Increases in game table sales in 2013 and continuing into this year are positive signs of economic improvement.
Many retailers said they saw increases of 10 percent or more year over year in sales of billiards tables compared with 2012. Other game room tables, including shuffleboard, air hockey and foosball, also had stronger sales than previous years.
The sales are steady signs that consumers are once again spending discretionary income. It’s also a result of an uptick in new housing construction. There were 18.3 percent more housing starts in 2013 compared with 2012, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
The housing industry bottoming out meant fewer game table sales after the economic downturn took full effect in 2008 and continued for a few years. “It stopped home rec rooms,” said Shane Tyree, membership and communications manager at the Billiard Congress of America, based in Broomfield, Colo. People weren’t building new homes and put off renovations,so they weren’t adding the dedicated space a game table needs, he added.
With new construction, homeowners can plan and design their homes with a game room in mind.
“You have more opportunity for a piece of furniture like that,” said Bill Mitchell, president of Atlantic Spas and Billiards. He saw roughly a 10 percent increase in sales from 2012 to 2013 for billiards at the retail stores in Raleigh and Wilmington, N.C., but much of that interest was at the end of 2013 and has continued into this year.
Besides an increase in units being sold, customers also seem to be spending more on their purchases as the economy improves. In 2012, shoppers at Widmer’s store were buying tables in the $2,000 price range, but in 2013 the higher-end models were the ones moving. “They were more in the $4,000 to $8,000 range,” he said.
Flexibility was a big aspect in sales, too. One factor in the popularity of air hockey and foosball tables was that they take up less space in a house than billiard or shuffleboard tables — indeed, the latter can be 18 to 22 feet long.
And for customers weighing a choice between billiards or table tennis, there’s an easy compromise: a topper that turns the pool table into the paddle game. “A conversion top is a real popular item,” said Mario Alba, owner of Central Iowa Pool & Spa in Des Moines, Iowa. “They definitely have been good sellers.”
Because of the recession, some store owners shuttered their game table retailing to focus on more stable product offerings. With the lines gaining traction again, Alba is curious about whether it’s time for retailers to think about adding them back.
“I think it’s definitely a good option. For us, being in our off-season, it’s a good complement,” he added. Winter in Iowa means no pools until the thaw, and even though spa sales are year ’round, it’s helpful to have the gaming products to trade out on the show floor for swimming pool products. “It just keeps some cash flow going during those slow periods,” Alba said.
“If new construction slows down, [billiard table] sales will often also,” said Kyler Widmer of Billiard & Spa Gallery in Coralville and Cedar Rapids, Iowa. “It’s an uphill climb right now.”