Small business feel helps tennis enthusiast get back in the game

Stephen Stchur has a full time position with Microsoft, a family of five and plenty on his plate. He also has an inescapable passion for the world of tennis equipment, and the people who use it on the pursuit of a lifelong athletic endeavor

Stephen Stchur, in his own words, did not know what he was getting himself into.

The Microsoft employee and Maryland transplant had played tennis during his high school days, and at a local club. But he kept running in to the same problem when it came to his equipment.

“I would break strings really fast,” he said. “I’m breaking strings, and paying $60 per racquet to get them restrung.”

Eventually, Stchur found an obvious, if uncertain solution.

“I started looking in to stringing machines, not even knowing if I could do it,” he said. “I bought a tabletop stringer and my first racquet took about three hours.”

When a friend and hitting partner needed some racquets restrung a short time later, he found Stchur and upon receiving his equipment insisted on paying him for the time he spent working on it.

“He was a CPA,” Stchur recalled, adding he had no thought of profiting off his hobby. “I thought maybe I could throw an ad on Craigslist, and see what happens.”

The payoff has been slow, but four years later, Stchur and Kick Serve Tennis are turning a modest profit, and giving him a long desired outlet for his athletic passion.

“It’s that small business feel,” he said of the company, which recently located with he and his family to Carnation from Sammamish.

Stchur has always operated out of his home, while also holding down roles at Microsoft and as a father of three children. He is on his sixth stringing machine now, a Prince brand piece of mechanical artwork, with moving gears and digital metrics for tension that are recorded for customers.

He still has his original distributorship account with Gamma (and now sells stringing machines for the company as well), and is also an authorized retailer for a handful of other equipment companies.

While the move from the Plateau removes him geographically from one of the sport’s hotbeds in the area, he hopes the attention to detail and trustworthy approach he has always held keeps business humming.

One of his most useful ideas — a locking dropbox where customers drop off racquets for collection and restringing, retrieving them when finished — can be transplanted from its former place at his home to a central location on his commute, possibly in Sammamish or Issaquah.

“It’s a prime area for people who need that service,” he said of the Plateau. “That (the dropbox) was one of the best things I ever did.”

No matter the locale of his clientele, the passion for tennis gear and sometimes difficult history in the game will keep Stchur coming back.

During the prime of his playing career in high school, one of Stchur’s friends, and a doubles playing partner, was killed in a car accident. The tragedy shook Stchur’s sensibilities and for a time, removed him from the game.

“I took quite a bit of time off,” he said. “I moved out here, had my daughter and needed to do something in my down time.”

But as the years have gone on, Stchur has found the customer-focused approach he learned from his father — who owned a custom computer store during his childhood — has become the thing that keeps him stringing.

“Interacting with people has turned out to be much more fulfilling than I ever thought it would be,” he said. “It’s really enjoyable when I’m able to help someone.”