Shooting for Cue Sales

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Sales managers and their employees are all aware of the fact that simply setting up some spas on the showroom floor and sitting back waiting for orders to roll in is a recipe for quick failure. Selling spas requires knowing the product, knowing the customer, and knowing how to bring the two together. Does the customer want a spa for relaxing, hydrotherapy or a bit of both. What's the customer's budget. Are kids or seniors involved. Try to sell a customer more (or less) than they need and you're likely to lose that customer for good.

These salespeople, however, don't always apply the same sales techniques and simple logic to all the products in the store. One prime example of a product that doesn't get enough attention is moderate to high-priced billiard cues, according to manufacturers.

"Our history with pool and spa people is, with pool accessories they just want to put our product in there and let it do what it does without any work behind it to try to sell it," says Barry Hart of Viking Cue Mfg. in Madison, Wis. His father, Gordon, began making cues in his basement over 40 years ago, so Hart basically grew up in the industry and says he's seen cue sales get the short shrift for years.

"If you're selling a high-end pool cue you have to put a Sho ting for Cue Sales 8 What you should know about selling billiard cues little work into it, just like you would with a table," he adds. "But a lot of the salespeople don't want to spend the time and they'll just say, 'There's a cue over there,' and put a lot of time into the table and not work on the cues at all."

These salespeople are, in effect, leaving money on the table. How, then, can a dealership ramp up cue sales. It's that same simple combination of getting to know the customer and the product and putting a little effort into it that's behind successful spa selling.

"With anything it falls back to the commitment of the retailer," says Eric Weber, vice president of CueStix International, a Lafayette, Colo., wholesaler that carries 20 brands, including Viking, Lucasi, Joss and CueTec. "The ones who are really committed to it figure out ways to make it work. Then there are people who just throw it in there offhandedly and don't give it much concern or thought, and not surprisingly those places don't do all that well.

"It's something that, even though it's an off-season situation, you have to give it some serious forethought as to what you're doing. You can't just put it in there and hope it flies out the door."


One problem, manufacturers say, is that salespeople are often reluctant to steer customers toward expensive cues, fearing they'll look like they're just trying to separate them from more of their money. Actually, that is sometimes the case, because not every customer should buy an expensive cue. Again, it comes back to knowing the customer's wants, needs and household.

"I hate to keep sounding this horn, and I know sometimes our customers don't want to hear it, but somebody who's not playing pool and is just putting a table in for the first time, I don't necessarily know that they need to have a $400 pool cue," says Weber. "So in some cases, I don't know that that's where you need to go and it does come off as just an upsell, because it's not much more than that.

"Especially if the kids are going to be banging around with it, playing swords, that kind of thing."

And, according to the Sporting Goods Manufacturers Association, it's kids that make up about a third of the billiards market today.

"If you have a kid and he's 10 years old and says, 'Hey, daddy, I want to play pool,' you may not want to invest $500 in a cue for him," says Janet Shimel, former president of J-S Sales Company in Elmsford, N.Y. (See sidebar on page 116.) "You say, 'This may be a fad, so let's buy you this cue now and see how you do.' So you may buy him a cue for $30 or $40, and if he gives it up in two weeks it's not the end of your life, and if he continues with it and says, 'Gee, I love this,' you give him a good one for his birthday."

This holds true for many adult players, too, according to Shimel. "You know, not everyone has the $150 or $200 to say, 'This is my first cue. Let me see if I can get the balls into the pocket. If I can, then I'm going to come back for another one. If I can't then I'll take up golf next week,'" Shimel says.

Weber agrees with Shimel about the wisdom of selling less-expensive cues to some customers because of the trust it generates, which can increase the probability of earning a customer who'll be more than a one-time shopper. He's quick to point out, though, that dealers have plenty of opportunities to sell to customers who are absolutely willing and able to spend more to get more.

"If there's somebody who's interested in pool and interested in playing competitively or interested even in getting better inside the house so that they can kick all their neighbors' [butts], then there's a legitimate way the door opens to make that upsell and there's legitimate selling points that you can manage," Weber says. "So, again, if you're just trying to foist a more-expensive product on somebody, that's going to be apparent. Now, if there's an opening to do it, there are ways to move those higherpriced cues, which any smart retailer will understand."

Best Of The Best

For some people, the idea of buying an expensive pool table and using cheap cues on it is simply out of the question. It's like a person who buys a $12,000 hot tub. Are they going to want to surround it with tiki torches from Target?

"Money's not an issue for him. He's got an expensive table and he wants to show off that room and everything he can do with it," says Hart, whose company makes cues that start at $160 and average upwards of $500. "But some places will have expensive tables here and there and they won't even think about it. 'Oh, yeah. You need cues for that pool table, don't you?'"

Hart's advice: Sell the tables and accessories in a package, but make sure not to slip shoddy cues in with it.

"A lot of the spa companies, they're out there selling quality products, and they sell a package to somebody with cheap imports," Hart explains. "They'll use $8 or $10 cues that they say are $80 or $100 cues, then three months down the line the customer will say, 'I want a better cue now.' Is he going to those guys to get it. No. He's going to find another place. Those cheap cues aren't doing the job. He's looking at the package, saying, 'I spent all this money on a pool table and this is what I get. I'm going somewhere else.'

"Some dealers we've talked to are open to the idea of using a Viking cue as a value-added promotion. If you've got a high-priced table, there's enough margin in there to do that."

The Difference

While a one-piece bar room cue can't compare with cues that cost many times more in playability or aesthetics, what's the difference between a cue that costs, say, $100 and one that costs five times that or more. (For an overview of the parts of a good cue and what makes it good, see "Breaking Down the Pool Cue" on page 112.) "Expensive cues are generally more expensive because of the cosmetics," Shimel explains. "It does not make the cue play any better whether there are 10 pieces of something inlaid into the bottom half of the cue or there are 25 pieces. The only part that's important is the top 20 inches, give or take.

"It's the same with tables. Once you reach a sort of bottom threshold of being a slate table with genuine this and professional that, the rest of it is cosmetics. So once you're at, say, $3,000, there's no real playing difference between that and a $30,000 table. It's a cosmetic issue."

Sales Strategy

As for what sort of pricing strategy works best, all the experts AQUA spoke with stressed that in general, a single price-point strategy can't be counted on to work in all cases.

"It's all over the board, but there are some generalities," Weber says. "The cues that are moving more these days are on the less-expensive side, because of the pricing pressure from the imports. But not completely. Again, it's all over the board. For every store that sells the less-expensive cues there's one that sells the domestic stuff in the mid-hundreds.

"It's really part of store strategy and what kind of clientele they have. Sometimes it doesn't make sense to have $100 cues in there. Sometimes it's got to be a $400 cue from Milwaukee. It depends on the strategy and how you're going to execute that strategy.

"But the one thing I can say is that people who have a strategy do better than those who don't." When formulating your strategy, remember that it's the customer who matters most and getting them to fall in love with the game and keep coming back is the real goal.

"The most important thing we can do is to try and set the hook with a love for the game," Hart says. "Get the customer vitally involved in the game.

"You don't have to work hard to get somebody vitally interested in a spa. Those things automatically give you what you're looking for. But pool is a very challenging game. I try to get my dealers to get their customers to love the game. Once they do, they'll understand more about better equipment and the necessity of having it."

Breaking Down The Pool Cue

A closer look at the anatomy of a cue.

Many billiards novices don't know a thing about pool cues, their experience having been limited to warped one-piece sticks in a neighbor's basement or at countless bars across the country. But they've doubtless seen people playing with much better equipment — usually in a nice case — that they'll pull out, put together, then proceed to beat the pants off everyone in the bar. It's the equipment, people.

But what makes those cues better than plain old sticks. They look better, certainly, but if you're going to sell them in your store you'd better have a deeper appreciation of them than that. Following is a glossary of terms cue manufacturers use, courtesy of Delong Cues (, a maker of custom cues and distributor of a wide range of cues from other manufacturers.

bumper: The bumper is made of rubber, and helps to prevent the butt from becoming damaged.

butt: The butt is the rear half of the pool cue.

butt plate: The butt plate is generally made of hard plastic. Sometimes referred to as "butt cap," it serves to cap the end of the butt.

butt sleeve: The butt sleeve is the section of the butt between the wraps and the butt plate. It is often adorned with ornamental designs or inlaid woodwork for purely artistic purposes, though sometimes decals or paint are used.

cue length and weight: Pool cues come in varying lengths and weights. Most cues are between 57- and 59 inches long and weigh between 18 and 21 ounces.

ferrule: The ferrule helps prevent the shaft from splintering due to repeated impact with the cue ball during play. Ferrules are generally made of hard composites or plastics. The ferrule design and material affects the playability of the pool cue.

forearm: The forearm is the section of the butt between the joint and the wraps. It is the primary place for the cue maker to showcase his or her artistic skills. Less-expensive cues may use decals or paint for adornment.

joint: The joint connects the two halves of a pool cue, the shaft and the butt. The male joint half generally consists of a joint collar and a wood, brass or stainless-steel threaded pin tat screws into the female joint half of the shaft. The female joint half generally comprises a threaded receptacle to accept the joint pin, and the joint collar. This receptacle can be a brass or plastic insert in the shaft, or the wood of the shaft itself. The joint type affects the feel of the cue's hit.

joint collar: The joint collar is technically part of a cue's joint. It serves to protect the wood near the joint from cracking. Some cues do not have joint collars. Collars are commonly made from plastic, phenolic resin, brass or stainless steel.

shaft: The shaft is the front half of the pool cue. Shafts are generally made from maple. The shaft wood itself makes a large difference in how a cue plays, and how well it resists warping. Top-quality shafts take years to make. The cue maker will slowly shape the shaft, allowing the wood to rest for months between small passes on a lathe and chemical treatment.

tip: The tip of a pool cue is typically made of leather. It is the part of the cue that makes contact with the cue ball. Tips come in varying hardnesses, and are either solid or layered. Layered tips are made of several thin pieces of leather that are laminated together for durability.

wrap: The wrap of a pool cue is so-named because nylon or Irish linen threads are wrapped around this area of the butt. This is where the cue is held. Irish linen is frequently used since it is capable of absorbing moisture during tense play. Wraps can also be leather, rubber or plastic. Not all cues have wraps.

— B.K.

Two Players In Pool Market Merge

New company to offer lines of billiard tables, accessories.

In September, two well-known companies in the billiards industry, Imperial International and J-S Sales, merged. The new concern will use the name Imperial-JS.

Mike DiMotta, president of Imperial International, will assume the same role with the newly formed company, which will be based in Imperial's home of Hasbrouck Heights, N.J. Janet Shimel, a self-professed industry "old-timer" who formerly served as president of J-S Sales, will remain with Imperial-JS as a consultant and goodwill ambassador.

"The merger of Imperial and JS brings more than 110 years of combined knowledge of service and supply to the billiard industry into one organization," DiMotta said in a press release.

As a result of the merger, the J-S location in Elmsford, N.Y., will close. The new Imperial-JS will ship from its New Jersey location as well as ones in Illinois and California.

— B.K.

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