sizes for snooker cues are between 8-10mm and pool cues are between 10-13mm, says De Wet.

“Many league players and better players have their cues sanded down to 7mm or even 5mm for better control and spin on the ball and have a separate cue with a thicker tip to break with,” says Slabolepszy.

Ferrules and joints: The end of the shaft has a cuff known as the ferrule, which is used to hold the cue tip in place and bears the brunt of impact with the cue ball.

Hawley says there are two main types of ferrules, fibre and brass. Fibre ferrules are easier to fit and have just a little flexibility compared to brass. Cues with fibre ferrules can be used for breaking the balls without fear of damaging the cue. Brass ferruled cues have no flexibility, hence they are considered to be more accurate.

Joints are either wooden or brass. The brass joints are more durable but add weight to the cue, compared to the wooden joint. Standard threaded joints lessen the feel of a cue. When the cue ball is struck, the vibration stops at these joints and therefore there is less feel.

There are vacuum joints that allow more of the vibration to go through the entire cue to create better feel, explains Hawley.

Storage: Cues should be stored either in a rigid hard case or in a cue rack with clips holding the cue, or even better: rubber hangers that the cue is pushed into and where it can hang straight freely from a cup hook, advises Slabolepszy.

Table tennis bat knowledge

Rubber types: The thickness of the sponge will affect how fast the overall rubber will be and how much control it has, says De Wet. Thicker sponge is faster, but has less control than thinner sponge.

Most beginners keen to develop their game are advised to start playing with a pimples-in rubber, which will allow them to develop all the strokes more effectively.

Once they have developed a style of their own, the player can then decide whether to stick with a normal plain rubber, or whether to choose an anti-spin, or pimples-out rubber, which would be better suited to their particular style of play. The smooth rubber generally gives the most spin and speed when hitting the ball.

It is relatively rare these days for new players to begin with pimpled-out rubbers, says De Wet.

Charlotte van Jaarsveld of Sedgars Sport says a sponge rubber is ideal for a passive defensive player that is looking for maximum braking effects and ball control, where a long pimpled rubber would be better for reversed spins.

Balls played with a softer sponge rubber have a longer and evenly curved trajectory, putting more pressure on the opponent, she explains. It provides better control and acceleration.

It is also important to know that the maximum thickness of a rubber should not at any time be more than 4.0mm, she explains.

Separate rubbers?: There is a difference of opinion amongst suppliers about whether rubbers and blades should be sold separately — Gallienne does not recommend that retailers sell rubbers and blades separately “as logistically this would be a problem for them.”

Van Jaarsveld, however, recommends the separate sale of rubbers and blades as this enables players to choose the rubbers and blades that best suit their type of game.

For example, a player can put an attacking rubber (faster) on the side of the bat he uses to play a forehand and a defensive (slower) rubber on the side used for backhand. Beginner players would also benefit from an assembled bat as a ready-made bat would not always have the preferred rubbers on them.

If a retailer sells rubbers separately, he or she should also be acquainted with which glue will have the best effect with the rubber used, how long it takes to dry and how long a client should wait before playing with the blade. It is also important to know how to apply the glue and assist a client with assembly, as not all players know how to glue a blade.

Blade handles: De Wet says most players have strong forehand strokes and therefore prefer a table tennis blade that flares slightly at the bottom of the handle, allowing them to keep control of their grip, even when they are striking it violently.

Some players, however, possess strong backhands and less powerful forehand-shots. These players prefer a straight handle so that they can shift the paddle in their hand without worrying about a flared handle obstructing them.

A straight grip allows more precise ball placing and better control, adds Van Jaarsveld. A flared grip is often better suited to youngsters as it would fit better in their hands.

Table tennis balls

Retailers should be intimately aware of the various grades of table tennis balls available and for what level of play they are suitable, says Gallienne.

Balls are now 40mm in diameter (old balls used to be 38mm) and are graded 0 or 1 star for cheaper balls used for training purposes or recreational play, or 3 star for competition standard or tournament play.

The 3 star balls are better balanced and have more, consistent roundness than the 1 star balls, but they are more expensive.

Maintenance equipment

Another way of generating income with table tennis accessories is to alert your customers to the different cleaners and maintenance materials available for rubbers, suggests Van Jaarsveld. The regular use of rubber cleaner increases the life expectancy of the rubber. After each cleaning dust and perspiration are removed from the rubber surface, keeping the rubber tightly adhered to the blade.

Anti-slide improve the grip on sports shoe soles by cleaning and degreasing them, and should be applied before each game. Bat tape protects the side of the blade and conceals the edges of the rubber.A bat case protects the bat when not in use, to prevent static and damaging of the blade and rubber itself.

Wentzel also recommends that retailers stock loose nets for customers needing a replacement for damaged nets, and don’t want to buy the pole set.Retailers should also be knowledgeable on the options and grades of nets and fixtures available, says Gallienne.


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