Podcast Interview: Starting a Pool Hall Business

    Matt Thomas, creator of the StartingABiz.com website and podcast was kind enough to invite me onto his show. We spent about 30 minutes talking through the steps of opening a billiards business, about getting funding for your pool hall, choosing a location, bringing in the most lucrative players, bringing in pool tournaments, follow-up marketing, hiring a manager and employees, and much more.

  Here's the link to the podcast and transcript of the interview. I hope you find the information useful. 




Room Layout, Design and Operation - Part 2

In part two of this series on room layout, design and operation, I  discuss table placement, lighting, and cue lockers.

Table Placement

Most building are rectangular or a coupling of rectangles, and most rooms place their tables in a line. This looks neat but can also look impersonal and cold. "Impersonal and cold" do not equal "comfortable."

Support beams, or a little daring, have lead some owners to place their tables in a herringbone pattern. Some customers find this "kinda neat" because it is different but sometimes lose their sense of "territory." Players at a table have a need to think about easily defined space as being their space.  They don't react comfortably to intrusions, which is why traffic lanes shouldn't interfere with players. A herringbone pattern makes their space hard to define. Rows, then, have proved better. I have rows on my main floor which has 15 tables, and a herring bone formation on our second floor where we have only  five tables. With the extra space on the second floor the issue of "territory" is not a problem.

In a large area there will be tables that are not visually anchored by a wall. That is, they will have other tables on all sides. If possible, this should be avoided. Most people sleep with their backs toward their partners, not because they dislike them, but because it's a primitive instinct to have your back protected so no one "outside" can sneak up on you. Tables without a wall close by suffer the same fate, and are usually the least popular.

If your room is large enough to have "floating" tables, it pays to erect privacy walls. These can be anything from a three-foot railing to an actual wall five feet tall. Make them sturdy enough so someone doesn't knock it over, or place the tables and chairs in such a way that no one can lean against it.

Avoid isolating pairs or trios of tables, as the mind conceives of its territory as an area that's large, and players on the next table violet "our" territory. One, two or three tables work in a private room, however, because the group playing is a cohesive unit (a league, a company, etc.), and psychologically takes group possession of the territory.

The better players will usually choose the table in front of the counter. In some cases, it's because they don't want to be thought of as part of the crowd "out there." They want to be thought of as the "in" players.

To make them comfortable, place one (or two if you an 18+ table room) tables in a prominent position along the counter (lengthwise if possible). Others can sit at the counter and watch, and newer players can join the spectators comfortably, bringing them closer to the "in" group. This is the table where your daily regulars will play. They will also be better players so you can have tighter, regulation pockets, though nothing extreme. 

If your area has a history of of involvement in in snooker or billiards, and your room is large enough, you should consider a table for each. An American snooker table is 5 x10 feet, while he international standard is 6 x 12 feet. The standard billiard table is 5 x 10.

Now that the 4 1/2 x 9-foot pool table has become the international standard it makes sense to include a standard snooker table as well. The problem s that a 12-foot table is both intimidating and takes up lots of space. If you have much of a cosmopolitan market, a 12-foot snooker table is profitable. Customers who have lived in Great Britain, Ireland, Hong Kong, Canada, Australia, and India will not play on a 10-foot snooker table. In some sections of the U.S., the same is true.

For the most part however, a 10-foot snooker table will be used by people for the game of "golf." This is very popular in some areas and unpopular in others. Local research will give you information for your room.

Much the same can be said for 3-Cushion billiards. Customers of Latin, Asian and French descent prefer billiards, and its popular in specific cities in the United States. 

Snooker, golf, and billiard players are specialists who usually prefer their game exclusively, and will not occupy pool tables. They will, however, spend extended periods of time playing their game. If you have them in your area they are good, steady business, but if you don't already have them, then adding a table will probably not attract many new players.

If you have a market, table placement for snooker and billiards should cater to their somewhat "elitist" or "outsider" feelings. Since the tables are a different size than the rest of your tables it is natural and desirable to somewhat segregate them from the regular customers. An alcove or corner are ideal locations.

From time to time the people involved with snooker and billiards make an attempt to popularize their games in the U.S. This has produced a sudden but temporary demand in the past, but has yet to produce general popularity outside of already established locales.

Table Lights

Traditionally, table lights are suspended from the ceiling, and the distance from the bottom of the lightbulb/tube to the table surface is 36 inches.

Lights on a standard nine-foot table are usually five or six feet long, though lengths up to eight feet have been used. The problem with longer length is that people either bump their heads or hit the end with their cue tips. The old lighting source was incandescent bulbs, but cheaper and energy efficient fluorescents have been the favorite for the last several years.

Table lighting is very important. If the wrong light is used, eye fatigue sets in and table time decreases. If the light is not strong enough, shots are missed, especially by players over 40 years old, and playing time is decreased. Too much light can cause strain.

Incandescent light baulks throw harsher shadows, but perk up the colors on the balls and cloth. They burn hotter but you don't have to contend with ballasts. 

Florescent light tubes look cheaper, but throw a softer, even light on the table. They take less electricity, but create an "industrial" type light that is less comfortable.

As you can see, lighting is subjective, making it difficult to state a hard and fast rule. Personally, I use four fixture table lights on my 9-foot tables, with CFC lift bulbs. Specifically I use "daylight" bulbs. They seem to be a great compromise between incandescent and florescent tubes, saving on electricity cost while throwing off an even, appealing light.

Though some rooms have have had their light custom made to match their decor, there are so many attractive table light housings available that you'll save money and still get what you want by ordering from the manufacturer or through your billiard supply wholesaler.

Cue Lockers 

About 15 percent of existing rooms have cue lockers. Most are rented on a six-month or yearly basis, though a few do provide them for free.

The concept was created to encourage players to keep their cue sat the room and therefore play there more often. If there are other rooms in town, this is an excellent idea.

Cue lockers take up a minimum amount of space. More than one room uses a four-foot dividing wall as a place to build their cue lockers. If you have some type of awkward alcove or too wide/narrow area, you can put the cue lockers there. 

Each should have its own key, and none should be duplicated. One master key should be kept in the cash register and another locked in the owner's desk. Signs should be prominently posted, disclaiming any responsibility for theft or damage.

Rates, surprisingly, vary quite a bit on cue lockers. They range from free to $50 per year. A more common range averages averages out to $2 a month.

The number of lockers you have will probably be determined by your space rather than by need, as it's not a big profit center. It does encourage use of your room, however, and can build traffic at your tables.

Each locker only needs to be 36 inches tall and about 5 inches square at the base. Some have made them taller and wider to accommodate cue cases. That would mean 40" tall, with a base of 6" x 6".

Cue lockers are an under-utilized and under promoted asset. A room without them could lose thousands of dollars every year. How many regular players have thought about playing, then realized they didn't have their cue with them and decide to skip it? How many occasional players who own cues become regular players because their cue was housed at your room>

The rental fees are the smallest part of the income you receive by having cue lockers. The real profit comes from the regular play that they encourage. As a rough guideline, have 1.5 cue lockers per table. If you are a good promoter and understand their value, up the trio to 3:1.