New Year Issue | February 2017
HIGH-END TABLES 2017 COLOR TRENDS DO PRO PLAYERS HELP SELL EQUIPMENT?
BCA Insiderâ€”A BCA Member Publication Dedicated to Businesses in the Billiard and Home Leisure Industry.
The Market For Custom Tables
8 Anthony Stoeckert
Bring Some Color Into Your World
14 Al Williams
Do Pro Players Help Drive Sales?
40 2 | BCA INSIDER â€¢ NEW YEAR 2017
IN THIS ISSUE
20 26 30 36 46
The Pied Pipers Of Pool Anthony Stoeckert Member Profile: Sanders Recreation & Fitness Francis Edward The 411 Of Email Marketing Charles S. Donnavan All Over The MAP Joe Dyton The Next Generation Lynn Switanowski
ON THE COVER TOP ROW: Buffalo Bill by Aspen; Catalina by Mitchell; New Yorker by Triangle
CENTER ROW 247 Billiards in white and black
BOTTOM ROW Chapell by Martin-Bauer; Predator by Hurricane
EDITORIAL EDITOR-IN-CHIEF Keith Loria email@example.com
CONTRIBUTING WRITERS Charles S. Donnavan Joe Dyton Francis Edward Keith Loria Anthony Stoeckert Lynn Switanowski Al Williams
ADVERTISING MEMBERSHIP MANAGER Shane Tyree firstname.lastname@example.org (303) 243-5070 x23
DESIGN/LAYOUT ART DIRECTOR Julie Snee email@example.com
BCA BOARD OF DIRECTORS CHAIRMAN Chance Pack, Champion Shuffleboard/ Connelly Billiards/Valley-Dynamo
Based on conversations with many leaders in our industry, this past year was considered a success. However, peering into a crystal ball and predicting trends in the Billiard and Home Leisure industry in 2017 is just about as easy as looking through a glass of mud. Rather than predicting 2017, let’s just commit to working hard to running the best businesses we can. To do this, we must continue to stay abreast of trends in the industry and beyond. In this edition of BCA Insider we look at a few topics to help your business in the new year. Stories include: 2017 color trends; whether using professional pool players in marketing efforts impacts retail sales; an overview on high-end custom tables and the good, bad and ugly of MAP pricing. We also provide an in-depth review on the advantages of email marketing. We believe these topics will provide valuable tips and information. For the Billiard Congress of America, 2017 is shaping up to be very exciting. We recently partnered with the Billiard Education Foundation to ensure the BEF Junior National 9-Ball Championships will be held in conjunction with the BCA Expo for at least the next three years. Our partnership with the BEF on this event and the Atlantic Challenge Cup creates a synergy that has already positively impacted our industry. We look forward to working with the BEF to promote the game to a new generation of players. This year, the BCA Expo returns to Las Vegas from August 2-4. Las Vegas is rated the #1 destination by BCA attendees and the South Point Casino, Hotel & Convention Center is a great host for our event. We’ve got a lot in store for the 2017 BCA Expo. Stay tuned for more information on the launch of an Innovative Product of the Year program taking place in conjunction with the BCA Expo. We’re excited to launch an initiative to promote innovation throughout our industry. So, while I can’t quite predict what 2017 will look like for everyone, I can and do remain optimistic about the steps the BCA, BEF, and the PBIA are taking to keep this sport and industry moving forward. Keep your eye on the ball and have a great 2017!
VICE-CHAIRMAN Ivan Lee, Iwan Simonis
SECRETARY Jonathan Goudeau, Indoor Recreation
TREASURER Brian Rosselli, Olhausen Mfg
BOARD MEMBERS Wes Bond, Cue & Case Sales Kim Morrison-Heacock, International Billiards Brian Igielski, GLD Products Ozzy Reynolds, Cuesports International Michael Serra, Championship Cloth
4 | BCA INSIDER • NEW YEAR 2017
BCA Insider is published by Billiard Congress of America © 2017 bcainsider.com
What Happens In Vegas?
South Point Casino, Hotel & Convention Center
Billiard & Home Leisure Expo
Viva Las Vegas! August 2â€“4, 2017 bcaexpo.com
THE MARKET FOR CUSTOM TABLES By Keith Loria The show “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous” found host Robin Leach exploring the homes of celebrities and others who were well off, and there was hardly an episode that featured a house that didn’t have a custom-made or extremely high-end pool table. Same holds true for the more recent “MTV Cribs,” where a younger generation of celebrity often enjoyed showing off their billiard rooms. When a person furnishes their home, often they don’t pick the most utilitarian furniture they can find to get the job done. They pick the pieces that inspire them and reflect them. 8 | BCA INSIDER • NEW YEAR 2017
Not that you need to be famous to own a custom-built table; in fact, you don’t even have to be rich. Sure, they’re costly, but there are plenty of people who treat themselves with an expensive car or home theater system for the home, so making a luxurious purchase like this is feasible in the eyes of a lover of the game, even if they aren’t very wealthy. Here is a look at six companies who specialize in creating custom-made billiard tables, and since they are designers and custom fabricators, there’s no limit to the options or accessories that they can offer.These tables hold value over time and can be passed along as family heirlooms for years to come.
HURRICANE CUSTOM BILLIARDS, INC. At Hurricane Custom Billiards, St. Petersburg, Florida, all of the tables are made to order so whether the client is interested in a complete one-of-a-kind custom table or one of its predesigned models, their options for materials, finishes, colors and customizations are limitless. “The biggest single feature of any of our tables is their striking appearance. We use the finest cloths and cushions available and building a table that plays incredibly well is not difficult,” says owner Lee Benson. “What separates our tables from all others is their innovative, unique and beautiful design. Of course, the smartphone-controlled, programmable LED under-table lighting with music mode, is always a big hit.” The typical customer for one of Hurricane Custom Billiards’ tables, Benson says, is a high-net-worth individual who enjoys and expects the best of everything. From professional athletes and entertainers to doctors and businessmen, all have multi-million dollar homes and an appreciation for unique and exquisite things. “Our clients recognize that even if you love the game of pool and play a lot of pool, most of the time you are not playing pool. But the table is still there, and is an imposing piece
HURRICANE: CUSTOM BRIDGE
of furniture,” he says. “Why not enjoy it as a beautiful and stunning piece of artwork every time you look at it?” Understandably, Benson doesn’t believe you’re going to convert a person looking at $3,000 tables to a buyer at $30,000, but for the right client, they just need to be made aware that an option to have something more than just an ordinary pool table exists. “Explaining the value of a beautiful piece of artwork/ furniture beyond the function of a pool table will resonate with customers who appreciate and value that,” he says. “The typical pool playing consumer is not really our typical client. We had one client write us saying that he is an art collector and his favorite piece is his pool table. Our tables are not for everyone, but those who like them really like them.” It is quite uncommon for Hurricane Custom Billiards to sell just one piece to a client, as almost always a cue stand goes with the table and often it is a multi-table order including a shuffleboard or ping pong or custom side table or light fixture. “I will ask the client if there is anything else they need, but we are not pushy about upselling add-ons,” Benson says. “We will often be contacted by past clients asking for another item here or there to go with the table. We are working on our 13th piece for one of our favorite clients and I’m looking forward to many more with them.” BCAINSIDER.COM | 9
MITCHELL POOL TABLES The family behind Clearwater, Florida-based Mitchell Pool Tables take the approach that they are providing a one-of-akind piece of art to their clients that will be the highlight of the recreation area in their home.
“Our process from start to finish can take anywhere from six months to two years to completion and most are newly developed homes,” says Tracy Mitchell, vice president of the family-run company. “During the course of the transaction, our team of professionals will meet with the builder, architect and interior designer to get an understanding of the client’s wishes and expectations.” Because it custom hand crafts each table to order, Mitchell Pool Tables works closely with the decorator and client to make available his or her choice of hardwoods, stains, finishes, exotic veneers, stainless steel, LED lights, glass etc. These are the big features of its tables and what make a Mitchell table unique. “Our typical client is a professional or business entrepreneur who has worked hard and is now enjoying the benefits of their success,” Mitchell says. “Most of our clients are referrals from interior designers and architects who have experienced the way we do business and have grown accustomed to our exceptional service.”
10 | BCA INSIDER • NEW YEAR 2017
The company also offers coordinating card tables and poker and shuffleboard tables to complete the room where family and friends will gather and enjoy the good times.
247 BILLIARDS The 247 pool table is manufactured by the Steininger Company, one of the leading metal working companies in Austria. “For us, it is all about design, high quality and craftsmanship,” says Michael Steininger, managing director of 247 Billiards. “The unique design was created by the renowned Porsche Design Studio, so we believe the beauty is in every detail and combined with the contemporary design makes the customers decide on the 247 pool table.”
Customers consist of mostly private people who have very contemporary houses with luxury interiors, and the company has also installed tables on private yachts. “A big pro for our customer is that they are not just buying an ordinary pool table—they are getting an eye-catching piece for their modern interior,” Steininger says. “So, it does not get installed in a garage or small hidden room but in their beautiful living room or game room. Since the table is highly customizable with a sophisticated range of colors for both table and cloth, it will fit any contemporary interior.” A table from 247 Billiards is complete with all accessories, including a modern cue stand matching the table color, four premium cues, a leather table cover and triangle, chalks and ball set.
MARTIN-BAUER BILLIARDS Michael J. Martin, owner of Martin-Bauer Billiards, Chandler, Arizona, notes the Martin-Bauer Tournament Table features basically reside in its unique design and construction as it is constructed from structural steel and incorporates “a floating slate” concept. “Basically, the patented design has the side rails elevated a halfinch above the slate, so you can see between both elements,” Martin says. “Then, the 1-inch, three-piece slate mounts to 10 conical supports giving it the appearance of floating above the structural frame below. This contrast between the mass and weight of the steel and the levitating appearance overall gives it the unique place in the market.”
Below the slate sits a perimeter of LED lighting that bathes the floor area in a complementary color of light to give it an “otherworldly” appearance. In addition to its design, the finishes are unlimited. “We can powder-coat in any number of colors and configurations to go for a certain look, or to match the Ferrari in the garage,” Martin says. “Each table is hand-made to order
BCAINSIDER.COM | 11
ASPEN: CIGAR & SCOTCH
and requires hours of handwork on the steel elements. I always wait for someone else to say it, but I agree immediately with them when they say it’s like a piece of sculpture—one that you can play on.”
The tables include top-quality cloth, German-made tournament Artemis cushions and backed 1-inch, threepiece diamond-honed slate to ensure customers are getting the best of the best.
The main pro of buying a high-end table is exclusivity. There are many mass-market pool table companies that make exceptional pool tables, so one of the reasons to spend more is to have something that not everyone else has.
“These are more than just a pretty piece on the floor; they are going to be excellent-playing pool tables,” Fiscella says. “It’s top of the line on every level and these are tables that are going to be the tables of someone’s dream.”
“Then it comes down to what button is the consumer looking to have pushed. Do they want something that looks rich and has the finest wood veneers or carvings, or just something they can say they spent x amount on?” Martin says. “Owners of a Martin-Bauer pool table generally get a “Wow, that is cool” response from their friends, and that’s when their smiles get really big, and I’ve done my job.”
ASPEN RUSTIC BILLIARDS
One of the benefits of buying a Martin-Bauer is there is no pushing to buy anything. The price includes the matching cue stick rack, a racking triangle, one set of “cool-looking” balls, and four unique cue sticks.
TRIANGLE BILLIARDS For four decades, Joe Fiscella, president at Triangle Billiards and Triangle’s Game Room Gallery, Orange, California, has been offering Platinum 2525 designs for those looking for an exciting design for their gaming tables. Customers have included pro athletes, oil tycoons and even pop star Justin Bieber. “Most of our high-end tables are original designs that are quite unique to the history of billiards as we know it,” he says. “We can even customize from someone’s design and we will make it right from scratch.” 12 | BCA INSIDER • NEW YEAR 2017
A lot of the custom tables created by Aspen Rustic Billiards, based in Austin, Texas, are antique inspired or antique reproduction-influenced. “We try to blend the artistic side with the scientific side, or the size that has to be regulation, at least tied to what people expect,” says Kirk J. Modglin, owner of the company. “There’s a lot of work that a customer will never see, and little details that really make these tables special and exclusive.” The American-made tables, which start at about $25,000, are one-of-a-kind and Modglin makes sure to break the mold, so to speak, to ensure no two tables are ever the same. “There are several different levels to our customers. Typically, it’s a home owner and there’s a designer involved, and it tends to lean towards a second or thirdhome,” he says. “We let our consumers be as involved as they want to be to get to know the full story, whether that be the history of the wood, the custom elements or the people behind the work.”
Sherwin-Williams’ Colormix 2017: Nocturnal
BRING SOME COLOR INTO YOUR WORLD KNOWING THE HOTTEST TRENDS CAN HELP YOU DRAW CUSTOMERS WHO ARE LOOKING TO SPRUCE UP A GAME ROOM By Anthony Stoeckert 14 | BCA INSIDER • NEW YEAR 2017
Successful billiard retailers are sure to have customers who have beautiful game rooms where friends and family gather for fun, socializing and some friendly competition. For those people, the game room is an important place, a centerpiece of their home, and those customers will want to spruce up and update those spaces every now and then. Color, obviously, is an important factor in a room’s décor. Putting together the perfect color scheme for a room takes a lot of thought and work. And to help people with ideas on how to decorate rooms, paint companies and designers announce their colors of the year, and hot color trends. Knowing the current color trends can be a big advantage for a billiard retailer when discussing a game room’s design with customers. Not that anyone is expecting a billiard retailer to
have the expertise of a professional decorator, but keeping on top of popular colors, and establishing a relationship with a decorator or designer, can go a long way toward holding a customer’s interest, which can lead to sales.
COLORS TO KEEP AN EYE ON For 2017, Benjamin Moore has chosen Shadow 2117-30 as the Color of the Year. Andrea Magno, a color and design expert for Benjamin Moore describes it is a deep, rich violet or amethyst that “exhibits a variety of nuanced undertones as the light in a room shifts during the day.” Magno says Benjamin Moore’s color and design team bestowed its Color of the Year honors on Shadow 2117-30 after BCAINSIDER.COM | 15
SOOTHING, WARM TONES PAIR WITH AIRY COOLS FOR A HARMONIOUS AND NATURE-INSPIRED PALETTE.”
seeing it used in various industries including textiles, home accessories, fashion, fine art and automotive. “It was amazing how the whole team gravitated toward this color and saw it as being directional for 2017,” Magno says. “We continued the conversation to look at other colors that were also influential and would play a role in our annual trends palette of 23 colors. For 2017, the general direction we found for color through our research was warmer than what we’ve seen over the past few years, while these colors still pair well with the pale hues and neutrals that have gained great popularity.” She adds that many colors in the 2017 list are ideal for a billiard room, including Salamander 2050-10, a dark green. “The most obvious choice is Salamander 2050-10, a rich dark green that would create that traditional ‘clubby’ feel,” Magno says. “Likewise, Grandfather Clock Brown 2096-30, a cognac hue, or Gentleman’s Gray 2062-20, a deep navy blue (don’t be fooled by the name) would be gorgeous for a game room. “Shadow is another option that will read as a color reminiscent of a wine-hue that can be a successful and interesting choice for a game room. If deep colors are not the desired direction, we have great neutrals in the palette such as Wish AF-680, which would complement wood tones and leathers often used in billiard room design.”
GOING NATURAL Anna Maria Kinberg, a Connecticut-based interior decorator, notes colors that bring a feel of the outdoors will be popular in 2017. 16 | BCA INSIDER • NEW YEAR 2017
“For the new year, it’s nature colors with a splash of royal colors of purple and orange,” she says. “But really it’s nature colors, the greens and the blues and the earth tones. Green is going to be a big one for 2017.” Kinberg adds that each game room has its own feel, and that those natural colors have a lot of versatility, a factor in their popularity. Another key to their appeal, she says, is that people are seeking elements in their home that can connect them to the world. “There is so much going on in the world, and that is leading to the earth tones; it’s more tribal, it’s more calming. Green invokes nature, tranquility, being more peaceful. And when you go to the earth tones, it makes you feel more grounded. If you’ve had a hard day and you have earth tones in your home, naturally you’re going to feel calmer.”
A SPIRITUAL PALETTE Every year, Sherwin-Williams announces its list of annual color palettes, which will define color trends for the year. The company claims its color palettes for 2017 focus on renewed spirituality, body and soul nourishment and a determination to define a sense of self. “Our forecast this year is an exploration of the trends and influences that are emerging to drive design towards a state of restless energy,” says Sue Wadden, director of color marketing for Sherwin-Williams. “Each of our four palettes tells a distinct color story, offering opportunities for homeowners and professionals alike to explore color in new and exciting ways.” Sherwin-Williams’ color team, led by Wadden, based its palettes on research and trends. Each palette consists of 10 colors. The first palette, Noir, is driven by baroque and romanticism trends, a renewed interest in faith and spirit and celebration of the night. The Noir palette is rich with colors that evoke vine-ripe fruits, Nordic blues, moody neutrals and golden yellow. “Night is among our most precious commodities,” Wadden says. “We’re craving a refuge from urban streetlights and glowing screens, searching for spaces to turn our gaze inward and recharge the spirit. Mindful melancholy is fueling a new romanticism marked by medieval patterns, revived customs and bittersweet beauty. The Dutch painting masters knew the secret—dark hues set a dramatic stage for sensuous luster.” Sherwin-Williams’ Holistic palette sets standards in sustainable design and transparency. The colors of this holistic palette include arctic neutrals, blush rose, wild browns and forest floor green.
Benjamin Moore’s Color of the Year: Shadow 2117-30
“The holistic palette is softly balanced and beautiful, and perfect for restive spaces,” Wadden says. “This is a grown-up version of pastels. Soothing, warm tones pair with airy cools for a harmonious and nature-inspired palette.” Intrepid is a palette inspired by impatience for social and political change. Youth culture and global collaboration lead to a feisty energy, which influenced this retro palette, including fiery oranges, vibrant kimono colors and the simplicity of black, white and gray. “This palette has amazing versatility, which allows for a modern, bright light or a 1970s vibe of smoked glass, bright brass and geometric patterns,” says Wadden. “It’s also the perfect palette for hospitality settings, blending tech innovation with bold design and color to create a wholly contemporary aesthetic.” Finally Sherwin-Williams Unbounded palette is influenced by global immigration and how it redefines national identities, brands becoming more purpose-driven, and communities more connected. Design is adapting to more diverse populations. Global consciousness is captured in this palette’s earthy mustards and browns as well as ocean blues and corals. “This earth and spice palette tells the story of how migration is forcing cultures to mingle and share a collective ‘we,’” Wadden says. “Audacious colors in combination with a confluence of foreign patterns and exotic textures can create a look that is striking and entirely new.”
GOING GREEN The Pantone Color Institute also is going natural for 2017, with its choice of “greenery” as its Color of the Year. “Greenery” is described as a vibrant green with yellow undertones, reflecting a yearning to rejuvenate, and to reconnect to both nature and something larger than oneself, says Laurie Pressman, the institute’s vice president. “It’s a realization for many people,” she says. “This country is politically divided, and we see that around the world. It’s not just us. There’s a real division in terms of globalization and this desire to pull back from globalization. It’s Brexit. It’s what we just saw in Italy.” The color “greenery,” similar to chartreuse, is well represented in the first buds and grass blades of new spring, but it also plays out in history at times of major cultural shifts, including the suffrage movement and flapper era of the 1920s and the war and racial justice protest movements and psychedelia of the ’60s and ’70s. “It’s been there during times of bold change, when people are exploring,” Pressman says.
OLD WORLD MEETS CHIC Reagan Toal, marketing manager for Federal Brace, a North Carolina-based company that manufacturers support brackets used by designers, says neutral colors tend to dominate game rooms. BCAINSIDER.COM | 17
“But going back historically, old English billiard rooms had a pizzazz to them with more vibrant and deeper colors,” Toal says. “Reviving this ‘old world wealth’ feel, but with a modern touch, can lead to a very chic room. Keeping darker-toned wood, and pulling in a bespoke sapphire blue that speaks to royalty and luxury is a simple way to give your space an air of leisure. An emerald velvet couch to pair your felt to wouldn’t be amiss at all! And adding copper, brass, and gold notes, with nail head detailing on furniture and copper accents in metalware, or a focal burnished brass light fixture, will modernize and elevate the look.”
SPRUCING UP THE GAME ROOM Obviously, people can’t redecorate their game rooms every year in an effort to make full use of the latest color trends. But even customers who aren’t designing a new game room, or redesigning an existing room, can add touches that can freshen up the room, utilizing the latest trends. “The easiest way to do things like that in a game room is to change the accessories,” Kinberg says. “You can put an area rug in, you can change things up by adding pillows, throws. Even your artwork; you don’t have to get expensive artwork you can incorporate.” She also suggests moving things around in the room, including furniture and accessories. “Those are the simplest ways that have the greatest impact and done properly, whether it’s with a designer or a homeowner, it can make a huge difference,” Kinberg says. Magno adds that painting a room is an easy way to bring a significant change to a room, while not incurring a major expense. “There are colors in the palette that are perfect for an update to the wall color such as Iceberg 2122-50 or Sandlot Gray 2107-50,” Magno says. “Perhaps an update is as small as an accent piece of furniture painted in a color that complements the existing colors used in a room. Look for opportunities in your room that may seem minor, but by using a fresh color can make a room feel updated, with the Color Trends 2017 palette serving as a great starting point for color selection.” Charmaine Wynter, a luxury design expert who runs Wynter Interiors Inc. and hosts the Living Well Show, says Benjamin Moore’s Shadow and Pantone’s Greenery can be used in the game room, but perhaps not as a major color. “While both are great colors as accents neither would be my go-to choice for a game room,” she says. “Instead I’d select a 18 | BCA INSIDER • NEW YEAR 2017
shade of gray, it’s been trending for the past few years and I believe it’s still got another seven to eight years of popularity. “So a typical scheme would have a silvery gray on the walls with accents of shadow used for the flooring and furniture/ games table. I would complete the space with window covering and toss pillows in hues of greenery.”
WORKING WITH THE CUSTOMER With a little know-how about the hottest colors, you and your staff can be a resource for customers who are looking to invest in a game room. And that knowledge can pay off in a big way. Magno says retailers can bring color ideas to customers instore by using trend palettes that serve as backdrops to tables and other aspects of a game room. “If consumers can see how paint colors will complement the variety of finishes and materials available for use in game rooms, they will be able to see how wall color can enhance their purchase,” she says. “Imagine Salamander 2050-10 walls against rich wood hues, while complementing a billiard felt color and picking up on colors in an area rug. This will not only help customers to envision their eventual space, but ease the process in making color and finish selections for every aspect of the game room.”
Sherwin-Williams’ Color of the Year: Poised Taupe
THE PIED PIPERS OF POOL By Anthony Stoeckert Tom Van Eck and Jeff Papke are doing something to help kids and promote the sport of billiards, and they want more people to get involved. Last year, Van Eck and Papke started renovating neglected pool tables at Boys and Girls Clubs in the Chicago area. They started when Van Eck was trying to spread the word about a practice cue ball (the iCue ball) he designed. He had 15 balls made, and he and Papke were looking for locations where the balls could be used. “I said, ‘How about kids?’” Van Eck says. “And we thought, ‘How about the Boys and Girls Club?’ Jeff thought there would be a lot of red tape involved in that, and I said, ‘No, I’ve been in sales for 30 years, let’s just knock on a door and visit a club, and if their pool tables need help, we’ll see what they look like.’” To fully understand their story, you must go back to Derby City in 2015 when the two went to their first professional pool tournament. “I mainly wanted to meet Pat Fleming and tell him that his Accu-Stat videos inspired me to develop the practice cue ball,” Van Eck says. “Jacoby Cue said that they would engrave a batch and once I got a supply, I wanted to teach kids because I started playing at 10.” Once he did, he never wanted to stop.Van Eck practiced all the time and eventually was good enough to join the tournament 20 | BCA INSIDER • NEW YEAR 2017
ranks. As a student at the University of Notre Dame, he took home the campus championship both his junior and senior years, and as an adult has qualified for the American Poolplayers Association Championships in Las Vegas.
THE FIRST STEP Van Eck and Papke set out on their mission to get more kids living in Illinois involved in the game and the first club they visited was in Elgin, but they were surprised at what they found. “The building is only eight years old, but we went upstairs and they had two old Brunswick pool tables that were in really terrible shape, and they didn’t have any cue sticks,” Van Eck says. “So we thought, ‘Wow, we didn’t know it was like this.’ We couldn’t teach with the conditions being so bad. I don’t think one kid ran three balls ever.” They went to Championship Billiard Fabric in Illinois, explained what they were doing, and the company donated cloth for them to re-cloth the tables. “That encouraged us to keep going and I would go out and play pool in the bars at night, three, four nights a week, and tell people about my pool ball and how I was donating two dollars from every sale of my ball to the Boys and Girls Club,” Van Eck says. “When I mentioned the Boys and Girls Club, inevitably someone I talked to grew up at a Boys and Girls
Club when they were younger, and they wanted to donate money and donate time.” Van Eck visited other Boys and Clubs in Illinois and found that the pool tables at many of the clubs were in equally bad shape. “Some tables had tape on them, they just needed a lot of stuff,” he says. “So over the course of the last year and a half, Jeff and I have gotten 16 clubs and 2,500 kids ready to play.” Improvements were made thanks to donations of cue sticks from Cue and Case and cloth donated by Chris’s Billiards. “The thing about a pool table is that it’s kind of like a piano, where it will last forever but you have to tune it and make sure the keys are working,” Papke says. “With a pool table, the rubber dries out, the cloth needs replacement, and the pockets have problems. There’s also the issue of balls, sticks, chalks and a few other accessories. There are a lot of things people don’t know about pool tables.”
club members during the after school hours and has fostered the development of their social and interpersonal skills.”
In addition to knowledge and a desire to help, there was another important factor.
“The only way to do this is to not charge them one penny, that’s why they fell under neglect,” Van Eck says.
With Boys and Girls Clubs existing all over the country, there is an opportunity for billiard retailers to do something that can help kids, develop good relationships in the community, and promote the game of billiards.
Cathy Malkani, executive director of the club in Elgin, notes billiards has always been a big part of the Boys & Girls Clubs and is a favorite activity among the kids. “Pool is a great way for children to learn skills that they can use beyond the table, be it physics, patience, the laws of motion, taking risks and learning how to win or lose,” she says. “Tom knows this, and he knows the importance of having such sports available for the kids in Elgin. He’s making a difference in the world one table and one child at a time.” Jason Vasquez, volunteer coordinator with Boys & Girls Clubs of Chicago, has worked with Van Eck to revamp some of the game rooms at the clubs and has been impressed with what he’s seen from him. “The game room experience at Boys & Girls Clubs of Chicago has been tremendously enhanced because of dedicated volunteers and billiard ambassadors like Tom and Jeff,” he says. “Before they came along and asked how they could support our club’s billiard programs many of our clubs had older pool tables in need of restoration or had none at all. After learning how they could support the nearly 2,000 youth we serve every day after school they started reaching out to our 23 clubs and began the process of revamping our clubs’ with refurbished donated pool tables. These pool tables have provided an alternative form of recreation and leisure for our 22 | BCA INSIDER • NEW YEAR 2017
Van Eck works with some young players.
Van Eck notes that it doesn’t take a huge amount of money to make a difference at a Boys and Girls Club in your area. A donation of about 30 cue sticks, at about $15 a piece, would cost $450. If there are 20 clubs in your area, donating a cue ball to each club would cost about $60. And of course, people with the know-how to do things like replace cloth and level tables can do wonders. “Pool is not a very expensive sport, like golf,” Van Eck says. “We’re not asking for thousands of dollars. I want people in their area to get out and see what these kids are dealing with. If they want them to grow up and buy a pool table or a pool stick from them, they better make sure that the conditions are favorable so there’s activity going forward.” The results Van Eck and Papke have seen in Chicago have inspired them to do more. They are now looking into doing something similar in Milwaukee, and helped spread the word through an article in the Daily Herald newspaper. Aside from donating materials and equipment, billiard retailers can make a big difference by donating their time to improve tables in their area. “It doesn’t require a lot of maintenance,” Van Eck says. “It just requires somebody stopping in once a month, once every
three months, and making sure they’ve got chalk, tips, that the balls are clean, the pockets aren’t falling out, and the tables aren’t ripped.”
FOR THE FUTURE OF THE GAME Helping create a place where young people can play billiards on quality tables could be a step toward encouraging a new generation of devotees. “You have to find the next generation of pool players, and if they don’t have access to pool, there’s not going to be another generation,” Papke says. The poor condition of these tables was reflected in the kids’ knowledge (or lack of knowledge) of pool, but Van Eck and Papke were able to change that. At the Elgin Boys and Girls Club, Championship Cloth re-covered two tables. After the first one was re-clothed,Van Eck and Papke played with the kids. “All we could tell a kid is, ‘Hit a ball in a pocket,’ that’s it,” Van Eck says. “We couldn’t really show them how to play pool until these tables were ready, until they had a stick that had a tip that had a reaction that you and I deserve to have. They have to have the right equipment to play the game properly.”
LET THEM PLAY! Once these kids had the opportunity to play, they got into it.Van Eck says that in Little Village, the game room was a place kids walked through to get milk out of the refrigerator.With playable tables, there are now dozens of youngsters looking to play. Papke notes that the more pool tables a club has, the better, because more kids can get involved. In Little Village, which has three tables, and Joliet, which has five, he says kids were involved, having fun, and engaging with each other. “The difference was amazing,” he says. “If you can imagine an old, beat-up pool table with ripped rails and ripped cloth and stains, and then the next day, these kids see a brand-new reclothed table, it is stunning. And the kids really respond to it. Most people haven’t seen a pool table in pristine condition.”
“They get it, they know pool is a precise sport and we are going to find some kids that are going to win a lot,”Van Eck says. “They love it. Look at how we’re doing in the Mosconi Cup, we’re down 4 to 1, we lost to the Europeans in Juniors, 11-3. I’m trying to get a new way of teaching, simplifying the game out there.”
PREPARING FOR 2017 As the calendar turned to 2017, a local named Randy Tate (who owns a resale coin-operated pool table business and runs a pool after school program for youths), whose 11-year-old son Joey just played in the World Junior Nine Ball Championships in China, has teamed up with Van Eck to help. In January, he will assist in adding two more tables to the Martin Luther King Boys & Girls Club, which will see the venue go from just one wobbly table (which will be fixed!) to three sturdy ones. In December, Van Eck held a fundraiser for a club, which raised over $3,000 for new lighting in its game room. Van Eck also just disassembled a 1917 donated Brunswick that he expects to place in a club up in Milwaukee, the oldest Boys & Girls Club in the U.S. Van Eck also wanted to thank some of those who have helped along the way. Championship Cloth graciously donated cloth to help fix up tables. Buddy Jacques of Chris’s Billiards donated two Gold Crown 3 pool tables; Simonis donated free cloth for a Gold Crown 3; Diamond set up a pool pipeline for the clubs; Dustin Slayton from Superior Nut provided seed money to purchase cloth and cue balls; and Adam Koch, through FSG Lighting, was responsible for helping the Valentine Club receive more than $20,000 in free lighting. “What makes doing this so hard is that the clubs are only open during the weekdays and it’s hard to find friends to buy into our mantra: ‘Whatever the kids need, we do it for free,’” Van Eck says. “I’m confident that there are other Pied Pipers of Pool in other large cities. Pool as a distraction will keep the kids safe and sound and off the streets.”
Van Eck’s cue ball, called the iCue, has markings on it, which helps teach players the right contact points at which to strike the ball. His efforts with the Boys and Girls Clubs started with getting the word out about his ball, but now, he says he’s all about helping these kids first. He worked with a 10-year-old kid who was able to mark the ball perfectly. Papke says he taught one young player how to draw, stop, and follow in about three minutes.
Little Village Club staff member Edgar Abarca helping one of the young players. BCAINSIDER.COM | 23
MEMBER PROFILE: SANDERS RECREATION & FITNESS By Francis Edward When Jennifer Evans walks her retail floor, she sees a business starkly different than the one her family started two generations ago. Today, Sanders Recreation & Fitness not only sells high-end pool tables, but also darts, table tennis and wood games like crokinole and chess. There are no traces left of bowling—the sport around which the business was started in the Canadian city of London, Ontario—but there is cardio equipment, bar tables, stools, furnishings, even pillows. “It’s hard to sell just a pool table anymore,” says Evans, 44. The company’s roots date to 1959. Evans’ great uncle, Joe Worrall, owned a bowling alley and found it difficult to get goods for his pro shop. 26 | BCA INSIDER • NEW YEAR 2017
“Nobody was bringing in merchandise,” Evans says. So Worrall himself went into the bowling wholesale business. He also opened a retail shop and, needing more than just bowling balls and gear, started selling equipment for curling and golf, as well as Brunswick Billiards tables and goods. “It became a bit of a sports store,” says Evans, who started hanging around the shop as a little girl. In 1979, disaster struck the business. A huge fire wiped out the shop. Everything was lost, and Worrall didn’t have insurance to cover it. That’s when Evans’ father, Brian Phillipson, got involved in the business. Phillipson focused on re-launching the retail side as a way of generating cash flow; the wholesale operation would take more time to rebuild.
“My dad’s role was rebuilding the company from the ashes,” Evans says. Eventually Phillipson took over the company when his uncle died, further cementing Sanders as a family affair. Evans’ mother, Joanne Phillipson, worked at the store (and still does today). Evans and sister Nicole, who is four years younger, spent much of their childhood around the business, which evolved into one of Canada’s most successful billiard companies. (Brunswick Billiards once named Sanders as Canada’s top dealer.) The Phillipsons were a close-knit family, spending lots of time together at home, on vacation and at work. Their passion for the business was rooted in the company itself. “We didn’t bowl; I don’t really play pool,” Evans says. “I was born into this world. My uncle was the avid bowler. His love of the sport is where this came from. We love business.” But neither Evans nor her sister planned on joining the family company. “I fell into it,” says Evans, who joined at 18 after working at Burger King. She was closing the restaurant four or five nights a week and her parents were worried about her safety, so they offered her a job. She loved working with her parents, and found that she and her dad effectively balanced the bossemployee and father-daughter relationship. “My dad and I got along so well,” Evans says. “If I came up with an idea, he’d say, ‘Run with it.’” One of the biggest ideas was opening a second retail store. With the company well-established in London, Ontario, located equidistant from Toronto and the U.S.-Canadian border at Detroit, Evans saw an opportunity in locating a store in Barrie, Ontario. Seventeen years ago, Barrie, which is located north of Toronto, was one of Canada’s fastestgrowing cities. It’s close enough to Toronto to tap into the big market, and nestled on the western edge of Lake Simcoe, making it a popular cottage getaway spot. For a business that relies on high-end consumers, Barrie was nicely positioned. Evans pitched her dad on the idea, who told her, “Go for it.” She did. That was 2000. Evans was in her mid-20s, fresh out of university with an accounting degree, but fully committed to the family
business. She worked for a while out of Toronto, where she lived with her husband, who worked there. But when Evans’ father died in 2009 after a battle with brain cancer, she moved with her family back to London, where she now oversees the company. Evans’ sister Nicole, who left a radio career to run Sanders’ social media efforts, now oversees the wholesale dart division. Together, they’re the third generation of the family business that Evans says was her father’s passion. “He’s the type of person who’d still be here today,” she says. “He’d be in his 90s, and you still would have had to send him home.” If Brian Phillipson were here today, he’d see a company that’s evolved for a marketplace driven by high-end spenders, webeducated consumers and people who marry the concepts of fitness, fun and entertainment. After the billiards boom of the 1990s, “the last 16 years have been fairly consistent,” Evans says. “There’s not been a lot of growth, and not a lot of decline.” The marketplace has changed, but in a way that’s elevated the sensibility of what Sanders offers: The pool tables selling today tend to be higher-end models, “so you don’t have to sell as many to keep up on your sales,” Evans says. “Over the years,” she adds, “pool tables have gone from a square box to a furniture piece.” A few factors have driven that change. One is the ease of selling old pool tables without having to involve a retailer. In the United States, when an old table is inherited but unwanted, an ad on Craigslist can move it quickly. The same is true in Canada, where the online classified advertising site Kijiji is popular. So if a consumer wants a less-expensive, bare-bones table, it’s easily purchased without heading to a store like Sanders. Which means the customers that do walk into Sanders are willing to spend. Along with the table itself, they’ll buy toppers, pub tables, complementary furniture and other finishing items.
MY DAD’S ROLE WAS REBUILDING THE COMPANY FROM THE ASHES.”
“Our customer is looking to complete a room,” Evans says. The popularity of home décor shows has worked well for Sanders, too. Flip to a cable channel or streaming service and you’ll find multiple home renovation and interior design shows that motivate people to spruce up their basements. BCAINSIDER.COM | 27
“All the décor shows have been good for us,” says Evans, who points out another advantage the company has tapped into: Canadian homes tend to have large basements, which motivates homeowners to finish them and turn them into recreational spaces. To that end, another basement sport is shooting up in popularity. “I would say darts would be the biggest trend happening today,” Evans says. “We’ve carried darts for years but have seen huge increases in sales in this division over the past several years.” In 2011, Sanders purchased British Darts, a manufacturer and wholesaler that sells to retailers across Canada. British Darts has an exclusive arrangement with Target in Canada. In 2013, Sanders expanded its offerings even further when it became a Life Fitness dealer at both its London and Barrie stories. That allows the company to sell a range of cardiovascular fitness equipment, from treadmills to elliptical machines, and thus market to people who are mulling whether to put an entertainment/game room, or home gym—or both—in their basement. “It’s the same type of customer—the high-end customer who’s getting into fitness,” Evans says, pointing out that with the childhood obesity epidemic, many parents are even more motivated to have fitness equipment at home. In the midst of these changes, what no longer fits is the sport upon which Sanders was built: bowling. In the summer of 2016, Sanders sold off its bowling business to a distributor in Quebec. The extra space made room for the darts line, and it shed a line a business that was too tangential to what’s become Sanders’ core competency: Helping consumers fully outfit a fantastic basement. “Bowling was dying,” Evans says. “It was the only thing in our business that didn’t make sense. Most of our stuff is about your home. Nobody has a bowling lane in their basement.” For the last four years, Evans and her staff have worked earnestly to rebrand the company. Long known as Sanders Pro Home & Billiards, it was changed in 2013 to Sanders Recreation & Fitness. That included an overhaul of the logo and company website, which is due for another update this year.
Joe Worrall, after the fire
28 | BCA INSIDER • NEW YEAR 2017
“It’s been slow for us, because we’ve been around for 50 years,” Evans says. “People hear the commercials, but they’re not really hearing them… It wasn’t an easy transition, because people knew us one way for so long.” But people get it once they’re in the door and they see the array of products Sanders carries, from luxury pool tables
The Phillipson Family
Nicole and Jen
to table tennis to dart sets, furniture, fitness equipment and more. Herein lies an advantage: Most of Sanders’ customers have discretionary income, and they’re willing to spend. To that point: Evans says customers rarely take up the company’s six-months-no-finance credit offer. “They have the money or they don’t,” she says. “Money doesn’t seem to be as much of an issue as it used to be.” Sanders’ product line entices high-dollar impulse buys. Last December, Evans was on the floor in the company’s flagship store when a husband and wife came in to buy a pool table. Well, the table was for him; she just happened to be there, and sat down on a recumbent bike while he was making the purchase. “This is what I would rather have,” the wife said, lightheartedly, to her husband. “Well, if I’m doing this,” he responded, “then you can have the bike.” “I think she was joking,” Evans says, “but he was so happy to be getting his pool table that he said, ‘Go for it.’’’
on paint colors and room placement. We are able to be the one-stop shop for most customers.” Weston first joined Sanders to work on design and displays within the store, but Evans asked her to stay on. Evans found Weston, who had recently lost her husband, through a friend. Weston had two small children and needed a job with schedule flexibility. Evans was able to provide that, and knew Sanders would benefit from Weston’s creative and corporate experience. “Heather was one of my biggest finds—her expertise in design and marketing and her corporate background,” Evans says. “In small business you don’t often find that structure. She’s put a lot of structure into the staffing.” Staffing is a challenge: Like most in the industry, Evans faces a challenge in finding workers who prefer hands-on work and are comfortable with tools. “The biggest problem in our industry today is we’re having a hard time in the service area,” Evans says. “Everybody goes off to university to get big, corporate jobs that don’t exist. They get here and they can be lazy because they think they’re above the job.”
The company’s up-selling options are even further expanded now with the addition of Heather Weston, the manager and head merchandiser for the London store. Weston formerly worked for Gap Inc., where she gained deep experience in retail displays and management. She works with customers to pick out complementary furniture, furnishing and decorations—even including artwork—for their homes.
Weston, she notes, has been good at “weeding out” potentially poor employees from the good ones. She has also made a “huge difference in the bottom line.”
“We are now able to provide customers with the complete package to fill their basements or entertainment spaces,” Evans says. “Heather even provides consultations to customers
Which is exactly the way the family behind Sanders has approached their business for a half-century: Looking beyond the obvious and seeing what’s next.
“The year she came on, our up-sale was so much higher,” Evans says. “She was able to get people to think of the room with a whole different outlook, beyond just the table.”
BCAINSIDER.COM | 29
THE 411 OF EMAIL MARKETING By Charles S. Donnavan There was a lot of hype in 2016 about the importance of content marketing, social media, and mobile for improving one’s billiard business, and while all of those play a role, most experts agree that the first step to marketing success still comes down to the good, old-fashioned inbox. Time and time again, email marketing has been cited as the single most effective marketing tactic for a store’s awareness, acquisition, conversion, and retention. If you’re just venturing into the world of email marketing, or looking to make your business emails more sophisticated in 2017, plenty of help is available. Companies such as Constant Contact, MailChimp and SurveyMonkey are all tailored for your small business needs, plus they’re affordable and easy to use. Email marketing is highly effective for customer interaction; is cost effective; and is customizable so it provides a personal touch. Viewers can check deals almost instantly and you can measure its reach. According to HubSpot, approximately 96 percent of those visiting your website aren’t ready to buy just yet, which means 30 | BCA INSIDER • NEW YEAR 2017
as a retailer, you’re leaving money on the table if you’re not building an email list. Once prospects are in your email database, you can sift and sort to pre-qualify and move them down the sales funnel. But none of this is possible without building a proper email database. Naresh Vissa, founder and CEO of Krish Media & Marketing and author of “Fifty Shades of Marketing: Whip Your Business Into Shape & Dominate Your Competition,” notes the fastest, easiest and cheapest way to engage with your audience is by having a website with a free newsletter mailing list. “Too many website owners spend energy on unique visitors, clicks, page views, etc., but none of those numbers are assets, meaning, you don’t own them,” Vissa says. “They can disappear with the strike of a server.”
STAYING RELEVANT Haris Mumtaz, a digital marketing strategist with PureVPN, says that while some retailers believe that email marketing is obsolete, they’re wrong on many levels.
“Email marketing is still one of the most effective marketing tools used by a lot of marketers even today,” he says. Let’s have a look at some points that tell the importance of email marketing for a retailer.
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First of all, email marketing is effective when you’re planning to target a particular segment of people with a customized message or offer for them. It won’t be a generic message targeting a whole lot of people, but it will be more specific. No other means of marketing can be this effective for this purpose as email marketing. Secondly, it’s quite inexpensive. There’s hardly any cost to reach your targeted audience. A lot of email marketing tools are available at cheap packages. Measuring a marketing campaign is often the most difficult task as you have to rely heavily on assumptions and vague metrics along with the hard metrics. In the case of email marketing, you can easily track how many people have opened your email, how many have clicked on your action button, how many people have converted and so on. “Your active customers can be engaged through emails and you can let them know about your upcoming offers and promotions beforehand,” Mumtaz says. “This builds trust and brand loyalty and they might refer their friends and family to your business, thus enhancing your business.” Vanessa Kromer, CEO and founder of Vanessa Kromer Female Entrepreneur Success + Life Coaching, says email marketing is critical for any small business or retailer. 32 | BCA INSIDER • NEW YEAR 2017
“Correctly building your email list is the first step towards email marketing,” she says. “The magic happens when you can sit down, or have your virtual assistants sit down, and create content for weeks at one time.” The pros, she adds, include creating a constant opportunity to set up and provide value for your customers, creating a relationship between your reader and your brand; one they will remember when they are in need of your product or service; and becoming a source of communication between you and your reader. Almost as if you are storytelling to them, without being pushy for sales.
This segmentation of users is the most important tool a retailer has. Different segments of customers can be targeted with different communication leading to enhanced engagement and conversions. An entire up-sell and cross-sell strategy can be thus created by segmentation of users. That leads to enhanced customer loyalty.
MONEY MATTERS A billiard retailer probably doesn’t want to invest a great deal in email marketing software, but none of the big players will break the bank.
Pratik Shah, director of marketing at Grin, a social shout-out platform that connects brands and individuals to social influencers, agrees email is the most cost-efficient and non-intrusive medium that a retailer has to reach out to its customers. Also, unlike an SMS, or an app push notification—assuming the retailer has an app—it has ample space to express the retailer’s communication and offerings.
MailChimp offers a “Forever Free” version for up to 2,000 email subscribers and 12,000 emails per month, and its paid email marketing services start at $20 per month for unlimited emails up to to 1,001 to 1,500 subscribers. All paid plans have unlimited email-sending capabilities throughout the month. The highest plan is $35 per month for 2,501 to 2,600 subscribers.
“It’s easier to take email addresses of customers than taking phone numbers, which is considered much more intrusive,” he says. “Furthermore, if the customers’ preferences are well recorded—based upon their past purchasing habits, categories, or while signing them up for emails—the retailer can segment the users.”
It also offers a “pay as you go” option to purchase email credits for $0.005$0.03 cents per email, making it easy to scale up or down, depending on seasonality, slow periods, fluctuating database sizes, or in order to send one-time campaigns to a large list without permanently increasing your subscriber plan.
APPROXIMATELY 96 PERCENT OF THOSE VISITING YOUR WEBSITE AREN’T READY TO BUY JUST YET.”
Constant Contact Pricing offers a 60-day free trial period and then it’s just $20 per month for up to 500 contacts, and it increases to as much as $90 per month for up to 10,000 contacts. Constant Contact also offers an “Email Plus Plan,” which includes surveys, registration forms, coupons, and more. Email Plus starts at $45 per month for up to 500 contacts, and scales to $115/month for up to 10,000 contacts.
Next, use your emails to build a trust with your customers. It’s no secret that consumers are cautious with their money and their trust, and they are probably sorting through dozens of marketing emails each week. The key is not to spam your customers. Make sure you have opt-in email marketing and don’t automatically grab email addresses, let people subscribe themselves or sign up at the store. Make it easy to unsubscribe and show them you understand if they decide they no longer want your emails sent to them. Explain the benefits for people signing up, in clear language so they know what’s in it for them. Also, give them a choice about what type of information they’ll receive from you, and how often. This will make them feel like they are in control and they’ll appreciate that.
DEVELOPING A STRATEGY
According to a recent survey by BlueHornet, the main reason more than a third of consumers unsubscribe is that they receive too many emails. A nice touch is to offer consumers the chance to opt down and get fewer emails. That may prevent many of them opting out altogether.
The first step in developing a sound email strategy is to establish a voice for your business. Do you want to be perceived as serious? Light-hearted? Authoritative? Email marketing allows each retailer to create its own voice for its customers.
Offer relevant information. Understand your target audience and make sure you send them emails that are relevant. Doing this well might mean segmenting your mailing list—creating a smaller list from your full customer database. So you’ll need to know how
you can use the information in your database. It’s clear that short, targeted emails are more effective than long, general ones. Integrate email with other channels. Email works best when combined with other marketing channels. These could include your website and social media accounts. Keep your messaging consistent across all channels. Coordinate across platforms and use targeted ads, social media, your website and paid advertising campaigns. All of these will help boost the performance of your email marketing. Finally, measure everything. Emails can be tracked and monitored effectively using smart software. Use analytics and carefully chosen metrics to understand how customers are engaging with your emails. This data will help you tailor and refine your strategy. Remember, email is the most reliable method of staying in touch with your customers. Almost everyone who buys from you will have an email address. And that email address will probably stay with them for years. It’s much more reliable than a physical address.
BCAINSIDER.COM | 33
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MAP IS MINIMUM ADVERTISED PRICE POLICY GOOD FOR BUSINESS? IT DEPENDS ON WHOM YOU ASK. By Joe Dyton Setting product prices at a reasonable rate in order to get them off of the shelves as quickly as possible isn’t a strategy that’s up for debate among retailers. It turns out defining what a “reasonable rate,” however, is. The concept of Minimum Advertised Price (MAP) is highly contested within the billiard industry. MAP is basically the lowest amount of money resellers mutually agree to not advertise below. On its surface, MAP sounds like a great idea. Retailers set a pricing floor, and then it’s up to everyone how much higher they’re willing to advertise their prices for in order to turn a bigger profit. However, after speaking with a few industry professionals, MAP is anything but a mutually agreed-upon process—at least when it comes to opinions as to whether or not it’s good for business.
an online retailer and it’s so easy to price shop online. People may go and look at the product at the retail store and then find the lowest price online, and purchase there.We undermine our retail structure if we do not use and enforce MAP policy.” Kurt Spell, owner of The Billiard Collection, North Miami, Florida, shares Lee’s sentiment about MAP; he also refers to the policy as a “necessity.” Spell, who admits to not being the most computer-savvy retailer, relies heavily on sales from his brickand-mortar location as he gets his website up and running. He faces competition from the likes of retailers with a warehouse a third the size of Spell’s showroom, and who have a healthy online business. Without MAP, these competitors could take the advantages they already have over Spell (less real estate to pay for and savings from selling mostly online) and increase it even more by advertising unmatchable lower prices.
One of the positives of MAP is it sets a level playing field. Without it, online retailers would have a significant advantage over those with a physical store because what they don’t spend in overhead would allow them to advertise and sell their goods for a lot less.
“To take that even further, let’s go to a fact that some of the people that can have a great website have no overhead at all,” Spell says. “They might be a postman, garbage collector or whatever and have an incredible website and since they have no overhead, they could basically undercut me every day of the week because I have a 6,000-square-foot showroom in the city, and I pay a lot of money for it.”
“I feel that MAP is a necessary tool to keep the playing field level,” Ivan Lee, Iwan Simonis, Inc.’s president and CEO, says. “Brick-and-mortar retailers have significantly higher costs than
Joe Fiscella, owner of Triangle Billiards, Orange, California, says that while he likes how MAP policy keeps sellers from going too far below value with their prices, he takes issue
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with how manufacturers are using MAP to their advantage and leaving dealers with the short end of the stick.
Lee’s oversight allowed resellers who played by the rules to make better margins and money off of his product.
“The margins they allow us to work on are ridiculously low,” Fiscella says. “If manufacturers want to give a discount, they should have a little faith in their products, mark them up 2-and-a-half percent and let us discount 10, 15 or 20 percent if we have to.”
“A lot of people have seen the progress that I’ve been able to make in the last 10 years,” he says. “You have to ruffle a few feathers, but once you get it in place, it’s a matter of maintaining it. It gives tremendous confidence to your resellers because you’re protecting them and they’re making more money off of your product.”
Fiscella explains that under the current system, he’ll put a double markup on something and then have to sell it at a “ridiculously low” price and ends up with a 40 percent margin after he has to pay for shipping and handling. Plus if anything is wrong with the product, he’s sometimes responsible for paying for it. “So that’s been my whole thing; get the retail price up there where it belongs and don’t let us discount any more than 20 percent, and at that point, maybe we can afford to give free shipping,” he says.
Another issue that comes up with MAP is that it’s hard to police. It’s not like every reseller is signing a sworn oath saying they’ll agree not to advertise below a certain price. MAP is more of an understanding, plus as Valley Gaming owner Steve Hopson points out, there are ways to work around the agreed-upon MAPs to get an edge on the competition. One of those loopholes is to throw in free items with the initial order to make the sale.
Another disadvantage some in-store sellers have come across is buyers who want to avoid sales tax. So they’ll go into a brick-and-mortar store, check out a product like a cue, get a feel for it, but then go home and buy it online. According to Lee, it’s up to the retailer to engage with the customer enough while they’re in the store to make sure the sale happens there. “One of the things we’ve been training our retailers on is if someone comes in and is looking for something specifically, starts asking questions, and they realize that they basically came to check out (the product with you), but they are going to buy it online,” Lee says. “The retailer has the opportunity right there to convert that sale on the spot because they know they can drop the price, too. Most places, if there’s anyone enforcing that online like I am, the individual can buy it at the same price at a retail store that they can get it online. That’s what it comes down to.”
MAP IS A NECESSARY TOOL TO KEEP THE PLAYING FIELD LEVEL.”
“What does (MAP) matter when the seller includes a free case and free shipping?” Hopson says. “So you load up on $40 to $50 worth of freebies and isn’t that kind of getting away from the whole intention of MAP pricing? If you have a price, that doesn’t mean you get to give all of this free stuff away. When you don’t enforce the freebies that people throw in, why do we have MAP pricing?” Lee also recognizes the importance of keeping a close eye on how others behave in this regard. His largest internet resellers love MAP policy in large part because they know Lee takes it upon himself to keep everybody straightened out. “Back in 2006, I had people say, ‘You’ll enforce this for a while then you’ll stop,’” Lee says. “I said, ‘No, I’m committing to this.’ I see that the horizon is where I want it to be; it helps protect our brand, the value of our products and those types of things. So I made sure that in 2006 from April on, I was very strict and found the guys that were violating and I kicked them off.” 38 | BCA INSIDER • NEW YEAR 2017
While manufacturers might find it less expensive to sell their goods online rather than in stores, what they might save in money, they could lose in additional sales because online shoppers don’t have the guidance of an experienced salesperson to answer questions about a product, which at times can be the difference when getting something sold— that reassurance that they’re buying the right thing. “I think at some point all of these manufacturers have to wake up and realize that as the brick-and-mortar stores drop off, they’re not going to have any business because you don’t have that one-on-one customer interaction,” Hopson says. “You don’t have a bunch of sales people educating customers on what to buy and showing them stuff and without that, they’re not going to sell any product.” Whether MAP is ultimately good for business or not looks to be an ongoing debate, but one thing it looks like most can agree on is at least there’s something out there to help level the playing field within the competitive industry that is the billiard retail business.
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DO PRO PLAYERS HELP DRIVE SALES IN STORES? By Al Williams Nike and Serena Williams. Under Armour and Tom Brady. Adidas and Derrick Rose. Rawlings and Alex Rodriguez. The impact of celebrity-brand sponsorship deals is huge. Kids who were born a decade after Michael Jordan left the Chicago Bulls still insist on buying the latest version of Nike’s iconic Jordan kicks. Beats by Dre headphones are cool not so much because of Dr. Dre himself, 40 | BCA INSIDER • NEW YEAR 2017
but rather celebrity athletes, including LeBron James, who endorse them. And imagine Wheaties without superstars and Olympic gold medalists. The so-called Breakfast of Champions would be nothing more than orange-boxed wheat flakes. LoreeJon Hasson gets it. She’s a billiards legend—a hall of famer and an eight-time world champion. Which is impressive, though not nearly as much as a superstar in a bigger sport.
“When Tiger Woods started playing with Nike golf clubs, every kid wanted Nike golf clubs,” says Hasson, whose youngest son is a golfer. “Does it help sales? It better.” Of course, that’s Tiger—a lofty example, to be sure. So, pulling that point down to earth and into the billiard industry, does a star athlete help push sales of tables and equipment? If a retailer brings top pros into the store for an event or promotion, do sales dramatically spike?
The basic answer, generally speaking, is no. Or at least not by much. But it really isn’t that simple. While retailers will generally tell you that working directly with pro pool players doesn’t dramatically increase sales, they’ll also point out that the buzz created by the relationship is valuable. What’s more, they’ll tell you that pro players are a largely untapped resource. With the right kind of exposure, pros—and the dealers, vendors and manufacturers whose products they represent—could effectively boost not only sales, but the sport itself. In July 2012, Erik Decious brought pro Charlie Williams to his Jacksonville store, the Billiard Factory. The idea was simple: Offer a free one-hour clinic to Billiard Factory customers, whom Decious refers to as “clients,” followed by a meet-and-greet and question-answer session, with the inquiries coming from people onsite and via social media. “The reception was great,” says Decious, noting that about 60 customers participated. The idea started via a friendship with Williams, and it was successful enough to warrant doing it again— and again, and again. Every four to six months, Decious brought in more pros: Ralph Eckert, Mika Immonen, Thorsten Hohmann, Jennifer Barretta, and Johnny Archer. The free clinics generally happened on a late Saturday afternoon, and were followed by a paid clinic the next day. The Sunday sessions were more exclusive and limited to eight participants. Decious, who believes sales are “driven by the relationships forged between retailer and client, and grown via word of mouth and referrals,” saw mixed results. On paper, the sessions weren’t a financial winner. (They weren’t a loser, either. Revenue from the paid Sunday clinics covered the cost of brining in the pro player.)
Tony Robles (center) has been a big draw for Blatt Billiards
BCAINSIDER.COM | 41
“While there may be a slight spike of accessories on the day of the clinic, I didn’t see enough of an increase to warrant accolades,” Decious says. “That being said, I do see the benefit towards long-term relationship building.” The sessions marketed the store well. They created excitement, and reinforced the Billiard Factory’s prominent standing in the pool industry. The Billiard Factory’s experience is a good case study for other retailers. Associating yourself with pro players in a meaningful way creates a strong impression of your brand. Look at it from the casual—or even serious—consumer’s point of view: If your store is connected enough to bring in the best players in the world, it must be the best source in town right? Hasson knows that from two perspectives: as a pro, and as a retailer. That’s because she is both. Hasson is co-owner of LoreeJon’s Pool Tables Plus in Greenville, South Carolina. In pro pool circles, she is legendary: Hasson has won 50 titles, including her first World Championship at age 15, young enough to land her in the Guinness Book of World Records.
son says, “All the time. I can’t even tell you how many times.” When it does, she says, the impact is noticeable. “My word becomes gospel because of who I am,” Hasson says. “People look and say, ‘She’s in the Hall of Fame? She’s an eight-time world champion? Of course I’m going to buy a pool table here, and not down the street.’” Obviously, Hasson’s situation is unique. Few store owners pack her star power. But her basic finding is not unusual: Professional pool players carry a lot of influence—but they need to be positioned to use it. “If professional players were more active in the marketing of the game and the equipment, that would help,” says Steve Roeder, who is part of the family that owns Blatt Billiards.
pact on traditional shops. Not only can consumers purchase new tables, equipment and accessories online; they can also shop for used gear as well. Even manufacturers who for decades could sell only through traditional stores have now bypassed retailers and are selling direct to consumers. At this point, that’s a long-held and larger issue, but smart and collaborative use of professional players could benefit all involved, Roeder says. “The brick-and-mortars would support the pros more if they (the pros) were more involved in the promotion of it,” he says. “They should go hand-in-hand: pros, their products, brick-and-mortar stores, as a team.We don’t seem to get that.” Nor is it a simple challenge to solve. One of the most cost-effective ways to get a pro in your store is working with a company that sponsors the athlete, and therefore pays most or all of the expense. At a glance, that’s enticing. For minimal to no cash investment, you get a star athlete in your store, and all of the buzz-induced branding that comes with it.
DO I NEED PRO POOL TO MAKE IT BIG? YEAH, I DO.”
At her store, Hasson works the sales floor, teaches one-on-one lessons, and leads clinics for small groups. A couple times a year, she also holds larger events to benefit charities such as the American Red Cross. She is a built-in celebrity—a resident pro—for her own store. Customers who know the sport understand her significance already. But her champion street cred also entices new customers, including those who casually stroll in, and have no idea that this store is owned by an icon of the sport. Asked if people ever happen upon the store, and then learn who she is, Has42 | BCA INSIDER • NEW YEAR 2017
Blatt sells high-end tables to high-dollar customers and has a long list of celebrity clients. The company has stores in Manhattan, New Jersey and Dallas. It has occasionally run open-house events at which professionals shoot pool “to keep excitement going for the evening,” Roeder says. “That helps tremendously. Interacting with a pro markets the game as well.” Years ago, Roeder says, “there was tremendously more interaction” between pro players and “brick-andmortar stores.” What changed? A few factors. Among them: Some equipment companies who sponsor pros began marketing them differently, and with less connection to physical stores. Online shopping, of course, has wielded a huge im-
“In a perfect world, the vendor would send their sponsored pro on a tour to select retailers, who in turn would do their part to bring in their local clients,” Decious says. “We are a rare industry where the pros can mingle with non-pros. (We) might as well figure out how to take advantage of it.” Roeder echoed Decious’ thoughts. “For the future of the industry it’s important that the pros and brick-andmortar stores work together,” he says. “But when they do, it’s vital that vendors support the store.” Roeder once had an experience where a cue company brought in a pro but
then sold direct to customers—a goround that effectively cut out Blatt’s sales opportunity. “When they support the brick-and-mortar store, it absolutely helps,” he says. “When they go around us, they hurt.” And even when people do buy chalk, a cue or some other lower-priced item in association with a pro-player promotion, the financial benefit is lukewarm at best. “I think the main obstacle is that both vendors and retailers are seeking instant gratification for the effort, which translates to instantly increased sales,” Decious says. “And that is difficult to do when the patch worn by the pro promotes a brand of tip or chalk. It takes a lot of sales of those products to equate to a shuffleboard, pool table, or higher-end ping pong and foosball tables.” After mulling the key question—How do pro players influence sales?—Decious reframes the premise. “Maybe the real question should be: ‘How can professional players impact large-ticket retail sales?’” he says. “To that end I would note that there is room for improvement between vendor, retailer and client.”
enthusiasm. BCA education programs, she says, should include information on the sport’s hall of famers. When pool is televised, she adds, it should be shown live, not on tape. “Until we are on television live, our sport will stay stagnant the rest of my life,” she says. “Even if it is ESPN3, it’s exciting because it is happening right then and there. Do you think I really care about tournaments that were taped five, six months ago and they’re being shown now? Who’s going to watch that? They already know the outcome.” Do that, she says, and there will be more value placed on professional players. That, in turn, will recruit more people to play pool, look up to its stars, and generate sales that keep stores— and the sport—healthy and viable. “Do I need pro pool to make it big?” she says. “Yeah, I do. Then more people want to play pool and buy pool tables.”
Hasson, from her dual perspective, has a solution. It’s one that addresses what she feels is a systemic problem in the sport of pool, and it’s admittedly a difficult one to implement. It’s one that harkens back to her Tiger Woods example. Kids watch him play; kids want his clubs.
“We need pro pool to be shown on television,” she says, “so every little kid in America says, ‘I want to be like this person.’” From the governing bodies down, Hasson wants to see the sport, and its stars, promoted with more energy and
Johnny Archer BCAINSIDER.COM | 43
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THE NEXT GENERATION By Lynn Switanowski Who are the next generation of customers for your billiard business? Retail experts say that the landscape of retail will change more in the next five years than it has in the last 50 years combined. Is your billiard business ready for the future? And who are the customers that will be creating the future for your business? Let’s talk about the two key groups of your future customers so that you can learn more about how to create marketing messages that will reach them effectively. Starting with Gen Y. The Generation Y shoppers (also known as Millennials) are no longer the crazy kids who know all about helping their parents program their cell phones. The oldest members of Gen Y are near the prime of their careers (and with that, the prime of their spending years) and are nearly 37 years old this year. The Gen Y “kids” are having their own kids, and along with that, the house that has all that “space” for billiard equipment and accessories. This generation is looking to spend money on experiences and things that enhance their lives, and their kids’ lives, time and time again. This generation is connected to the internet all the time and uses it for everything including making big purchas46 | BCA INSIDER • NEW YEAR 2017
es—so how can your billiard business market via the internet and social media to connect with this generation of connected customers? If you’re not adapting modern marketing methods—at least two social media platforms that are updated two to three times per day—as well as a regularly updated (and mobile friendly) website along with text messaging campaigns, then you’re falling really far behind to reach the Gen Y customers. Early in 2017, start planning for your billiard business to create marketing programs that reach this generation that has money to spend. Don’t miss sales opportunities for your billiard business because you’re not ready to connect using new platforms and tools. After the Gen Y generation comes Generation Z. Born between 1996 and 2010, this generation may be too young to purchase some of your products today, but you should know that by 2020, it will be the largest group of shoppers worldwide. With this large amount of future purchasing power coming to this important generation, now is the time to learn more about them and their shopping patterns in order to prepare to sell to them in the near future.
The biggest thing to know about Gen Z shoppers is that they are in a constant state of “partial attention.” They were literally born with a wireless device in their hands and know how to use it for everything—that’s no joke! In terms of marketing messages for these two key generations, remember that they have grown up and definitely expect to have online experiences with the brands they want to purchase from. The key to reaching Y’s and Z’s today, and in the future, is for your billiard business to create multiple online experiences to connect. This includes an engaging social media platform, at least two sites where you post updates two to three times per day, a text messaging program to directly connect with them, and an interactive website updated on a regular basis offering problem-solving, video enhancement, etc. We leave you with this thought. Connecting with your customers via a new enhanced online platform will create a longer-lasting engagement and shared experiences that will cultivate sales for your business. Don’t be afraid to harness the power of the online experience to reach the next generation of shoppers for your billiard business—no matter what generation they come from.
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*Special Thanks to Kim Heacock-Morrison of International Bil iards in Houﬆon for Sharing a Day in Her Life 48 | BCA INSIDER • NEW YEAR 2017
COMING NEXT ISSUE... 10 COMMANDMENTS OF CUSTOMER SERVICE THE ART OF UPSELLING
BCA Insider is a BCA members-only publication dedicated to the success of businesses in the billiard and home leisure industries.
Published on Jan 30, 2017
BCA Insider is a BCA members-only publication dedicated to the success of businesses in the billiard and home leisure industries.