in chicago, wilson anchors duty with design

In the outskirts of Chicago, tennis – and sport – behemoth Wilson calls part of an office tower home. The space, just a stone’s throw from O’Hare Airport, is non-descript from the outside: a big, just-out-of-the-city office building, expansive parking lot, Chicago wintry winds and the red ‘Wilson’ christening the side of the top the structure, seemingly simple and corporate.

Inside, however, the space is anything but simple. And to call it corporate would only be accurate in its ability to be a functional, inspiring space. Wilson occupies five floors in the building, including the top three. The 2007 move from the building next door provided the company to make thoughtful, sustainable and modern decisions on how to utilize its new space both as a workplace and an area to encourage creative interaction by those who work there and those who visit.

Said visitors are greeted in the Wilson lobby by a vast wall that hosts black and white photos of Wilson employees, coaches, trainers, athletes and superstars. The view provides a sort of story-telling for the Wilson name over the last 100 years, since the brand launched in 1914. Images of tennis players are aplenty, their equipment and dress anchored in their era and style. There’s Lindsay Davenport rocking her mid-90s Girl Next Door look. And there’s Pete Sampras winning the Open in 2002. The expansive space beyond the wall (pictured below) displays product in a minimalist, museum-inspired way, using outside light to brighten the room and create a feeling of excitement about the possibilities of sport, and, from Wilson’s point of view, their name.

Read more about the Wilson headquarters and find out what the day in a life of a Wilsontouring team memberentails after the cut.

When I toured the Wilson facility in November for this TSF feature, I was impressed not only by the usefulness of the space (open, modern conference rooms; a fully-functional photographer’s studio; building pillars turned into communal work stations; an innovation center for the research and development team) but the sustainability of it, too: felt from tennis balls to represent Wilson’s sales (mostly yellow, and a little pink – for the Hope Campaign – and white – from Wimbledon) to create appealing wall art, while a tennis-ball chandelier (in the picture above) have been re-purposed in the lobby space.

But it isn’t all for show. Wilson anchors most of its creative work out of this Chicago space, relying on teams of research people, designers and a whole bounty of creators to come up with its product lines for the 13 – yes, 13 – sports that it churns out equipment for.

Also based at Wilson is a bevy of press and marketing individuals along with the tennis-specific tour marketing team, a core group of individuals that helps Wilson clients (from up-and-coming juniors like Madison Keys to superstars like Justine Henin) maintain their tennis lives with support not only in equipment (think bags, strings, balls, racquets, grips) but in development and navigation.

Former touring pro Tracy Almeda-Singian, once ranked as high as 159th in the world, is one of these Wilson team members, trotting the globe for upwards of four months out of the year to keep Wilson players happy, well-stocked and in touch with their fans. Remember that giant tennis racket that Ellen DeGeneres used to play against Melanie Oudin when the American teen appeared on her show? “I sent that,” Almeda-Singian told me with a smile.

Almeda-Singian was also present when I sat down with Wilson star Sorana Cirstea at a Midtown New York appearance during the U.S. Open. Almeda-Singian heads up online social marketing for the Wilson team, Tweeting, updating facebook with pictures, blogging and posting exclusive with-player interviews on YouTube.

 

Oudin is one player the Wilson team is more than happy to claim. But Adam Schaechterle, Wilson’s tour and juniors manager, along with Almeda-Singian, makes clear that the Georgian is someone who has been with Wilson since her pre-teen years, a perfect example of how the company tries to build relationships with potential future stars.

“We built a relationship with Melanie Oudin when she was 11 and 12 and followed her and supported her through the juniors,” Schaechterle said. “A lot of people didn’t think that she was going to be a professional prospect, but we supported her in her early run on tour. I think having a special relationship like that – where we watched her become a superstar – is so fun to be a part of.”

The difficulty that is shouldered by the Wilson team is pin-pointing which juniors are going to be top ten professionals. A duty that is as easy as predicting Vera Zvonareva‘s mood on any given day.

“We’re putting a lot of our energy into the juniors because of the way things have shifted in the recent past,” Schaechterle explained. “Those individuals in the top ten have only grown in their market value [think the Rafa/Raja affect], but the players outside that core group have dropped off a bit. So for us to find someone in the juniors who has the potential to be number one in the world, we want to forge a relationship with that player at age 14.”

Players don’t visit Chicago often, Almeda-Singian said, citing the constant travel and the foul Midwest weather from October through March. But when they do, Wilson puts them to use in testing their products on site. This process allows the brand to stay competitive while giving the players the opportunity to be a part of the overall process.

Though his corporate digs are just fine, Schaechterlesaid his favorite part of the job is his recruiting trips to junior tournaments, where he gets to hang with the youngsters and their families.

“The juniors love spending time with us,” Schaechterle offered. Almeda-Singian agreed. “It’s so exciting for them.”

Though the headquarters aren’t equipped with a helicopter pad, the recruiting team logs in plenty of travel time from it – reveling in their time both inside the office and out of it; the space’s proximity to O’Hare is an added bonus. And if jet lag sets in after time away at the French Open and Wimbledon, the secondfloor is equipped with a game room including a ping pong table and other easy-on-the-body activities to take a break from a sometimes strenuous life in sports.

(photos provided by wilson)

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