It's the top of the ninth. The Texas Rangers are down by two runs, bases are loaded, and Ivan Rodriguez is at bat. Rodriguez gets two strikes and finally slaps a base hit. Behind you, the hairstylist asks, "Are you ready for that scalp massage?"

This is the scene at Sport Clips, an expanding haircut concept with a sports theme that caters to men and boys. The Georgetown, Texas-based chain, which now has 27 stores, opened its first store in 1993.

"We perceived there was a real niche that had not been filled," says Gordon Logan, president of Sport Clips. "Everyone seemed to be going after the family market: mom, dad and two kids. Men and boys are our client base. It was obvious to go after a market niche that no one was targeting."

Designed with a sports-oriented atmosphere, the average Sport Clips occupies between 1,200 and 1,500 sq. ft. The salon has wood flooring, like a gymnasium, and the cutting floor is in the shape of a baseball diamond. Each stylist station is made out of lockers and the front desk is designed to look like an equipment cage. Seating throughout the store is authentic stadium seating. And since no sports-themed space would be complete without televisions, there are screens strategically located between lockers, tuned into stations like ESPN and ESPN2.

The concept, which is currently expanding in Texas, aims to appeal to four groups: customers, stylists, developers and franchisees. With services and amenities such as a scalp massage, a complimentary neck trim within 30 days of a haircut, and free sample conditioners to take home, Sport Clips hopes to maintain a loyal client base.

"In a traditional salon, when stylists leave, they often take a lot of their clients," Logan says. "We want people to be loyal to Sport Clips."

Typically in the hair salon chain business, Logan adds, customers complain of a lack of consistency in their haircuts. To solve this dilemma, Sport Clips has developed its own training system. The system helps ensure a more consistent haircut, and makes the haircutting process easier, thus encouraging good stylists to stay with Sport Clips, Logan says.

"I've sat through a lot of styling classes," he says. "Many of them are based on holding angles and cutting angles. It's very complicated and mathematical. We've developed a system that is based on a clock face. It's so much easier to learn and execute."

Skilled stylists are also more inclined to stay with Sport Clips because the job is less stressful than in some salons that cater to women, Logan says. Sport Clips stylists don't do complicated treatments such as perms and hair coloring.

"Most stylists put their heart into doing a perm or a color," Logan says. "When a customer doesn't like it, that can be very stressful."

Sport Clips appeals to developers because of its entertainment theme, Logan says. The company looks for high-end centers in suburban, high-traffic areas. The concept works well in centers with tenants such as health clubs, sporting goods stores, home improvement stores or other retailers that draw men.

"We can easily go into a center that has a salon that services women," says Chas Williamson of Dallas-based United Commercial Realty (UCR), the exclusive leasing agent for Sport Clips in Texas, and a member of The Chain Links Network. "It often can even benefit the other salon."

With 22 of its stores in Texas and five in Rochester, N.Y., Sport Clips plans to open 10 more stores this year, 30 to 40 in 2000, and 50 to 60 in 2001. This year, the chain's primary thrust is in Texas, but next year it plans to expand into Salt Lake City, Denver and Omaha, Neb. In 2001, the retailer will look at sites in Las Vegas and Phoenix.

Contact: Jean Booth, vice president of market development, Sport Clips, PMB 266, P.O. Box 3000, Georgetown, Texas, 78627-3000; (512) 869-1201; or Chas Williamson, United Commercial Realty, 7001 Preston Road, Suite 222, Dallas, Texas 75205; (214) 526-6262.