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3 Ways to Make Your Tennis Club Instantly Eco-Friendlier

Eco-Friendly Tennis

More often now than ever before, customers are asking us about ways they can reduce the environmental footprint created by their decision to play tennis. Even clubs are becoming curious about how to make more eco-friendly decisions.

Here are three ways that your club can have an instant impact and reduce the amount of plastic waste generated by your club members.

1. Mandate Pressureless Tennis Balls

Depending on the size of your club, your members could be generating anywhere from 500 to 50,000 discarded plastic tennis tubes annually. Just one case of balls, for example, generates 24 tubes that go straight into the garbage. And since most tennis ball tubes cannot be recycled due to their metal rims, then end up in our landfills.

The simplest way to solve this problem is to mandate pressureless tennis balls. Not only do pressureless balls NOT come in pressurized plastic tubes, they last much longer than pressurized balls because they never go flat. In fact, clubs that we service with pressureless tennis balls have reduced their ball expenditures by more than 80% and their club’s generation of plastic tubes by 100%.

2. Mandate Eco-Friendly Strings

Tennis strings are second only to balls when it comes to generating plastic waste in tennis clubs. Not only are synthetic strings made of one kind of plastic or another, but many string sets also come in plastic packaging.

The best way to reduce this is to mandate what can or cannot be sold in your pro shop and/or used on your courts. Fully organic strings offer the most comprehensive solution because they contain fully biodegradable fibers. And mandating that every club member use them prevents creating a situation in which synthetic string users get an advantage over natural gut users.

If getting to this level of commitment is something your members are not yet ready for, consider some smaller steps. For example, your club could mandate 50% natural gut — which would require that at least half of every tennis racquet would use organic string. Or you could consider mandating your pro shop to offer only string sets sold in recyclable cardboard packaging. Or better yet, eliminate packaging almost entirely by offering only off-the-reel options.

The problem here, of course, is that players who want to rebel will buy their string elsewhere and may bring it to your club for installation. So in order to make this work, you may want also to mandate that club stringer can only use string purchased from the club.

3. Mandate Eco-Friendly Tennis Racquet Brands

Finally, the last thing you may want consider are the racquet brands that your club sells in its pro shop or allows players to use on their courts. Some brands — Head, for example — are especially aggressive in their marketing campaigns and introduce new frames and/or new colours every three months in order to cause players to throw out their old racquets and buy new ones.

Other brands — like Babolat, for example — commit to their frames for three years before changing colours or introducing new technologies. We can tell you from our many years of experience as racquet retailers that players who play with brands that offer slower model turnovers buy many fewer racquets over the course of 20 years than players who buy brands with rapid model turnovers.

We can also advise you that setting up an internal club system whereby players can sell their old racquets to other members does not actually reduce waste, it seems to increase it. This happens because the rapid turnover players now have a way to get some revenue out of their used racquets. So most of them actually increase the number of new frames they buy.

In the end, all of these choices are personal and every club that wants to become more eco-friendly is going to get there a different way. The most important thing right now is that some of the ideas above make it onto your club agenda in order to provoke some discussion.

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Why Beginners Matter

This article was created as a resource for club promoters who are trying to enlist the assistance of their members in the task of attracting new members. All of the articles in this series offer suggestions to club members regarding how they can help to attract new members. Club promoters are encouraged to link to it if they wish to provide suggestions to their members.

Why Beginners Matter

Spending Habits of New Players
Racquet Network has been in business for a long time. We offered our first lessons in 2004. We opened our first store in 2010. During the years since we first opened our doors our coaching team has taught more than 10,000 adults and children to play racquet sports. We have also registered more than 50,000 sales transactions with players at all levels.

As you can imagine, this many people and this many transactions across this many racquet sports leave behind a large amount of data to aggregate. And from this aggregate data, we can draw some interesting conclusions that are beneficial to every type of racquet sports club.

Here is a concrete example of how that data can be used. There are two squash clubs in our part of the city. Both have about the same number of players, both cater to adult males. Club A is closer to us than Club B, so you would expect that Club A would generate more sales for us than Club B. In fact, however, Club B generates more spinoff business for our store than Club A for one simple reason.

Club B is marginally better than Club A at attracting new players. And by that we don’t mean members who are new to Club B; we mean players who are new to playing the game of squash. Or in other words, Club B is better than Club A at attracting and retaining beginners.

Club A is caught in what we call a cycle of high performance failure. They have turned their club over to a volunteer who spends all of his time trying to attract better players from other clubs. He is focussed almost entirely on Club A’s interclub team performance. Therefore, whether he knows it or not, under his leadership, Club A is pursuing a high performance agenda — an agenda that will ultimately fail the club’s shareholders.

Club B, on the other hand, is more open both to new members and new players. They have more to offer than just an opportunity to play on a winning interclub team. They actually have programs and activities that are attractive to beginners who may be two or three years away from having enough confidence to join an interclub squash team.

Spending Habits of New Players
Why does this matter? Take a look at the graph at the start of this post. It is an approximation based on aggregate internal data gathered from years of tracking customer purchasing at Racquet Network.

Each bar represents one year of expenditures for players who are new to the sport. You can see that new players spend as much in their first two years as they do in their next three years combined. In fact, most players spend more in their second year of involvement with a new racquet sport than they do in any other year.

Now think about a club filled with 100 players in Year 5 and beyond (Y5+). If you look at what these players are likely to spend on their sport, you will see that 100 of these guys will spend as much as 20 players in their second year (Y2). So a club with 50 Y5+ members and 50 Y1/Y2 members is in a much stronger position financially than a club with 100 Y5+ members.

Think back to glory days for squash in the 80s and 90s. In those days, clubs could make some money. And in those days, the clubs were full of beginners. As the sport of pickleball is demonstrating across Canada today, clubs that are full of Y1s and Y2s are way better off than clubs full of Y5+ players.

So when we say that Club A is caught in a cycle of failure, it should be clear now what we mean. Success in the club’s interclub standings is coming at the expense of Club A’s bottom line. Fortunately for us, we are not shareholders in Club A. So, unlike the actual shareholders, we can be somewhat clinical about their prospects.

However, we would prefer to see Club A succeed and stay open. Given their proximity to our business, it would be nice to see them regain their footing and move away from a high performance agenda toward a high participation agenda. In fact, we think it would be nice to see every club in Canada now pursuing a high performance agenda move to back to a high participation agenda because that would be good for the clubs and for every retailer and manufacturer who serves these clubs.

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Why Aren’t New Facilities Opening?

Every racquet sports club in the world can be arranged on a business spectrum. On the right side of the spectrum are clubs that are businesslike. The more businesslike the club, the further right on the spectrum they fall. On the left side of the spectrum are, for lack of a better word, unbusinesslike clubs. The more unbusinesslike they are the further to the left on the spectrum they fall.

Clubs on the right side of spectrum are business-like in their approach. Their facility is managed so as to turn a profit and generate a return for the club’s owners. Clubs on the left side of the spectrum are just the opposite. Their approach is not businesslike in the least. On the far left side of the spectrum, generating a return on investment for the owners is not even a consideration.

Most clubs fall somewhere in the middle. The vast majority of non-profit clubs skew heavily to the left side of the spectrum as do the most of the privately owned clubs. Only a tiny sliver of privately owned clubs, in my experience, actually fall on the right side of the spectrum and almost none are found on the far right.

Non-profit clubs generally don’t have to turn a profit. In most cases, they are part of a larger non-profit facility that can go to one level of government or another for more money when they need it. If you examine their income statements, you will see that without government subsidies they operate at a loss every year. If you look at their personnel files, you will see that nobody is accountable for these losses and nobody ever loses their job when income fails to exceed expenses. As long as the members are happy, managers in these facilities tend to keep their jobs.

One would expect for-profit clubs to be the opposite. Since they are businesses, one would expect that losing money would lead to immediate consequences for management. However, this is not always the case. Many racquet sports clubs are divisions within larger businesses and are not expected to be profitable. Some health clubs with squash courts in downtown Calgary, for example, are provided as a service to tenants. These clubs are not expected to turn a profit. Their job is to stay open and minimize losses in order to support higher rents in the office towers above.

If you look at the income statements for these clubs, you will see something very similar to the income statements of the non-profit clubs. They lose money every year but they continue to operate because somebody — in this case the landlord — makes up the shortfall. And again, as with non-profit clubs, nobody loses their job when a loss is incurred because the people in control do not expect the facility to turn a profit. While these clubs are generally considered to be for-profit clubs, they really fall into an in between category I call not-for-profit and they tend to fall in the middle of the spectrum.

Pure for-profit business models in racquet sports are exceedingly rare. Rarely do you find a club that is run with the specific goal of turning a profit for shareholders. Most of the clubs in this group come into being when a racquet sport is peaking, when there are more players than the non-profit and not-for-profit facilities can serve. Think of tennis in the 70s, squash in the 80s, racquetball in the 90s or pickleball right now. At their peaks, each of these sports was able to support genuine for-profit racquet sports facilities. Outside of the boom years, they were not.

Outside of these peaks, there just aren’t enough customers to support clubs that need to turn a profit. As a result, owners with money to invest tend to take their money elsewhere. And who can blame them? If you need/want to make a return on your investment, it makes no sense to compete for customers against non-profits and not-for-profits who will always be able to operate at a loss and therefore will always be able to charge lower prices or offer higher levels of service than for-profits.

From time to time, a group of players from the non-profit and/or not-for-profit world will get together and try to open a new for-profit facility. Usually, this group of men (and they are almost exclusively men) will find an investor (often a landlord) and generate a great deal of excitement as they work toward the goal of opening a new facility. More than half of the time, this group will fall short of their goal immediately after the would-be investor does his due diligence and realizes that there aren’t enough players in the non- and not-for- communities willing to pay enough to make his proposed new facility profitable.

Sometimes, though, the investor fails to understand this or fails to believe the numbers and the new facility opens anyways. In most cases, these facilities limp along for a few short years before failure. In a few, they limp along for a few more years as somebody pours money into them. But eventually, the vast majority close forever and somebody learns an expensive lesson about the business of racquet sports.

What is this lesson? It is this … When every competitor in your category falls to the left of you on the businesslike spectrum and when those business are not required to be profitable, invest your money elsewhere. No matter what you do, you will not be able to overcome their competitive advantage. Therefore you will not be able to make a profit that justifies the risk of the investment, which is precisely why more racquet sports facilities are closing than are opening.

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Common Questions About Sponsorship Credits

Racquet Network is approached by more than 200 racquet sports organization every year asking us to support them with fundraising in a variety of ways. While we would like to help everybody, we can’t. Our family-owned business would quickly be bankrupt.

There are also legal and ethical issues to consider of which most non-profit board members (particularly pickleball club members) are generally unaware — issues which could result in the loss of a club’s non-profit status or create legal problems for individual board members.

What we have done instead is create a fundraising rewards program that is legal, ethical and fair to everyone involved. One that is based upon mutual relationships with our friends in all clubs, for-profit and non-profit alike. Simply put, if a club’s members are encouraged to purchase online from us instead of Amazon or Tennis Warehouse, we will give part of the purchase price back to their affiliated club. The club can then spend their credits on whatever they need — prizes for tournaments, balls, shuttles, court equipment and so on.

Why online and not in-store? Our store staff are simply too busy to be keeping track of who belongs to which club and how much they purchase. Plus, they are trained in customer service, not accounting. By restricting this program to online purchases, we ensure that everything is clearly in writing and that there are fewer chances for confusion.

By keeping things clear and simple we are able to offer ongoing yearly sponsorship benefits to many clubs that count on our support. We are also able to increase the percentage going back to loyal clubs who are with us for long periods of time. In fact, clubs that have been affiliated with us for ten years or more can see sponsorship credits of up to 20% on some items.

How Do We Register?

Registration for this program is easy. Just make a purchase online through and check to see if your club is already on the list. If they are not, just add their name to the form asking us to add them. Within five days, we will do exactly that. From that point forward we will start awarding sponsorship credits for online purchases.

How Much Can We Earn?

Sponsorship credits are based on a percentage of the total value of online purchases made by club members. These sales are clearly documented on the checkout page during every online purchase and are automatically booked by the staff who process the orders.

Sponsorship credits accumulate over time and can be used once per year for any purpose. There are no limits on the amounts that can be earned. The longer a club is affiliated with us, the higher the percentage goes. Clubs who have been affiliated with us for 10 years can earn credits of as much as 20% per transaction.

How Can We Earn More?

This program has no strings attached. We do not request or require that clubs promote this program or our business in any particular way. We understand that every club has a unique political environment and we have no wish to insert ourselves into club business. However, we can advise clubs that they will earn more credits if their members are aware of the sponsorship program. Of course, not all club members will change their purchasing habits to benefit their club, but most will.

Adding a link from your club’s website to ours is obviously important, but it is best if this is done from a page on the website that explains the program and lists some of the things that have been (or will be) purchased on the club’s behalf. Reminding members from time to time is also important, especially during the season and around the winter holidays.

Clubs in Calgary can also benefit enormously from encouraging their players to order CUSTOM or DISCOUNT STRINGING online. In fact, based on the results in this program so far, we can advise Calgary clubs that stringing services will probably make up the bulk of their total sponsorship benefit.

Can We Get a Discount?

One of the reasons that we designed this program in this way was to get around some of the problems created by clubs (particularly pickleball clubs) who ask us to give discounts to their members. Under Canadian law, board members of non-profit clubs cannot benefit in anyway from serving on the board. Therefore, by offering some club members discounts, we are putting the non-profit status of their clubs at risk.

Clearly we don’t want to do that. We value our non-profit friends and don’t want to do anything to compromise them ethically or legally. We also don’t want to create a situation where some club members get discounts while others — particularly board members — can’t legally do so.

This program sidesteps that entire legal/ethical quagmire by ensuring that all benefits accrue to the registered charities, not to their individual members. In doing so we make it fair for every club member and put the emphasis on helping the non-profit entity over helping individuals who may not need, or in some cases, cannot legally accept such benefits.

Other common questions

Q: Will you come to a board meeting and explain this program to us?

A: Sorry, but no. Answers to all questions are on this website.

Q: Will you please call me to discuss some questions I have about this program?

A: Sorry, but no. Answers to all questions are on this website.

Q: Can we do this but with some specific alterations just for our club?

A: Sorry, but no. This program is universal.

Q: Can we discuss some other ideas our board has come up with for fundraising?

A: Sorry, but no. This program is the only program we are offering. We make adjustments to this program from time to time, but we are not interested in any other fundraising programs.

Q: Can we do this and also get a discount?

A: You’re kidding … right?

Q: What are the minimums?

A: Clubs that are not generating $3000 per year in sales clearly don’t have enough support from their members and are dropped from the program. This is a very, very low threshold — just 10 to 12 members purchasing new racquets and/or shoes per year. Clubs that generate this minimum level ($3000) are eligible for a sponsorship credit of $300 to $600 depending on how many consecutive years they have been in the program. New clubs in their first year are eligible for a maximum credit of 10%. It increases by 1% for every consecutive year of involvement to a maximum of 20%. So the absolute minimum dollar benefit is $300.00. There is no maximum dollar benefit.

Q: Do we get sponsorship credits on the balls and court equipment purchased by our club?

A: In most cases, yes. But some court equipment is offered at deeply discounted prices. On those things and on clearance items, we do not offer sponsorship credits.

Q: Do we get sponsorships credits on shipping?

A: Not from us, but you are welcome to ask Canada Post. We do not mark shipping up. We charge customers whatever Canada Post charges us. We do not use shipping or taxes to calculate sponsorship benefits.

Q: How often can we use our credits?

A: Once per calendar year?

Q: How often can we ask how many credits we have accumulated?

A: See question above.

Q: Can we get a detailed accounting of who purchased what and how much they spent?

A: Sorry, but no. Canadian law requires us to keep that information private.

If we hear them enough, new questions are added to this page. Please take the time to read all of the documentation about this program on this website before calling and asking questions. Retail store staff, coaches and managers generally aren’t aware of the details of this program and will refer you back to this website for answers to your questions.

Also keep in mind that it does not matter what somebody might say to you or what you think you might have heard somebody say. The only thing that counts is what has been put down in writing. So please take all of the time you need to read and digest the information provided to you here.

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Top 3 Ways to Increase and Retain New Members

This article was created as a resource for club promoters who are trying to enlist the assistance of their members in the task of attracting new members. All of the articles in this series offer suggestions to club members regarding how they can help to attract new members. Club promoters are encouraged to link to it if they wish to provide suggestions to their members.

These days, we live in a grow or die business environment. Either your business grows, or it dies, and squash clubs are no exception to this rule. Either your club expands and adds new members, or your club loses a few members each year until the club runs out of money and closes.

When most clubs and provincial sport organizations consider who their core audience is, they consider primarily:

A) Competitive juniors and
B) Frequent adult A/B/C level players

As a result, most programming in squash clubs tends to involve junior high performance training (private lessons, group lessons, tournaments, etc.) and leagues and drop-in sessions for A/B/C level adults who already have a network of squash playing friends. Consequently, when most clubs think about ways of adding members, they tend to only focus on recruiting juniors or attracting frequent players from other clubs in the city.

While increasing junior participation ought to remain a priority of squash organizations, there is a relatively fixed and aging pool of A/B/C players. Moreover, the goal of most A/B/C players and their friends is, generally speaking, to play as much squash as possible, mostly during prime court hours, and pay as little money as possible while doing so.

To truly grow their membership base, the segment of the population that clubs ought to focus on is raw beginner adults who do not have a network of players already established. Not only are raw beginners highly motivated to spend money on lessons, leagues, and merchandise, but their enthusiasm for the sport is infectious and can spread to re-energize current members. While it’s important to not alienate the established players, squash clubs and organizations need find ways to attract and retain these enthusiastic new players.

A sport that squash can learn from is pickleball. Pickleball has been exploding in growth over the past few years. The USAPA membership base grew by 64% from 2010-2016, which likely only accounts for a fraction of the actual growth of pickleball participation.

Why is it that a sport like pickleball, with no certified coaches and a tiny high performance community, is growing like a weed?

While pickleball has some growth advantages over squash (court costs, easy to learn, etc.), the answer to why pickleball is growing while other racquet sports are stagnating is that pickleball communities are almost exclusively focused on participation rather than performance.

The dominant form of pickleball participation is beginner drop-in play. Without exception, every pickleball club organizes weekly drop-in times run mostly by volunteers, and players of all abilities, from raw beginners to frequent players, attend and play games with many different partners. Players who want to play at a higher level either enter tournaments or schedule matches with players outside of drop-in times. There are very few (if any) pickleball coaches or teaching pros and most of the clubs are organized and operated by “pickleball ambassadors.”

While there are some flaws to this model, the growth of pickleball can be attributed to the fact that the general focus of most pickleball programs is on increasing grassroots participation, and only a relatively tiny segment of the pickleball community is focused on high performance. In contrast, the provincial governing bodies of squash tend to focus heavily on high performance junior players, playing little attention to raw beginners. As a result, participation numbers in squash are dwindling and courts are closing down.

Here are the top three ways to cater to beginners:

1) Offer beginners organized drop-in squash during peak hours

Squash clubs ought to copy the pickleball model of offering weekly organized drop-in play reserved for beginner players. These drop-ins need to be held during peak hours and need to have somebody organizing the players, such as a pro, staff member, or volunteer. From a business perspective, it is better to have a lot of beginners, who are enthusiastically spending money at the squash club on memberships, lessons, and equipment, rather than lots of A/B/C players who will be looking for ways to economize their squash budget.

2) Embrace bad squash

I know what you’re thinking, but hear me out: not everybody wants to be a good squash player. When beginners join a club, the pro will typically suggest that they take private lessons to improve their skills and then go off and find matches with other club players. However, not everyone cares about proper stroke mechanics and efficient court movements. Lots of people will be satisfied with simply burning calories and chasing the ball around the court. Not everybody wants to take lessons, but everybody wants to get out and play.

Most squash pros will tell you that they get the most satisfaction working with high level junior players who spend several hours a week with the coach. However, for a squash club to grow, clubs need to have a large base of players who just want to chase the ball around and have fun.

3) Have leagues that raw beginners can join right now

After taking some lessons and gaining confidence, many beginners won’t want to take lessons anymore and will want to join a league. While Interclub leagues are a critical element of the squash community, the drawback for beginners looking to join an Interclub team is that interclub rosters are finalized by September, making it very difficult for beginners to join a team part way through the season.

Instead of telling beginners to wait until next year to join a team, consider different weekly league formats that make it relatively easy to add and drop beginners as necessary. If you have a weekly team house league, ensure that one place on each team is reserved for raw beginners and allow beginners to move up depending on how fast they improve.