DANA POINT, Calf. – Tennis rackets hang from the wall alongside Babolat bags, rows of string and colored grips. The other side of the shop features Bodyglide balm for chafing, Asics shoes and energy gel blocks for long-distance runs.
The two specialty shops coexist under one roof here. In the difficult world of small business, Tony Krogius and Aaron Faygenov are taking an unexpected approach to lower costs and expand their customer base.
“It was kind of a no-brainer,” said Krogius, owner of String Tennis Shop. When Krogius first looked for a retail space to open his shop, he only wanted about 500 square feet: enough room to sell equipment, shoes and bags. But the places he found were all 900 square feet or more, meaning he had to offer more clothes and inventory on the floor to fill the space.
He settled on a location in the beginning of 2012, even though “it was a lot bigger than what I needed, but the smallest I could find.”
Krogius later met Faygenov, who had opened Running World nearby in 2010, when Faygenov was trying to figure out ways to better market his business.
“We came up with the brilliant idea: Why don’t we offer both services in one place?” Krogius said.
The duo decided to combine forces in early 2014, with Krogius moving into Faygenov’s space and cutting each man’s rent in half.
“This is the perfect synergy for two small businesses, to help each other out without wasting money,” Krogius said.
The owners believe they have the only store in the area operating under such a business model. For the two easygoing, affable business owners, it helps them fight their largest competitor, the Internet – from Amazon to Zappos to Tennis Warehouse.
“As time goes on, it trends toward online,” Faygenov said. “We’re not immune … we want to appeal to the local community to shop local.”
So the partners pride themselves on exceptional service and professionalism. Called “one of the best stringers in town” by a customer, Krogius had a growing pile of tennis rackets waiting for restringing on a busy Thursday afternoon.
He makes the effort to get customers their equipment back before their next game – he’ll even drop off rackets to people’s homes or meet them on the side of the road before their tournament. He knows most of his customers’ names, what their kids are up to and even recommends local restaurants to visit.
“In my opinion, the only thing we have to offer is the service to our customers,” said Krogius, who has been stringing rackets for decades. “I try to be as competitive as possible.”
The owners both left careers in finance to pursue their businesses: Faygenov worked in automotive finance, and Krogius was a stock broker.
“We’re both earning less than we used to,” said Faygenov, who is an inventor in his spare time. “(But) the best part of our job is the daily human interaction.”
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Faygenov, who holds a degree in kinesiology, helps runners and walkers find the shoes they need by measuring their fit, talking to them about aches and pains, recording and analyzing videos of their gait, and seeing how they squat.
“Everyone deserves to have a good mattress and a good pair of shoes,” Faygenov said. He added that with manufacturers setting pricing policies across online and brick-and-mortar stores, the amount consumers save by buying running shoes online isn’t much — despite a common misconception from shoppers.
He recalled one man, a doctor who came in for Krogius’ tennis shop and had sciatica and other pains. After Faygenov fitted him for orthotics and proper stability shoes, he was “feeling infinitely better” in a few days.
“If a doctor was unaware of the fact that he would benefit from being fitted for shoes, there’s a large portion of the general community that is not aware,” said Faygenov, 45, who runs, bikes, swims and lifts weights.
The dream would be to have a big space with small pockets for specific sports and their individual shop owners, Krogius said. Instead of big department stores that are highly convenient but have inexperienced staff, this would be a place with both convenience and professional service, Faygenov added.
The idea isn’t unlike the culinary marketplaces that have recently sprung up around the area in which large buildings are home to dozens of independent vendors, each with their own tiny spaces to sell everything from artisan ice pops to jewelry.
The shared space means Krogius and Faygenov can help each other out when one of them is sick or takes a break. During a slow afternoon, Faygenov took off for a run while Krogius watched the stores.
Kamron Khalili, a longtime tennis player, said, “It’s amazing how they do it. It makes sense.”
And it has helped in some ways, bringing some tennis customers to the running side of the store. Triathlete Khalili and his wife picked up running shoes from Faygenov. He waited one afternoon while Krogius quickly strung rackets for games the next day.
“The service level is what it’s all about,” Khalili, 42, said. “They want us to be happy, and they take care of us.”
Any downsides to this shared union?
“We don’t have the same music taste,” Faygenov said with a smile.
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