Today we have an interview with Jeff Black, the founder and managing member of the American Billiard Installers Association (ABIA)…
The ABIA is a trade organization made up of a group of technically skilled people that service, install, move, repair and replace cloth on billiard and pool tables. The organization was formed after the economic decline in early 2000 created a less than optimistic outlook for the industry of pool table retailers and service companies because pool tables are a luxury item and that seems to be the first type of item that consumers drop in a depressed economic environment. Prices for our materials were inflating while revenues were deflating and we saw a need for discounts based on higher group numbers.
In addition there were several billiard stores going out of business leaving their service employees who in some cases were less experienced all around to start their own small businesses to complete with traditional installation businesses, many of these installers only had experience working on the brands their stores sold. This created a need for raising standards through ABIA membership.
Who runs the organization?
There is a panel of members who are called upon for important decisions. This panel is made up of regular members and they are all in the industry performing day to day operations for their businesses. The group has volunteered to guide the direction of the ABIA since there has been nothing like the ABIA to represent the interest of the small billiard company in America.
In the beginning all important decisions were made by requesting input from the hundreds of members via email and telephone request. As membership grew this became cumbersome and the current panel was selected. The panel ensures that the organization keeps on track and is guided by a wide range of personalities and not just a small group of individuals. I am the founder and managing member of the organization, and I facilitate all actions and projects of the ABIA.
Why should people consider using ABIA members when it comes to working on pool tables?
There are two types of people besides retail stores who work on pool tables. The first group may be referenced as a group of small business owners who have had extensive experience in the field and their fathers may have taught them the trade through decades of experience when they were young. This group may also include a recent rise in the last decade of committed individuals who may have worked for a store installing tables or with another company but this group advertises their businesses and takes a high level of pride in their work and customer service. This group is always insured and is registered with their state or local municipality or county.
The second group we can reference as an individual who may have much less experience in the trade and do not have the customer commitment level like the first group. This is a part time extra money job for them. Generally this group has very little time in the field and lacks the experience required to fix any problems they may have created while working on an unfamiliar table resulting in added cost and frustration to the customer. This group will be found advertising on free classifieds, normally does not carry business insurance and normally is not registered with the locality they operate in. This group is a higher risk to the homeowner to use and you can generally spot them as a “cash only” business for tax reasons. The ABIA does everything it can to support and promote the first group.
What type of requirements do you have for people who are interested in becoming a member?
The requirements for ABIA membership are not too stringent, the two goals of the ABIA are to obtain discounts for members and raise standards, something that only high membership numbers can accomplish. There are a general set of standards in the process of checking out applicants when they apply. Factors that are taken into consideration are having more than 4 years in business and have at a minimum some paid advertising with an online presence like a website and an investment in their company marketing efforts.
We have been involved with the national billiard industry for over a decade before the ABIA was formed, so we know who’s out there. When we see applications where you cannot find the company online, they have no real business name and maybe they are only advertising on Craigslist because it’s open to everyone we generally will scrutinize these applicants more. The ABIA concentrates it’s efforts on being as fair as possible for all small businesses in our industry.
What are the benefits of membership?
The ABIA has obtained unheard of prices for members on billiard cloth through a small distributor who has a great vision for the future of the organization where the traditional “old school” distributors are unwilling to support it’s customers within our organization. Billiard cloth is one of the largest material expenses for the installer and our members can currently buy a cloth that compares to the traditional materials for around 45% off.
The ABIA members also are first picked through Install Gurus, a national pool table installation company for distributors who ship pool tables to customers. When the table arrives at the customers home Install Gurus gives first bid to ABIA members. Install Gurus does installations for well known brands in the industry.
ABIA members can have their businesses registered with the ABIA free of charge by submitting their current business insurance coverage and business licensing documents to the ABIA. These companies enjoy the benefit of placing themselves above their competitors in the industry or the “Type 2” described prior by having the ABIA check their credentials and place them on the registered members area of the ABIA website for consumers.
We also have some temporary benefits that come and go, currently Slate Dolly USA has offered a discount for a limited time to ABIA members which makes moving slate (the heaviest part of the table) much easier for the billiard mover. Another billiard magazine known as Pool & Billiard Magazine offers a free subscription to ABIA members which comes out monthly.
The ABIA also offers discounted credit card processing through an online merchant which allows members to process credit cards online or through their mobile devices connected to the internet. Many of our members operate in the field and this helps them collect their fees from customers while on location. We try to focus on important benefits that will help our members and not just whatever we can get our hands on and the ABIA is always working on new benefits that can increase productivity and profits for free members.
What can those who hire ABIA members expect in terms of professionalism and skill?
Customers using ABIA members are using the people in the business who care about their small businesses and their customers. From a skill perspective ABIA members should be competent to handle any standard retail customers needs at a fair price and a guarantee of their work on leveling of the table in most cases. The industry in the past has not been as professional as many other trades historically. This is the part the ABIA is focusing on with setting and raising standards in the industry. The industry is changing and the old way of doing business is slowly being replaced with more technology and a higher level of professionalism and organization. ABIA members may display a higher level of organization than non-members in cases but as the older generation becomes replaced with fresh and intelligent personalities in addition to the internet making it easier for communication and empowering the consumer the ABIA will be there to see the transformation and assist in changing the traditional levels of professionalism in our trade.
There is also another panel in charge of creating the first ever industry “Billiard Installer Certification” which will dictate the minimum standards for standard table installation, this will be an incredible benefit for the consumer and will really separate the companies with skill and experience from the others and make it much easier for customers to choose the right person to work on their table.
Where can people turn for more information?
The official ABIA website at www.abiainstallers.com
The ABIA can also be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
*The ABIA is a volunteer organization and is also sponsored and made possible by contributions from www.used-pooltable.com