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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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June: When Opportunity Knocks
June 2020

The recent announcement by the Billiard Congress of America that the 2020 BCA Expo would be cancelled due to continued uncertainty as to how and when America will come out of the coronavirus pandemic was no surprise. Concerns over exhibitor costs versus returns, retailer attendance and buying power, and, of course, health and safety were more than enough to justify halting the Expo’s 36-year run.

Having attended every Expo since the inaugural gathering in Fort Worth, Texas, in 1984, I am sorely disappointed that the streak has been interrupted. It is the one chance each year to see many of the industry’s longtime exhibitors, retailers and room owners.

One of the people I always enjoy seeing and chatting with is Steve Orner from Indianapolis. Perpetually tanned and with the physique of a bodybuilder, Orner is hard to miss on the Expo floor. He, along with his brother Tom, is a second-generation owner of Orner Billiards, a bustling retail store started by his father Jay more than 50 years ago. Few retailers have their fingers on the pulse of the billiard and home recreation market like Steve Orner. When he’s at the Expo, he’s all business, buzzing around the show floor, briefcase in hand, inspecting every booth and kicking every tire.

Not surprisingly, Orner was one of the retailers I called recently to find out how his business was holding up and what he thought of the Expo cancellation. It was also not surprising to find out that his business has rebounded from a subpar March to post strong sales in April and May. His take on surviving the pandemic and his optimism going forward was encouraging and logical.

“We’ve been fortunate,” Orner said modestly. “Our website was very active. We were selling products, including tables, sight unseen. We were getting emails and phone calls for orders at all hours of the day and night. That’s the benefit of having a good reputation in the area.”

And looking forward, Orner was predictably confident.

“There is an opportunity for this industry to grow again,” he said. “Home entertainment is going to be a premium going forward. People are going to be staying home more.

“There are going to be ups and downs. As a business, you can whine and not order product, or you can stick with it. My thought is to not be afraid. I’m willing to take the gamble because I believe we have an opportunity here.”

Of course, he is right. Life coming out of COVID-19 is going to be different. Americans will strain to get out from lockdown. Mass assembly is likely to give way to smaller, more intimate gatherings. Family will come first again. More people are likely to continue working from home.

And they will be looking for ways to keep stimulated and entertained.

This isn’t some ghoulish suggestion that the billiard industry take advantage of people’s fears or limitations. This is recognition that the billiard and home recreation business can increase its relevancy and grow by doing what it does best — give people outlets to play games and have fun.

And this is an opportunity that doesn’t require the industry to change. (No, I will not stoop to using the already overused new buzzword. You know, the one that rhymes with “divot” but starts with a “p.”) We simply have to keep doing what we do.

But what the industry does need to do is work on a unified plan to market billiards and home recreation. The upcoming BCA VirtuALL Expo is a great start. (See pg. 30.) Educating retailers and room owners on how to recover from the current crisis is critical. But there is opportunity to do even more. No, not a “Got Pool?” campaign! But a well-crafted message that manufacturers, retailers and room owners can use to draw Americans’ attention to the fact that we offer exactly the types of products and services that are perfect fits for their slightly adjusted lifestyles.

My friend Steve is pretty savvy and aggressive. He battled through the rugged early ’80s and disastrous late 2000s, and he came out stronger each time. No doubt he will once again. And so can the entire industry.

Be like Steve.

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