Trends & Features

Is it still a love game for racketsports?

Andy Catchpole joined HEAD in January 2003, after working as a tennis coach in Gloucestershire, running the coaching of a large prestigious club with over 1,500 members. He also ran a school of tennis there plus a thriving pro shop.

He is currently HEAD UK’s Racketsports category manager, responsible for all aspects of the Racketsports business in the UK, including; marketing, sales and product planning.

How well is the tennis market faring at the moment and racket sports in general?

It’s definitely a challenging and everchanging market, there have been many shifts in the brands that ‘lead’ the market over the years, even since I have been working at HEAD. Pretty much 90 per cent of the market is covered by the major three brands (sms stats 2016). The retail landscape has changed with the growth of the internet, but the big retailers who all the brands deal with are the same guys who ran successful mail order and high street retail businesses 15-20 years ago.

It is tough out there, there is no getting away from that fact, it’s a labour of love for many retailers and for people who work for the brands too, but consumers are still buying tennis equipment, although numbers have dropped over the years with a decreasing participation in racket sports.

What changes have you seen in the market in the last ten years?

The main ones are the internet, third party platforms and cross border selling, all three have benefits to consumers, manufacturers and retailers alike, but also cause issues too.

The technical aspects of rackets seem to be constantly evolving, including materials etc. how do you keep at the forefront of innovation?

Luckily for HEAD we have an R & D team based at our head office in Austria with a production line based there too, so our guys can develop prototypes very quickly, they can make and test a new racket pretty much in a day. This does allow us to react and change things quickly, based on consumer, pro-player and retailer feedback. We are constantly looking for the next material or design that will create a new or improved benefit to the end user.

How important to head are your athletes, such as Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray, in growing the brand?

Massively important, they are a key component to our brand, in every sport we are involved with we have partnerships with the top athletes in their sports, from Tennis to Squash, Padel to Racquetball. Their knowledge also helps us to strive to develop better products with their help.

Do you see an increase in sales around events like Wimbledon and the us open and does it help when British players are doing well?

For us as manufacturers our job is almost done before the events, making sure our products are in the warehouses and shops of our retail partners, if things go well for them then we should get top-up business afterwards, but many factors can affect that sell-through. Having successful British players helps tennis in general for us here and hopefully builds participation which in turns helps all brands and retailers out.

Does Brexit hold any concerns for you?

We have already started to see some price increases from the exchange rate deterioration, which seems linked to Brexit (but I’ll leave the experts in finance to discuss that further). There are too many uncertainties out there to really say how much of an effect Brexit will have to our industry, maybe it will harm travel, maybe it won’t, I think until we know the government’s exact plans it’s tough to say for sure.

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