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April/May 2012

Selling more…

cricket & hockey equipment

Dale Hermanson was nominated as a top salesman by a few SA distributors of cricket products, one of them Anne Vilas of Gunn & Moore distributor Opal Sports, who says: “Dale knows a lot about cricket — he played in the first team at school and premier league cricket for Wanderers — and therefore understands the products and the needs of players very well. He has had excellent training in the art of selling from his father, Mike, who is a top salesman.”
Dale Hermanson

Sports Horizons is not in a mall. Nor is it along a high street or thoroughfare used by many consumers. If anything, it is a bit hidden away. Yet, this Fourways sport store attracts customers from all over Gauteng, especially during the cricket and hockey seasons.

One of the main reasons is because customers know they will get expert advice from Dale Hermanson, who has been with the store since his father, Mike, opened it eight years ago.

The Hermanson’s approach is to build a long-term relationship with a customer — not just to make a quick sale. This means that Dale would even dissuade a beginner from buying the most expensive top of the range hockey stick when he believes that it is not the best option for him.

As natural people people the Hermanson’s treat their customers like guests, engaging them in conversation, getting to know them better.

Most customers therefore become regulars, who visit the store year after year as they — or their children — outgrow their equipment.

Two kinds of customers

Two distinct kinds of customers visit Sports Horizons: the experienced first team high school, club or provincial player, and then the beginners or young school players — each kind of customer requiring different assistance.

But, whatever the level of play, the most important question to ask a customer is Why?, says Hermanson.

“Why does he want to buy a new stick or bat?” “Why doesn’t he want to play with the same stick or bat as before?”

An inexperienced player will often want a specific bat or stick because his friends, the first team captain, or coach plays with it.

A common reason for buying a new cricket bat, rewarding a player who hit a century, baffles Hermanson, who points out that top players value and nurse the bats with which they achieved their best results.

It is important to establish that the customer understands his own needs, says Hermanson. “Does he really know what he is looking for?”

He will try and establish this with further questions: what is the player’s age? What level team does he play for? What has he been playing with up to now? What did he like about that stick or bat, and what didn’t he like?

Find the right equipment

Whatever the reason for wanting a new bat or stick, Dale’s aim is to sell one that will really help the player to enjoy his (or her) game — and that would not necessarily be the top end or adult size bat or stick he aspires to.

The wrong equipment can influence performance and if a beginner feels he’s no good at this sport, he might give it up. Alternatively, if he enjoys the game because he has appropriate equipment, he’ll eventually progress to the top end of the market.

“It is more important to cultivate a customer that will keep on coming back, than making one sale of a R2 500 bat to someone who won’t enjoy the sport,” he believes.

Young players often want to play with bigger and heavier bats than they can handle — in which case Hermanson will let them take the holding test (see Tips for selling cricket bats opposite).

Handling parents

Younger players are usually accompanied to the store by a parent — often their mother —which adds another dimension to the customer relationship.

Mother and child do not always agree on price points and the level of equipment required and you have to be careful that you don’t upset the kid or the parent, says Hermanson.

Therefore, while he’s asking the young player questions, he’ll keep a close eye on the parent to gage his or her reaction. “There are not many parents willing to pay R2 500 for a hockey stick used by a kid in primary school.”

It could be awkward to try and establish what a parent can afford — but it is important to make sure that the parent is hundred percent happy to pay the price, he says.

If a parent feels done in because he was talked into paying more than what he can afford, you’ll lose a customer.

Likewise, a kid leaving the store in crocodile tears because he feels that he’ll have to play with an entry level bat or stick, instead of the one that his ability warranted, is not going to enjoy his game.

But, it has also happened that a parent accompanied his hockey playing daughter who had a certain price point in mind, but after seeing the difference the higher end stick made to her stroke (she was an experienced player) the parent convinced her to buy the expensive top end stick.

Higher level player

If the customer is an experienced player performing at a higher level, Hermanson will most likely know him or her, as most of their customers buy their equipment from them for years. The better player will most likely know what he wants and Hermanson will act as a sounding board and probably reinforce what he is looking for.

Older players are usually more budget conscious because they have to pay out of their own pockets, he adds.

He or she might have read about a new stick or bat on the internet — or in the Sports Horizons newsletter — or might be curious about one that other players are talking about.

It will most likely that he’ll be curious about new hockey stick technology, which often changes. Hermanson will encourage him to test the new stick by hitting a few balls in their testing area (see Hockey selling tips).

More experienced cricket players will know when the new ranges are delivered to the store and will then often come to see what the new ranges look like. They will, however, not as a rule allow testing of the cricket bats, which will be marked after hitting a ball.

Test area

The cricket nets in their basement not only serve as the ideal testing area for hockey sticks or balls, but it also draws coaches and players who utilise the nets for practice to the store throughout the year.

This area contributes to the perception that the store is a meeting place for sports people — from the famous, like Gary Kirsten and Graeme Pollock who have conducted cricket clinics there — to the Gr 1 child buying a first bat, ball or stick, to the father just dropping by for a chat to see what’s in stock. Visiting Sports Horizons is an outing, and that is why people don’t mind driving the distance.

More about Dale Hermanson

With a father who is one of the stalwarts in the SA sports industry, one could say that Dale Hermanson was groomed to sell sports equipment from infancy. Hearing his father, Mike, talk about brands, selling techniques and customer relations while growing up, would have subconsciously influenced his career choice.

“I’ve always been good at selling things,” Dale confirms. “I get a lot of guidance from dad, who adds value all the time.”

This value would include emphasising the importance of talking to your customers, finding out what they need and matching that to what you have available in the store.

The Hermanson men all excell at sports — father and sons have provincial colours in several sports. After obtaining a diploma in sports management, Dale played rugby for RAU University (before it became University of Johannesburg). He stayed in the rugby world when he became a sales rep for Gilbert, before joining his father in 2001, who had the SA distribution rights for Stuart Surridge cricket.

Apart from selling cricket from the top brands, Hermanson is still very much involved with cricket in other ways – including administration as chairman of Wanderers Cricket Club.

They opened the Sports Horizons store in 2004, when the gap opened for a cricket specialist store after the LF Palmer store closed. But, due to the limitations presented by such a seasonal sport and to meet the needs of customers who participate in various sports, it became a multi-sport store.

From the beginning it has been a real family business with Dale’s mother, as well as brother, Ryan, also involved — the latter to assist with the development of their regular on-line newsletter and website.

Tips for selling cricket and hockey equipment

  • Make sure you understand the level the customer is playing at by asking his or her age, the team he or she plays for and his shot or stroke preferences.

  • In cricket you would want to know where in the line-up he bats — in other words, is he actually a batsman or bowler. In hockey, ask the position he plays in and whether he likes to play flick shots, etc.

  • Establish what the customer’s budget is – and make sure the parent and child are talking the same price range. When in doubt, follow the parents’ lead.

  • Tips for selling cricket bats

  • Junior players often want to select a bat that looks impressive, but is too big and heavy for them. When measuring a bat for a junior player, Hermanson will ask him to extend his weaker arm, holding the bat on the top of the handle so that the blade dangles down.
    He will then deliberately strike up a conversation with the youngster – or his mother – to let him judge for himself if he can really hold that weight for a significant time.
    “He often realises that the size 5 bat is too heavy for him,” says Hermanson.

  • Measuring the length of the bat against the player to see if it reaches his hip is not necessarily accurate, says Hermanson, because the length of the bat is also affected by the players’ stance.
    A player with a narrow, more upright, stance can use a longer bat, while the cricketer with the wider stance will need a shorter bat.

  • By asking a player to demonstrate his stance will also reveal his level of play.

  • He will not recommend that you allow a player to test a top end bat, UNLESS you are pretty sure that you have already made the sale and it’s a customer you know well. Once marked, you won’t be able to sell the bat.

  • He does not recommend having a tester bat available as all top end bats will have different weights and hitting the tester would therefore not necessarily be exactly the same as the bat you sell.

  • Tips for selling hockey sticks

  • Ask what happened to the customers’old stick and why he or she needs a new one.

  • Ask if the customer mainly plays on grass or on astro turf. The play is slower on grass, and if the school mainly plays on grass, you have to ask if the player will really benefit from a top end stiff stick that can hit very powerful shots.

  • Hermanson will offer the customer a selection of about twelve sticks (from different brands and different shapes, price points and quality sticks within the same brands) to test.

  • Make sure you – and your customer – understand the composition of the synthetic sticks, the difference it would make to the style of play, and what the brand is trying to do with the technology. Make sure the customer understands why and how one stick differs from the other and why one would be more expensive than the other.

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