At Singing Hills, Sophisticated Buying Leads to Frequent Apparel Turns
In her 20-year tenure as buyer for the Singing Hills Tennis Club in El Cajon, Calif., Kathy Rookus has seen apparel trends come and go, and come back again. Fortunately, she doesn’t have to look far for the latest fashions.
“I play tennis with some of my customers, so I notice what people like,” she says. “I also know first-hand what’s comfortable to wear.”
Aided by Southern California’s tennis-friendly climate, Rookus says it’s not unusual for club members to play four times a week — and stop by the pro shop nearly as often. For that reason, she displays as much inventory as possible, rotating apparel weekly and demoting it to the 25-percent-off sales rack at the 25-day mark.
Susan Kay, who represents the LBH Group in southern California, Arizona and Las Vegas with her husband, Jerry, says Rookus is a smart businesswoman with an uncanny understanding of her clientele.
“Kathy is one of the most sophisticated buyers out there. She looks at everything and doesn’t prejudge a line in a catalog,” says Kay, who has worked with Rookus for about 15 years. “She’s successful because she’s careful not to fall in love with one group and overbuy. Merchandise turns over quickly, so customers know if they see something they like, they have to buy it right away.”
Part of a larger resort with three golf courses, the Singing Hills Tennis Club features 11 lighted tennis courts and a 2,500 square-foot clubhouse which accommodates the 25-foot by 25-foot pro shop. While Rookus is responsible for buying apparel, footwear and accessories, a teaching pro stocks the hard goods.
Rookus says she buys the majority of merchandise at trade shows held in Southern California each March and August, and schedules orders so a new shipment hits the sales floor every 15 to 20 days. Although she stocks some athletic-looking Nike and Adidas apparel, she says the club’s active ladies’ teams prefer more fashionable lines from Bolle, Lejay, Tail and Lily’s of Beverly Hills.
According to Rookus, women are also spurning conservative black-and-white outfits in favor of colorful alternatives, and welcoming the return of the pleated skirt, which she acknowledges “tends to be more forgiving” than the A-line versions that are so popular today.
Some buying decisions, however, are based on the climate rather than a particular trend. Although the tight-fitting, sleeveless tank top is a fashionable look, Rookus stocks shirts with cap sleeves to offer at least some sun protection for players’ shoulders. Tennis dresses never caught on, Rookus says, perhaps because they “don’t cover as much” and are often as expensive as a mix-and-match shirt and skirt.
Juniors are even easier to please, with many wearing shorts and the free T-shirts they get from the club’s summer camps. Along with apparel, Rookus also stocks a full run of low- to medium-priced and medium- to high-priced shoes from Wilson, Head and Nike.
“I’ve been doing this so long I can say, ‘This is for you,’ or ‘This isn’t for you,’” Rookus says, “and if I come across a style I know a particular person will like, I make sure to order it in their size.”
Since the vitality of her customer base is dependent on the club’s overall health, Rookus says she supports regular membership drives and social events like chili cook-offs, luaus, and the annual Super Bowl party. The club’s 250 members are her first priority, but business is also welcomed from visiting league teams.
“Kathy incorporates a lot of variety, so customers see something different each time they shop,” says LBH’s Kay. “She takes care of her younger customers, but doesn’t forget about the people who took her to the dance.”
Rookus’ Tips for Success
- See and Be Seen:
- Kathy Rookus plays tennis alongside her customers. But if you can’t do that, follow her lead and be visible in your pro shop. A greater comfort level will inspire loyalty and honest feedback.
- Variety is the Spice of Life:
- Don’t think you’re playing it safe by placing a large order of one line, no matter how popular it is. The store will look fresher — and your sales rack less crowded — by ordering lines to suit various tastes.
- Don’t Be a Slave to Fashion:
- If her customers buck trends (like the sleeveless tank top and tennis dress), Rookus does, too. That kind of customer synergy demonstrates responsiveness, and it’s good business as well.
See all articles by Cynthia Cantrell
About the Author
Cynthia Cantrell is a contributing editor of RSI magazine.
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