In this series of articles I will describe the steps I took to go from dreaming about my pool hall to opening the doors.
So you want to open a pool hall, where do you begin?
The answer is both simple and complex.
Like building anything you start with a plan. You can’t bypass this step. A well thought out business plan becomes your action plan. It guides you through the planning phase and is your reference during your crucial opening phase. And yes, there is a difference between having it in your head and putting it on paper. Writing it down is the first step in moving from dreaming to executing.
Start with envisioning your concept. Who are you targeting? Young, hip urbanites looking for a night out? Serious players with a business built around leagues and tournaments? These are very different market segments and have differing needs and wants in a pool hall. What about decor? Are you a family room or more upscale? To what degree will food and alcohol play in your concept? The point is start by writing down what your concept is and who you are going to target. Be as detailed as possible. Describe the type of people you want to attract, what your pool hall looks like, how you envision a typical evening unfolding.Your vision drives all your next steps. Its also the first page of your business plan!
Now that you have your vision on paper, focus on getting an informed sense of what will be your biggest recurring expense; rent. If its young, urban social players you want then perhaps a downtown, or trendy part of town is your best location. Learn about rents in your ideal area. Talk to as many commercial real-estate agents as you can. Share your concept and get their input on rent costs. Have them show you available spaces. Like house hunting, you need to see several spaces to get a sense of the market. And remember, there is always another site. Don’t get emotionally attached to any particular one at this early stage.
Next, talk to the building department. What permits are needed for a pool hall? Usually a Public Assembly license is required and possibly a variance. What other zoning requirements does the town have? Most certainly you will need automatic sprinklers to get a Public Assembly license. Does your prospective locations have that? What other codes need to be considered?
Also, some towns do not allow public assembly below grade level, so if your ideal site is in a basement, or you think you’ll use the basement for a private party room, check with the building dept. to make sure that is a legal use. There may be parking restrictions as well. By definition, Public Assembly causes traffic concerns and that includes parking. Speak to the Fire Marshall and Health Dept. What permits or sign-offs do you need from them. Even if food is a small part of your concept the Health Dept. will still be involved. You can get a lot of this off the web, but I recommend visiting in person. I did just that and met lots of people willing to hear about my business and provide guidance on the permitting process.
Last but not least is the Liquor License. The requirements can vary by state. In NY where I am located, there was an extensive background check before I was issued one. There are most likley location restrictions such as proximity to other bars in the area, how close are homes, schools, churches, etc. You can get this information from your state liquor authority website or speak to a lawyer specializing in liquor licenses.
This bring into question the aspect of timing. How long does it take to get all these permits? Days, weeks, months? Getting answers to these questions is crucial. Will the landlord give you free rent until all your permits are in? If the answer is no and you are paying rent for 6 months to a years before you open will have a big impact on your start-up funding requirements.
Don’t think all these issues are moot if you buy an existing pool hall. Check with the necessary authorities and make sure the place you are buying is in compliance. Nothing could be worse that buying a pool hall to find out the previous owner does not have the necessary permits and the building dept. shuts you down in 6 months.
Knowledge is power. It empowers you to keep moving forward with your dream and gives you negotiating power with banks, investors, landlords, and sellers.
I hope you found this article useful. Again, my complete business plan is available at www.poolhallbusinessplan.com. At this site you can also schedule a 1-on-1 consultation with me to talk specifically about your business if you like.
Owner, The Hub Billiard Club
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