Lessons From Stringing - The Struggles of a Small Business Owner
MONDAY, APRIL 6th
I optimistically looked at the clock. 4:58 PM.
I stuffed my rackets into the bag and zipped it up. The zipper only made it ¾ of the way, but it was good enough.
“Running late” was the text I sent to Brad as I swiped the car keys off the countertop.
My tennis shoes were outside on the front porch. They were so beat up and dirty from the clay that they weren't allowed in the house anymore. I’ve been playing on them since last July, and it was already May.
Business hasn’t exactly been booming with most of the courts closed. New Nike shoes aren’t in the budget right now.
I hear the chime of an incoming text, “I bet that’s Brad making a smart comment about my lateness” I thought. I was supposed to be there at 5:00.
Before I could even fit my foot inside the shoe, I had to empty out about a pound of clay. “I’ll sweep this off later” I thought, as the clay dust spread all over the porch and down the stairs. It probably needed to be swept anyway, but I was late for tennis.
“Can I drop off a racket for restringing tonight?” the text read from an unknown number. “RPM Blast 16 gauge at 57 lbs. This is Greg btw”
That’s an aggressive setup for 57 lbs as I ran back inside to double check I had RPM Blast on the shelf. I did, well, sort of.
“I only have 17 gauge in stock, but I think you’ll like it. Leave it on the front porch and it’ll be ready to pick up tomorrow. I’ll make sure to clean and sanitize everything before you pick it up”
I haven’t hit with Greg for a while, since before the winter. I usually would have by now, but ever since the state shut down tennis has been spotty. People are keeping in tight circles, but there’s a few of us still making it work.
The clay courts were perfect that evening. It was that time of year where the sunlight started to filter through the tall pines. It seems to hang in the sky behind those trees forever, and you play for hours on end soaking up every last ray of light. I was hitting pretty good for how much was on my mind.
I was pumped about the text I got. I thought about the rackets that would be waiting at the front door when I got home, excited to get those strung up. Every little bit of business helps at this point.
I thought about how everyone is playing with top shelf strings and rackets and here I am on an old fraying bed of natural gut. It’s like the chef who creates gourmet meals all night long at a fancy 5 star restaurant - only to go home and throw a frozen burrito in the microwave. Must be the mark of a professional.
I couldn’t believe the gut from last October was still playing so well - I liked the stretchy feel and endless power.
I thought back to reviewing it last fall and how much I put into that project. I thought that video was going to blow up. It didn’t, but I learned a lot of lessons and I’m proud of it.
When I returned home that night, I grabbed the rackets off the porch and brought them inside. I wondered how long he had played with them.
I didn’t string them that night, though. I like to wait to string the day of, to get the freshest feel and least tension loss.
TUESDAY, APRIL 7th
The next day, I had an early morning hit first and returned home ready to string the rackets.
It was the most open pattern I’ve ever seen - 14X19. These Head Radicals had two stringing pattern options to choose from with interchangeable grommets.
It’s been a while since I’ve used RPM Blast. I unraveled the fresh new packages with ease. It was slicker than I remembered. It leaves an oily residue on your fingers, and you could vaguely feel the octagonal shape. This is going to be a killer setup.
I had to use flying clamps on the mains. The 14X19 pattern fans out to the point that you need additional clamps to hold everything together. I honestly had to watch a few videos to review how to use them correctly.
For once, I was actually worried about the thinner gauge on this racket. I didn’t know it was that open. I thought back to when I had a Wilson Spin S, a 15X16 open pattern. It was fun, but would eat strings up.
I did a final wipe down and left the rackets on the front porch to pickup.
THURSDAY, APRIL 16th
A week went by. Greg said the rackets were feeling good at 55 lbs, and that the 17 gauge felt a little softer. That was good to hear.
I hadn’t gotten to play much, honestly. I’d gotten a flat tire on the way home from work late one night. Wore the tire all the way through on the inside. Had to ride home in a flat bed.
The other car needed two new tires too - couldn’t do all four right now. The stimulus check was spent before I even got it.
I spent my free time getting the cars sorted out. I resorted to going on a few runs instead of playing tennis, I just didn’t have enough time. Running has been nice, though. That’s where a lot of my video ideas are born. You can let your mind just do its thing and allow your imagination to be set free.
That night, there was a bad hail storm while I was at work - we don’t get many of those around here. The property must be a mess, I thought on the way home.
When I pulled into the neighborhood the road was covered in debris. Gravel from our driveway had spilled out into the street from heavy rain. The newly sprouted hostas were shredded from the hail, and the front porch steps were plastered with wet leaves.
Sitting on the porch, under the front light, were Greg’s two rackets.
The strings had already snapped, on both of them.
“Oh shit, has it even been 2 weeks yet?” This wasn’t good for a first time customer. It was an expensive job, and I wanted it to be worth it for him.
I checked my phone, and there was a text saying “when it rains it pours, I broke both of them tonight!”
Most people I hit with can make strings last for months. I mean, breaking one of them sure but both? In the middle of a match, too.
Inside, I checked the drawers and shelves. No RPM Blast in stock, either. I texted Greg that I would set him up with Luxilon Alu Power for now - a top shelf comparable string, maybe a bit softer than RPM.
Even though I needed the money, I said I’d do this one for free with not having his correct strings in stock. I felt it was the right thing to do. I know how much it means to have confidence in your equipment.
That night while trying to fall asleep, I wondered if my obsession with thinner gauge strings was too naive.
FRIDAY, APRIL 17th
The next day, I wiped the freshly strung rackets down and placed them on the front porch for pickup before his match.
I swept the leaves off the porch, too. Some paint chipped off and exposed some rotting wood underneath. I’ll probably have to replace the entire porch stairs, they were starting to get soft.
I texted him that his rackets were ready. I wish I could have stood there in person and talked about RPM vs Alu power and what to expect. But, during these times, no one is risking it.
I went about with my evening. I wanted to play tennis but still needed to clean up the yard after that storm. There were downed branches and sticks everywhere.
While cleaning up the yard I thought about the business and how tight things are at the moment. I dreamed about the day when I could have walls of t-shirts displayed, and stock the shelves full of strings. I dreamed about what this thing I’m doing could turn into one day.
When I came back in, there was a text from Greg. “Front porch, check the doormat” it said.
I opened the door and lifted the mat - there was a note underneath. It read “Just glad you were there to help me out during these times.”
With the note, was a wad of 20 dollar bills - a tip.
I felt like a little kid again, holding money for the first time.
No, it wasn’t enough to fix the steps or even buy new shoes.
But, it was more than enough to let me know that through the ups and downs of life - that this is all worth it.