Only one tennis pro was needed by the tennis committee at Farlington Villages condominiums in Arlington to give lessons and to help monitor courts.
On the other hand, a Killington, Vt., resort needed a head pro and four assistants to run week-long tennis camps during the summer, give lessons to guests not participating in the clinics and take care of the composition tennis courts.
Both the condo complex and the tennis camp ended up at the same place -- Washington Tennis Services, a Chevy Chase company that shuns advertising but has accumulated more than 100 clients from Florida to Ohio to California.
Gary Henkin, the 35-year-old founder and president, says his service can do just about anything for a tennis program. It can send a club one pro or several. The pro can supervise scheduling the events at a country or tennis club. The service can also stock the clubs' pro shops from its wholesale operation.
But while the company is netting new clients across the country, the one fault in its growth is that it hasn't made many inroads in the tennis-absorbed Washington area.
The irony is that Henkin originally began the firm to provide a service to local swim-and-tennis clubs. Eight years ago, Henkin was the general manager of a Virginia club and was also giving tennis lessons at local swim-club courts.
"It got to the point where I was personally involved with three different complexes and I couldn't handle everything effectively, so I started hiring people," he said.
Henkin, a tennis teacher since his late teens and a club manager for three years, then got the idea for setting up tennis programs at local clubs.
"At most local clubs, if they had a pro, the pro would come in, teach the lessons, get in the car and leave," Henkin noted.
His brainchild, WTS, would provide a pro who would do the teaching but also stick around to help with programming for adults and juniors. The first year, WTS signed up about 10 local swim-and-tennis clubs. For the first three years, Henkin said he concentrated on the local market, picking up community pools, apartment complexes or condominium developments that had courts and wanted a tennis professional around.
WTS operations in this small-scale (compared to large country clubs) market demonstrates two of the major factors that make WTS attractive to such clients, the flexibility of the WTS arrangement, and the finances.
Farlington Villages, with its 14 courts, has an active tennis committee, said Susan Kernan, the committee chairman. She added, "We don't need anybody to run our parties. We need a teaching pro." The committee had been with WTS, tried hiring free-lance pros, but came back because the firm is "an old, organized group, and reasonably reliable," Kernan said.
"Some tennis pros have a loose sense of responsibility. If they don't have lessons, they don't show up," Kernan commented. With WTS, the pro is responsible to the company, she added.
Kernan said that when the Farlington pro was called away suddenly, WTS was able to supply a new one on short notice.
The situation is different at the Hamlet, an apartment community in Alexandria, which has used WTS for four years, according to recreation coordinator Debbie Fay. Besides giving lessons, the WTS-supplied pro also helps run the programs during the summer.
"He did a lot for us," Fay said. "He alleviated the responsibility" by coordinating round-robin tournaments and other social events.
An advantage for both Farlington Villages and the Hamlet is that neither paid WTS a cent. The disadvantage, from a pro's point of view, is that WTS earns its money from the lessons he or she gives. A pro working for WTS has two sources of income -- a regular stipend and fees from lessons. A pro new to WTS has to share the lesson money with the company, sometimes paying as much as 40 percent. The longer a pro has been with WTS the larger the share of the lesson money the pro gets to keep.
WTS still has its local clients, but now they make up only 15 percent of the total, and perhaps 10 percent of the company's income, Henkin estimated. Still, he is reluctant to give them up because that market was WTS' beginning, its "security blanket," as he put it.
After about three years, WTS through one of its employees, made the first contact out of the Washington area. It was a club in Ohio. At the time, Henkin said, he had been thinking about approaching some Baltimore clubs, but gambled on the Ohio deal, made a presentation and came away with a contract.
It is now the large tennis, golf and country clubs that form the basis of WTS' business and that have led to the WTS no-ad policy.
"Though we're a large company, we've tried to maintain an image of exclusivity," Henkin commented. "And I think once you have a broad-based advertising program, you give up some of that."
Because the clients are affluent, private clubs, Henkin simply "hasn't found it necessary" to advertise in either general press or in the tennis magazines. There is a strong network among the people who run the types of clubs Henkin seeks, he says indicating that general managers check with other general managers, owners with other owners and the word gets around. Every once in a while, a WTS representative will speak at a trade-group meeting, such as the Club Managers of America Association, or the Professional Golf Association, Henkin noted. Those appearances have sparked interest and helped spread the word.
Since WTS is now doing "well over $1 million" in business a year, Henkin said it is doubtful he will begin advertising.
Henkin's philosophy with the larger organizations is similar to the one he has dealing with the pools and apartments.
"We don't ram a pro or a program down the throat of a client," he said. "The first thing we tell the club, in the initial presentation, is 'It isn't our club, it is your club.' We will not do anything you do not want us to do administratively, in program or in retail."
And some of the larger contracts come to WTS for the same reasons as the smaller ones.
Robert and Breda Harnish own the Cortina Inn, in Killington, Vt.
"Bob and I don't know a lot about tennis," Breda Harnish said. When they began their summer tennis camp at what had been exclusively a ski resort, the Harnishes hired a local pro, who hired the other staff. But, they found, there was "no guarantee of quality."
Now Harnish works with WTS, which is responsible for planning the whole program, from the "Back to Basics" clinic for beginners to the "Playing Clinic" for intermediate players.
Harnish said he is particularly pleased with the follow-up WTS provides. When he decided that a head pro WTS had sent did not fit in with his concept of the Cortina program, Harnish said, he merely called WTS and asked for a replacement. He got one within a week, and the first pro was reassigned.
For the larger clubs and resorts, WTS provides more services, and puts more responsibility on its pros. As with the local setup, WTS still hires the pros and pays them. But unlike the smaller operations, the larger clubs pay a fee to WTS to do all of this for them.
A pro at a local club may work weekends or part time. Not at a big club. "A pro at a country club is required to be on site, whether he's teaching tenis or not, whether he's programming or not, whether he's busy or not," Henkin said. A pro works six days per week, 8 to 10 hours per day.
That may be a tough regimen, but a pro tends to knows what he or she is getting into before the job starts. To work for WTS, a pro has to go through two inteviews, an on-court evaluation and a written test.
Besides doing the teaching and programming, a WTS pro may run the pro shop too.Henkin started that service because he found many pros were either incapable or had no interest in retailing. Henkin began a warehouse and distribution center to supply the shops WTS runs. It is one of the rare parts of WTS ever mentioned in print, rating a mention in an "inflation-fighter's" guidebook to Washington.
Henkin also tries to circulate ideas throughout the WTS clubs with a newsletter, and provides special programs to his clients. He is particularly proud of his junior development awards, which set achievement levels for particular age groups.
Business looks promising for WTS, Henkin said, because the firm is expanding into a new market: indoor tennis clubs. Due to that move, Henkin expects the size of the business to grow at 30 percent per year. Club builders are finding that indoor facilities are not "automatically a mecca," Henkin said.
The builders are doctors or lawyres, who have success in their own business, who build clubs "for ego purposes, than find three to five years later they have a $1.5 million bomb that needs to be managed and promoted," Henkin said. The first two indoor clubs WTS will manage are in New York and Pennsylvania.