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Chip_Brenn_(2)Chip Brenn has long been a tennis fixture in northern New Mexico. For eight years he ran Sandia Racquet Services in a shop attached to the Tennis Club of Albuquerque. Seeking more space, three years ago he opened Sandia Racquet Sports across Girard Boulevard from the TCA. For a long time Brenn has owned the only stand-alone shop in New Mexico that specializes in tennis equipment. Soon there will be none. In late December, Brenn, 63, will shutter his business. 
What happened? Are you retiring to Florida, as you said you wanted?
No, no, that’s not it at all.  About a year ago, I started to realize this wasn’t going to work any more.  Tennis participation nationwide has dropped 10 percent.  But more than that, consumer purchasing habits have changed greatly.
What do you mean? Is this about big box stores?
No, it’s about going from a localized and personalized vendor to the online vendor. 
The Internet has taken over?
That’s right. An online vendor can offer a significantly larger selection of product.  An online store can serve a much larger base of customers.  An online can sell nationally and internationally.
You sell primarily to Albuquerque and, I’m guessing, some to the north.
I have to try to compete on a national level and that’s hard.  But there’s more to it. There’s been a shift in what Internet people promote.  Five years ago the Internet sold only the newest models of everything. Now the Internet sells end-of-the-season products and out-of- production rackets for $40 to $60 less.  I can sell a new version of Prince for $175. An online business can sell last year’s version for $100 and there’s really little difference, maybe just cosmetics.
Nobody is making very really different rackets today, are they?
It used to be a revolutionary market. Rackets of kevlar and boron and titanium and so forth.  Now it’s evolutionary. Since 1994, the Babolat Pure Drive is still the most popular racket. And the changes on it are so slight.
Who are the big online sellers?
Tennis Warehouse in California is by far the largest in the world.  Tennis Express in Houston and Midwest Sports in Cincinnati are right behind. 
But you can offer personalized service. Doesn’t that matter?
Convenience now matters. For instance, you can have four demo rackets shipped to your home by Fed Ex in one day. People have to drive to our shop and find a demo racket and then check it out. On the Internet, if you spend $75, there’s no shipping costs. I have to charge for shipping.
Does convenience end there?
No. A woman can order three or four tennis skirts on the Internet, try them on and wear them around the house. Then she can say, OK, I’m going to keep this one skirt. She calls UPS to send back the other three. When a woman comes to our shop to try on a dress, there’s a level of uncomfortableness.  We have a dressing room here, but it’s not the same as your house.
OK, the Internet is the big reason for you to close. Are there other reasons?
The sluggish economy. A slump in tennis participation.  Oh, and there’s been an increase in the number of players who buy racket-stringing machines. Young players, high school players, are doing this a lot. According to a survey by the National Association of Sporting Goods Manufacturers, tennis players are the most frugal people in sports.  They can buy string below our cost and buy a $500 machine. Then a mother or father or a friend says, Hey, can you string my racket, too? 
Doesn’t the UNM men’s and women’s tennis teams use you for stringing?
Not anymore.  The Lobo Tennis Club bought a stringing machine and they have work-study students do the stringing. I can’t compete with that.
What about Dennis (Dellinger). He’s been stringing rackets for you for the longest time. What will he do?
Dennis will continue stringing at home.  He can be reached at 269-6425.
And you? What are your plans?
I’m looking into things. Some are on the periphery of tennis and some completely unrelated. A couple of people expressed an interest in buying our business, but the numbers weren’t there.  We thought of changing our business plan. Selling a smaller selection of everything. We even looked at a place with half the square footage of what we have here. But they wanted as much as I’m paying here.
How are you feeling about all this? The closing, I mean.
Bittersweet.  I’ve had a lot of fun, but it’s going to be sad to leave. Will I change my mind? [Laughs.] Only if each of my 12 customers started buying 83 rackets a year from me.
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