By Billy Owens
Baltimore Watchdog Contributor
Lifelong tennis player and enthusiast Darrell Haines, 47, teamed up with his wife Amy to open a tennis shop in Montgomery County, Maryland, after owning a shop of his own in nearby Washington for 14 years.
“My wife and I loved tennis so we wanted to stay with tennis,” Haines said. “We make a great team. She grew up playing tennis, and we decided to join forces and own a tennis shop.”
TennisTopia opened its doors to the public in the bustling suburb of Rockville 11 years ago, aiming to serve both Montgomery County and the greater Washington metropolitan area’s various tennis needs.
“Montgomery County is very large and has a very large tennis base,” Haines said. “There’s lots of indoor and outdoor tennis year-round.”
As a niche startup, the store faced difficulties regarding sustainability during the economic recession a decade ago. Several smaller tennis specialty stores in the area shut down during that period, but TennisTopia persevered.
“We were growing in the midst of that,” said Marisa Lombardo, 34, TennisTopia’s soft goods buyer, sales associate, manager and employee for nearly four years.
The store prides itself on providing customers the best service possible, taking time with them to satisfy their needs. The employees can try out all available racquets, strings, clothes and shoes– a unique opportunity granted by the store’s business representatives.
“We have the experience with them since we’ve all tried it,” Lombardo said. “We can tell you what shoe is most comfortable because of us having worn it. We want to get them their perfect fit and make it a good experience for them to come here.”
TennisTopia’s available services include racquet stringing while you wait by Haines and other professional stringers. They also offer a racquet demo program that allows customers to try out any racquet before buying it. The demo cost is subtracted from the racquet price if they decide to buy it.
“We try and make sure they get the racquet for them, so they can bring their game and confidence to the next level,” Lombardo said.
TennisTopia offers products from the most popular tennis brands used by professional and recreational players alike, including Wilson, Babolat, Head, Prince, Nike, Adidas, New Balance and Fila. The store always tries to offer those manufacturers’ newest and best models in their current inventory, and promotes new products and sales through their social media accounts and email base.
“The majority of our business are our own customers and being able to get to know them,” Haines said. “We’re essentially their doctor for tennis.”
The store relocated from their previous shop near Congressional Plaza in downtown Rockville to the second level of Wintergreen Plaza about a mile northwest last fall.
“It was the first time we had ever moved,” Haines said. “It wasn’t super difficult, but there was just a lot of organization and timing involved. The staff were wonderful and were a big part of why it went so smoothly.”
Located on Rockville Pike, one of Montgomery County’s busiest thoroughfares, Wintergreen Plaza is home to other specialty sports stores such as Aardvark Swim & Sport, Total Hockey and Rockville Soccer.
“We liked the location, the parking is better and it’s almost double the size,” Haines said. “This shopping center is so unique. Wintergreen is an awesome place for sports.”
In the wake of their recent relocation, TennisTopia plans to launch an online storefront in the near future, which will allow customers to shop the store’s offerings and have their orders shipped directly to them by TennisTopia.
“The online store should be up in about two months,” Haines said. “It’s a big expansion for us.”
Being co-owner of TennisTopia for the past 11 years has been a valuable learning experience, according to Haines. He said it has taught him to be more patient with customers, taking time to talk to them and get to know them. And he has learned how to organize his time as manager and stringer along with his other duties.
“It’s rewarding knowing when you do a good job and build it up, that it’s all you and it’s your baby and your business,” Haines said. “I take the good with the bad, but once you do a good job and your customers are happy, then they come back and tell you.”