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The Communicator

The Communicator

From Players to Entrepreneurs

Amy Gillett and her friend and tennis partner Carolynn Hayman were getting bored of the bland clothing they put on every day for tennis practice. But when they couldn’t find something more exciting to wear on the market, the two Ann Arbor-based women decided to solve this issue themselves.

Gillett and Hayman started their business like many great entrepreneurs. First they identified a gap in the market, and then they came up with a product-line to fill it.

“I remember noticing that a lot of people just had really plain shirts, but this one woman had this really funny shirt with a fun design. I complimented her on it and thought ‘Oh, it might be fun to wear some more lively shirts.’ Then a while later Carolynn and I were joking around just talking about how fun it would be to have different sayings for shirts. We were kind of coming up with them. And then we decided ‘Hey, why don’t we just try to do this.”

A few months later, in February of 2024, CourtMerch was launched. The fun-loving company aims to bring flair to the tennis and pickleball courts with t-shirts, sweatshirts, visors, bags and more that use bright colors and fun sayings and images.

Amy Gillett with friend Jan Shamraj, both wearing CourtMerch’s “Out Here Having a Ball” T-shirt.

The company has a tennis ball wearing a bucket hat as a mascot, which they call Courtney. The merchandise displays relevant graphics and creative phrases such as a t-shirt saying “Drop Shot Demon” on the front or one with a wine glass graphic with “Come for the Tennis” printed on the front and “Stay for the Wine” on the back.

“We felt really supported by our tennis friends,” Gillett said. Gillett and Hayman both play at a local club in Ann Arbor.

But with this great excitement came a great challenge. “Once all the tennis and pickleball players we knew personally knew about our company, we were kind of wondering how other people would find out about it”.

This led the duo to the challenge that every business, small or large faces: competition.

“For online shopping Amazon’s kind of the first, go-to place for many people because it has such a huge selection. Then there’s sportswear companies like Dick’s Sporting Goods and also special tennis companies that sell everything from tennis rackets to sneakers and apparel.” said Gillett.

But instead of getting discouraged by the sea of competition they had dived into, Gillett and Hayman found ways that CourtMerch would stand out from the crowd. “What can we do better? What can we do differently?” they asked each other.

“We decided we wanted our company to be very personal,” said Gillett. “That’s something larger retailers can’t do. We get feedback from our customers. What they like, what they don’t like, what they want to see next. That makes us and our products unique. We even feature our customers on our blog.”

Another important step was getting on Instagram, Facebook and YouTube to get as many eyes as possible on their items and make the experience fun and interactive.

“I had never really used Instagram much before. But it seemed like an important marketing channel for the business,” Gillett said. “So I had to learn how to use that and learn how to use it effectively.”

Despite being faced with a challenge, Gillett did not reflect on her experience as being frustrating.

“It’s more of a learning journey,” Gillett said. She offers valuable advice for other new small business owners.

“Go into it with a mindset that you’re always going to be learning and improving. Constantly do your market research and figure out what people are talking about and what products they might want to see. Have a longer time horizon and think not just about ‘Okay, how many sales did we get this week but think ‘Okay, where am I going to be a year from now or even five years from now?’ You don’t build a brand overnight. But if you’re interested in entrepreneurship and you think you’ve found a good niche, go for it and take that small risk.”

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