What started 34 years ago as a small shop specializing in running and tennis gear, Racquet & Jog has grown into what will soon be seven stores throughout Texas.
Dale Grimes started the business in 1980 in an 800-square-foot space in the Old English Village Shopping Center. Gerry Tucker, who began working for him when he was 18, became partners in the business about a decade later.
The first store started with about a dozen different tennis and running shoes, racquetball and tennis racquets and clothes. The men had no idea then that it would grow into the corporation it is today.
The Tyler store on South Broadway Avenue, which is the company’s headquarters, just doubled in size after a more than six-month renovation project. A new outlet store — the company’s seventh store — and a distribution center is in the works in Austin, and is expected to be completed in October, Tucker said.
The company’s headquarters remains in Tyler.
“This is our main store, our first store, our best store,” Tucker said Tuesday while standing in the newly renovated building on South Broadway Avenue.
Tucker, of Tyler, serves as vice president and handles the business side of things while Grimes, of Austin, is president and does all of the buying for the company.
They have nearly 50 employees in Tyler and about 300 workers companywide.
Tucker and Grimes have no plans to stop growing the business and, Tucker said, there could one day be stores outside of Texas. But they are in no hurry.
“We enjoy the heck out of what we do or we wouldn’t still be doing it,” he said.
GROWING THE BRAND
Tucker, 52, grew up in Tyler, and Grimes, 63, moved here from Pennsylvania after visiting his brother in Longview. Grimes decided Tyler would be a good place to open a small business, Tucker said.
After starting in the small space in Olde English Village, they moved to a 1,500-square-foot space in Times Square shopping center in 1984. They expanded that store throughout the years until moving to their current location in 2000.
But after 14 years, Racquet & Jog ran out of room in the 7,000-square-foot space. Merchandise was jammed into every nook and cranny, frustrating some of the customers who had trouble finding things, Tucker said. Recently doubling its size, to about 14,000 square feet, it offers more room for more merchandise and to showcase everything better.
The Genecov Group is their landlord and helped with the design and renovation of the building, which started Jan. 6. They opened in the newly remodeled building Aug. 1 after temporarily being located on Old Bullard Road.
Tucker said they would have liked to have made the store even bigger but didn’t have room on the property.
Store manager Kristen Hogan said it took them almost 10 days of working every day to move everything from the temporary location to the new store.
Tucker said back-to-school time is busier for the business than Christmas, so they had been scattered around trying to get everything moved in to the new building.
Expanding the store has allowed them to carry more lines of some of their most popular brands, such as Nike, Under Armour, The North Face, Patagonia, Spyder and Columbia Sportswear.
Ms. Hogan said they carry lifestyle and casual shoes, sandals and flip flops, as well as shoes for just about any sport, including running, soccer, baseball, football, volleyball, tennis, basketball and track.
They also have beach and ski wear, skateboard and disc golf gear.
But they carry a lot more than athletic merchandise.
For men, they have such casual brands as Rowdy Gentlemen, Southern Marsh and Levis. For women, they offer Roxy, Miss Me and Lucky Brand.
The company has its own line of shirts and shorts and other women’s and men’s athletic clothing. Tucker said the label, “Tyler’s,” is really growing, and that’s part of the reason why the new distribution center is needed. The outlet store in Austin will offer discontinued merchandise from the other stores at a discounted price, Tucker said.
Racquet & Jog shirts have become popular and Tucker said he has received pictures of people wearing the shirts in countries such as China and Greece.
Tucker ran track in high school and college and did a lot of road races. Running also was a passion for Grimes when they started the business, Tucker said.
The men opened a second store in the 1990s in Lewisville, which has since closed. There are now two stores in Austin in the Westlake area and across from The University of Texas at Austin campus, as well as in Highland Park and Southlake in the Dallas area, and The Woodlands in the Houston area. The new outlet store and distribution center will be in Austin at Lamar and U.S. Highway 183.
As they opened up new stores, Racquet & Jog supported the business until it grew, Grimes said via email.
The original Tyler store is the only one to carry the Racquet & Jog name. Tucker said all of the others are called Tyler’s because they originated here and because they’re not just a tennis and running store anymore and they wanted to redefine the business.
They kept the Racquet & Jog name in Tyler because everybody knows it and their line of T-shirts.
“This is our baby,” Tucker said of the local store. “This is the one that made everything possible.”
He said he wants everyone to feel like they are a part of the Tyler store.
Not long after starting the business 34 years ago, they started adding other sports merchandise. They try to offer gear for every sport if the demand is there, Tucker said.
“Customer service, we’re all working to do better at that all the time,” he said.
Ms. Hogan moved to Tyler from Dallas for college and has worked for Racquet & Jog for more than two years
“I love the company,” she said. “I love working for people who are passionate about what they do. Jerry is like a second dad to me.”
Grimes believes hard work is what sets their business apart from others.
“Running this company with a great group of people and watching it grow is what I've liked most,” he said. “Our incredible group of hardworking staff members of Racquet & Jog and Tyler's are also a huge part of why we are where we are today.”