A chat with NYC Racquet Sports Owner Woody Schneider
  | By Eric C. Peck

Woody Schneider has been a mainstay in the New York tennis community for 30-plus years. As current owner of NYC Racquet Sports in Midtown Manhattan, Schneider’s goal is to become the one-stop shop for the Long Island-based tennis aficionado who commutes to New York City. Located centrally at 157 West 35th Street, NYC Racquet Sports offers all that the avid tennis player needs to go from the office to the courts … from professional racquet stringing, to footwear and apparel.

Woody owns and operates two additional New York City stores, Grand Central Racquet at 40 East 45th Street in Grand Central Station (between tracks 38 and 39) and another location at 341 Madison Avenue (between Madison and Vanderbilt). In addition to the New York City locations, Woody also runs the USTA Pro Shop on the grounds of the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center.

We recently caught up with Woody to discuss his retail locations and the many benefits that NYC Racquet Sports brings to its customers.

How did you begin your career in running tennis retail shops?
It happened by accident. I worked for 13 years inside Grand Central Station at a store called Commuter Sports Center. One day, my boss came to me and told me he was shutting down. It was then time to try something on my own.

I started out in the stockroom of my friend’s store in Grand Central. Eventually, I rented my own 100-square foot space, and set up a stringing shop. I have been told that it was the first time that anyone had ever opened up a shop dedicated strictly to stringing.

A few years later, there was a renovation done to Grand Central Station, and I was one of just a few businesses that remained open. We built a free-standing kiosk that could move on wheels when we couldn’t be in one part of the station. To this day, I still have a shop in Grand Central. It’s not in the best location, but people know where I am and come to me for business.

Tennis Week Magazine rented a store on 44th Street that they didn’t really want to run themselves, so I went into business with Gene Scott, former publisher of Tennis Week, and we turned that location into my first actual store.
Five years ago, my girlfriend and partner, Joan Dziena, and I were approached about taking over the pro shop at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center. Joan has 25-plus years of retail and garment center experience, and we began running the pro shop at the National Tennis Center.

What comprises most of your clientele base?
The new store on 35th Street has been doing very good business with tourists. I never really focused on that demographic, but being located in New York City, tourists just fall into your lap. When the economy fell, business dropped as well, but the strength of the foreign dollar has kept NYC Racquet Sports very healthy. We still need to get to the locals and make them aware of us.

NYC Racquet Sports focuses on Long Island and New Jersey commuters, and the tourists have benefitted as well. Once the general public learns about NYC Racquet Sports, they won’t feel they have to call an online store to buy the latest racquets. Much of today’s business is going out to the Internet retailers, which has been murder on the smaller tennis shops. We are right here, they can come into our store, hold the racquets in their hand and speak with our knowledgeable staff.

We open at 8:30 a.m. specifically to cater to commuters so they can drop off their racquets before they come to work, and stay open until 7:00 p.m. If a person wants to drop off a racquet, it will be done when they are ready to go home. We are here to serve them.

What does your shop offer that the retail chains do not?
When you come in and talk to a person face-to-face who knows the sport and the products they are talking about, it is an overall better shopping experience. We have retail professionals on staff who know more about the products than most teaching pros do. The teaching pros know what they like and what is good for them, not necessarily what’s suitable for the customer. We properly advise the customer to best suit their needs.
When you go to a chain store, I personally think it’s a disaster. Most of the large chains don’t even string racquets. How is the guy who is selling Yankees jerseys going to be able to advise you on what tennis equipment to buy? That’s what we do and what we are here for … to help people choose the right products.

What are some of the bigger selling items at NYC Racquet Sports?
Babolat is very hot right now. We were recently chosen as one of only four locations in the U.S. that will be carrying the new Nike Air Court Ballistec 2.3 shoes that Rafael Nadal will be wearing at the Open. When Nadal comes out on that first night of the Open, his “Neon Nadal” shoes will be glowing, and we’ll have them.

Do you see a spike in sales during the U.S. Open?
During the two weeks of the Open, it’s like our Christmas. We get people from all over the world, and they are so excited to find our store. We are ready for the big rush.

Any closing comments?
To me, the message to the readers of Long Island Tennis Magazine is to come in and give us a try, and I think they will become devoted customers of NYC Racquet Sports for years to come. We offer same-day service on racquet stringing and can turn things around quickly to accommodate any commuter’s schedule. They will feel like they have a new home with us.

For more information on NYC Racquet Sports, call (212) 695.5353 or visit www.grandcentralracquet.com.

Eric C. Peck

Eric C. Peck is Editor-in-Chief of Long Island Tennis Magazine. He may be reached by e-mail at eric@litennismag.com