'TRY THIS, YOU MAY LIKE IT'
The Racket Doctor, Inc., The Racket Doctor Express and The String Surgeon created by Randy Kramer, grew out of his addictions for tennis and racquetball — and after 45 years he’s still jazzed as ever about all racquet sports.
Randy’s first contact with tennis was at age of 14 in the summer of 1962. His track coach gave him a Jack Kramer (no relation) tennis racquet and urged, “try this, you may like it.” Randy was hooked. He started picking up balls for a local tennis instructor in exchange for lessons. This led to a job for the next four years at the Griffith Park tennis shop, a long-standing favorite among L.A. area players. Owned by Fred Moll, the shop provided Randy with a priceless learning experience about tennis and running a business. At the time, autograph racquets sold for $29.99, a Victor Imperial Gut string job was $18.00, and the minimum wage was $1.25 per hour.
Graduating high school in 1967, Randy joined the U.S. Marines for three years, including his final year of duty as a sergeant in a rifle company with the 1st Marines in Vietnam. Discharged in 1970, Randy returned to the Griffith Park area, enrolled at a community college and started a racquet stringing business from the back of his car. One day, he spotted a van bearing the logo, “The Rug Doctor.” That’s it! The name of his future store would be The Racket Doctor.
GROWING HIS BUSINESS
Randy rented a tiny room for $50 a month in the back of a retail store in Atwater Village, attending college during the day and stringing racquets at night. It wasn’t long before customers were asking for other items — shoes, racquets, balls, clothing. Soon he began to develop relationships with suppliers for inventory, and an extremely loyal clientele helped him with small loans to grow his business.
For as long as Randy has been in business, he has started each day with the goal of earning and returning the loyalty of his customers by offering the best products and service at the best prices, while also advocating for trade practices that benefit the consumer.
Randy’s business quickly grew from that tiny back room to half the building, and before long he purchased the entire building. when you’re visiting The Racket Doctor today, look in the back right corner — the room where the business started is still there.
STRINGING SERVICE ‘WHILE YOU WAIT’
With racquet sports popularity among baby-boomers sweeping the nation in the 1970s and ’80s, The Racket Doctor, then a new corporation, began attracting customers from a 100-mile radius. They came for the promise of an unbelievable selection of products, service and prices. And they came for Southern California’s first “while you wait” appointment stringing — a service the store continues to this day.
Semi-annual sales in February and October evolved into rituals with customers lining up around the block. The store’s reputation continued to grow – first nationally and then internationally. The staff grew to nearly 50 employees who served a seemingly endless SoCal clientele, as well as tourists and traveling business people who stopped in to visit the store that was becoming known as best in the nation.
WEATHERING TOUGH TIMES
Despite a slow-down in the racquet sports market beginning in the late 1980s, The Racket Doctor, with its competitive prices and great service, continued to thrive. However, the next few years would not be easy. Manufacturers, acting out of fear in a declining market, began pressuring The Racket Doctor and other competitive retailers to maintain minimum prices. The result was the emergence of Minimum Price and Minimum Advertised Price (MAP) policies – in other words, vertical price-fixing. Major manufacturers informed The Racket Doctor and other competitive retailers they could no longer receive new products if they continued to sell at discount prices.
The Racket Doctor refused to give in. From 1989 to 1993 the store purchased racquets only from other retailers and distributors — at higher wholesale prices. “Because we ran an efficient business, because we believed in the free market and competition, and because we were determined to maintain our trust with the consumer, we continued to sell our racquets at among the lowest retail prices in the country,” Randy Kramer recalls proudly.
“This squeezed our profit margins to almost nothing,” he adds. “In many cases, we were retailing racquets at literally pennies more than we were paying for them. It was brutal, but we survived and continued to grow.”
MR. KRAMER GOES TO WASHINGTON
Randy became involved with the Consumer’s Union and, with backing from a group of retailers in several markets, he became active in a national movement to support free enterprise and price competition.
He staged a major offensive on national TV, appearing on “Good Morning America” and “The Today Show” hosted by Bryant Gumbel. And he built his defense using an intimidating force of his own — the State of California’s Attorney General.
The Coalition Against Price-Fixing was formed. With support from its members, Randy lobbied Congress for the passage of s.429, The Consumer Protection Against Price Fixing Act of 1991. The Coalition was successful in the Senate, but the bill did not become law.
“This was a terrible blow to consumers and many hard working retailers,” Randy explains. “We survived by continuing to buy wholesale on the open market while still reselling at retail prices below the prevailing price levels.”
POLICIES SOFTEN — WITH RESTRICTIONS
In the mid-1990s most racquet manufacturers began to soften their isolation policies and restored sales to The Racket Doctor, with restrictions applied only on advertising. Tennis racquets could be sold for any price as long as costs were not advertised in traditional mediums such as newspapers, TV, radio, flyers, etc. Some policies also did not permit showing prices in store windows or quoting prices over the phone.
Despite the restrictions, business at The Racket Doctor continued to grow and thrive. Randy forged ahead with making improvements in the store, while also keeping up with changing trends in racquet sports and adding new products to meet customer requests. even the most popular “big-box” sporting goods stores were no match for The Racket Doctor’s huge inventory, expertise and superior service.
However, on July 13, 2006, a well-known maker of the hottest selling tennis racquets at the time filed a lawsuit in federal court, attempting to block further sales of its product because The Racket Doctor would not raise prices. “We had supported that company for over 30 years,” Randy recalls. Although they had broken no laws, other dealers were sued as well by this manufacturer and forced to settle due to the high cost of court litigation. Temporarily, at least, corporate intimidation was winning. Aware that expenses of time and money would be substantial, Randy pressed ahead and began to prepare for trial.
THE FINAL BATTLE — CASE DISMISSED!
“This was the final battle,” Randy explains. “Losing in court meant that consumers and small businesses would lose the value of competition.” Just before the trial was to begin, the case was dismissed with prejudice favoring Randy Kramer and The Racket Doctor, Inc.
Despite this victory, Randy points out that “consumers today still have less opportunity to benefit from competition because price and advertising policies prevent true competition. Some corporations now have their own stores, both retail and outlets, selling direct to consumers at their suggested retail prices.”
BEST SERVICE, PRODUCTS, PRICES
“The Racket Doctor has never needed to sell tennis racquets for the full suggested retail price,” Randy says. “As long as our customers continue to vote with their dollars for the best service and products at the best prices, we’ll continue to offer just that.
“We’re not getting as rich as some of our competitors, and we’re working harder than all of them. But we sleep well knowing that we didn’t shake down our hard-working customers so that we can be lazy and greedy.
“On behalf of the entire staff at The Racket Doctor, we thank our many thousands of customers for nearly a half-century of patronage and support!”
Owner Randy Kramer,
“On behalf of the entire staff at The Racket Doctor, we thank our thousands of customers for nearly a half-century of patronage and support!”
RANDY KRAMER, OWNER
Store construction, 1970s
Tennis players flock to the Anniversary Sale, 1980s
Randy lobbies Congress against price fixing
The Racket Doctor’s dedicated staff
Birthdays and special occasions celebrated in style
The most popular “big-box” stores are no match for The Racket Doctor’s huge inventory, expertise and superior service.
More dedicated staff!
Caricatures drawn at staff Christmas party
Jack Kramer’s autograph from Randy’s collection
Randy and son Ryan with Jack Kramer
Randy with Olympic gold medal-winning skiier Stein Eriksen, and Jon Muir, former global general manager of Wilson Racquet Sports
Anna Kournikova autograph
Andre Agassi with Randy