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From the Publisher
By Mike Panozzo
Mike became editor of Billiards Digest in 1980 and liked it so much that he bought the company. He has served on the Billiard Congress of America board of directors and as president of the Billiard & Bowling Institute of America.

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August: Where Do We Go From Here?
August 2018

As much as I love the sport side of the billiard industry, Iíve always enjoyed the business side just as much. Itís a dynamic business, with manufacturers, distributors, brick and mortar retail locations and poolrooms making up a unique distribution chain.

Oddly enough, the sport side of pool hasnít changed a bit over the 38 years Iíve been involved. I could pull out tournament stories and editorials from 20 years ago, and theyíd fit right into todayís state of pool.

Not so with the business side of pool. For a variety of reasons, from consolidation and production costs to the Internet and video games, the billiard business has under massive chance over the past 25 years. Hardly a surprise, given that so many mature businesses went through similar changes during that period.

The recent Billiard Congress of America Billiard and Home Leisure Expo in New Orleans, the 34th rendition of the industryís annual trade gathering, was a stark reminder of just how much the business side of billiards has, indeed, changed.

Of course, the most obvious reality is that the industry has shrunk at every level. The number of retail stores devoted primarily to the sale of billiard products has dipped well below 1,000, and the number of poolrooms continues to dwindle. Most shocking, however, is the virtual evaporation of American manufacturers producing billiard products. The size of the 2018 BCA Expo was not much different than the size of the inaugural BCA Expo in 1984, held in Fort Worth, Texas. The 2018 Expo featured 74 exhibitors and 800 or so retail buyers. The 1984 BCA Trade Show had 70 exhibitors, 500 retail buyers and more than 100 poolrooms represented.

The differences? Less than half of the exhibitors in 2018 displayed what I consider to be core billiard products (tables, cues and accessories), and only a handful actually manufacture in the U.S. In 1984, the trade show was almost entirely billiard products, and featured dozens of table makers and cue makers manufacturing in the U.S.

Now, I have nothing against other home gameroom and leisure products being shown and marketed at the BCA Expo. And I understand the proliferation of overseas manufacturing of billiard products. But, having attended all 34 industry trade shows, I barely feel like Iím in the billiard industry any longer.

That was only one of the observations that stuck with me following the three-day showcase in New Orleans. The majority of discussion regarding the show centered on buyer traffic ó or the lack thereof. The party line, as has been the case in recent years, is that the buyers that attended the expo, while few in numbers, were the industryís top dealers and were there to spend money.

For the most part, that is true. The buyers who took the time to attend rolled the aisles like shoppers at midnight on Thanksgiving. They had ample time to wade through booths and more than enough leverage to assure themselves great deals.

But for every store that was represented in New Orleans, there were six or seven that werenít. Naturally, no trade show is going to get 100 percent attendance from its buying universe, but with the billiard pie becoming smaller each year, it seems more important than ever that the BCA and its members find ways to draw greater attendance.

In the past, itís been thought that a mix of sites would tempt buyers, but the light turnout in New Orleans was a telling sign. Not having been to the always-popular Big Easy since 2002, the BCA held out hope that a return to the city, coupled with the claims that the billiard business has rebounded, would spark more interest than recent dalliances with Louisville and suburban Chicago. Instead, it was clear that only Las Vegas creates a spike in attendance.

With sites not impacting attendance, discussion in New Orleans turned to the season selected for the annual Expo. Although the first BCA trade shows were in May, the dates shifted to July when the Expo became big enough to demand Las Vegas as a destination. Settling on July was a purely financial decision, with mid-summer convention dates offering the most favorable exhibit hall prices.

Proponents of moving the Expo to spring dates trumpet the need to attract the coveted and powerful pool and spa retailers (reportedly purchasers of more than half of the pool tables sold in the U.S.), who are too busy selling pools to leave their businesses in July.

Would a shift in dates do the trick? Spring dates would likely result in higher exhibit hall and hotel rates around the country, but it is probably still worth the gamble. Something has to push more buyers into the aisles.

What else could help? How about making a more concerted effort to re-connect with poolroom owners. Lord knows they can use some guidance in their struggle to stay relevant. And the promise of a hundred or so room owners would open the door to an entirely new category of potential exhibitors.

Either way, itís time that the BCA and its members get creative and even take a few risks. Rightfully so, the association tries to run every expo ďon budget.Ē Problem is, it continually budgets for smaller shows and appears satisfied with ďmeeting budget.Ē Itís time to gamble a little before we meet budget of zero.