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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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July: Virtual Reality
July 2020

Make no mistake about it, some billiard and home recreation businesses will not survive the economic wasteland that 2020 has become. Retail outlets and poolrooms have been paralyzed for too long. And reopening has been anything but normal, with the recovery spigot reduced to dribbles by restrictions and an understandably cautious public.

But the billiard and home recreation business will survive, and, in many ways, it will be stronger going forward. As business experts will tell you, crisis brings opportunity. It brings resourcefulness. It brings togetherness.

It’s difficult to avoid the new buzzword, “pivot,” because it describes how businesses adapt to roadblocks. It is what businesses do to reposition themselves or create another way to reach customers. It is liquor companies making hand sanitizer and apparel companies making masks. It’s pool players competing in ghost tournaments.

Virtually every facet of the billiard business has seen traditional paths to its customers blocked during the coronavirus pandemic, and they’ve been forced to find new ways to reach those customers. Businesses are being pushed and challenged. For many, those new paths have involved technology, a word the billiard industry has long avoided like, well, like a virus. Today, however, the industry is learning that technology isn’t a boogeyman, and even the most jaded manufacturer, retailer, room owner and player has found his or her way to their audience through social media and trendy new applications like Zoom meetings.

One of the most visible means through which the billiard industry is utilizing technology to forge ahead will be the 2020 Billiard Congress of America VirtuALL Expo, an online trade show that will replace the scuttled annual physical expo in Las Vegas. (See related story, page 38.)

While hundreds of trade shows have been cancelled in 2020, offering no alternative for its members and industries, the BCA made the bold decision to come up with a way to bring its buyers and sellers together in a virtual business setting.

Working through its expo marketing partner, Meeting Expectations, the BCA settled on an online platform that will allow billiard and home recreation retailers and poolroom owners to sit in on live educational seminars and to watch video sales pitches from the manufacturers and distributors that traditionally occupy the booths at the annual BCA Expo.

Is the concept of online events and virtual face-to-face meetings new? Not really.

But for the billiard business, the 2020 VirtuALL Expo offers a unique opportunity to coax its membership into the 21st century.

To its credit, the BCA has gone to great lengths to make the process of participating in the VirtuALL Expo as easy and user-friendly as possible. The association has offered assistance to “exhibitors,” helping them script and develop video presentations, and coaching them on calls to action to further engage buyers. And the path for retailers and room owners to participate is as easy to navigate as a touchtone phone.

“We’ve made it so attendees don’t have to download a bunch of apps or jump through hoops,” BCA CEO Rob Johnson said.

The point here is that the billiard business has been forced out of its comfort zone, and it would be wise to look at this not as a gimmicky inconvenience. The industry should realize that this is an opportunity to take a closer look at what the future of doing business may look like.

For starters, after declining interest in the traditional on-site educational seminars at the BCA Expo in recent years forced the association to eliminate them in 2019, the use of live webinars for the VirtuALL Expo could pave the way for similar BCA-promoted educational programs throughout the year. If ever the industry’s businesses could use strategic guidance, this is the time.

Additionally, there is little doubt that some companies will realize the value and opportunity in utilizing technology like the VirtuALL Expo platform for their own benefit going forward. And that’s not a bad thing. As Johnson said, “If we help people be more comfortable with technology, that’s good.”

The billiard business isn’t likely to go all Silicon Valley overnight, but the upcoming BCA VirtuALL Expo could well help jump-start the industry in a way the traditional BCA Expo never could. It could add an element of excitement and newness after 36 years of concrete aisles and bad convention center food. It could finally convince billiard businesses that technology isn’t their enemy.

And it could once again show that in difficult times, the industry can come together to find its way forward.

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