Brunswick is Back
Gold Crown coin Table Returns Storied Brand to the CoinBiz
When America’s longest-running billiard table maker decides to re-enter the coin-op market, the industry pays attention. Brunswick Billiards, the 178-year-old brand that bills itself as “The Most Storied Brand in Billiards” is back with the introduction of the Gold Crown coin (GCc).
The 7-foot table uses the same rail system as the company’s commercial Gold Crown VI. It has a black matte finish with nickel trim and Championship Tour Edition cloth, stunning in its Electric Blue hue. It also features bill and coin acceptor and robust play-pricing options for operators by adapting Global Billiard’s Matrix system.
The GCc also features Brunswick-certified slate, which holds makers to strict tolerances of 1/1000th of an inch, significantly tighter than the industry standard of 3/1000ths, said Director of Business Development chief Roger Blank, “The slate guys don’t necessarily love us, but if you’re putting the Brunswick name on it, it’s got to be right.”
Testing is key, and among the first operators to put it out was Beyer & Brown’s Greg Trent, setting some in 2021. His Florida operation runs about 300 pool tables. Over the years, primarily through his company’s Pool Tables Plus home game room retail store, Trent built a relationship with both the Brunswick brand and Roger Blank.
“I’ve known Roger as long as he’s been at Brunswick,” Trent said, “and knowing the interest that Brunswick has to bring a new coin table to market, we were excited to work with them to test it on location and offer comparisons with revenues. We saw an almost instant increase in appeal that the table brought when customers came in to play pool.
“We put the GCc in a location with a a popular competitive DBA-unit table, and we consistently saw double the earnings or greater,” he continued. “The other table would earn just over $125 per week, and the Brunswick table would generate over $250 per week. We saw the same over six months. We have changed all the tables in this location to Brunswick tables and have seen the revenue stay strong. On top of that, ROI is in 12 months.” (For more of Trent’s comments, see the sidebar below.)
From strong earnings to table reorders from Trent, Blank was getting the feedback he and the team had hoped for. “When Greg said the tables were out-earning the competition two to one, that was the impetus to move forward and put the table into production.” Other operator customers like Ellis Amusements and JLM Enterprises also tried the table and came back for more…and more again, said Blank.
Blank said, “Probably the biggest key to us having a Brunswick-quality product was understanding that we needed to educate ourselves on what was the best way to build the internals of the table, the best way to ship them and so on. We’re still not satisfied that we’ve learned everything and we’re not sitting still, saying we hit it out of the park. We keep making changes – most of them subtle and with the operator in mind – and adopting those into the product. The GCc has to play great and also be reliable and offer ease of service for the operator.”
A prime example is the nose height of the rail cushions. “We learned a little something on the first three test units and adjusted the nose height to ensure quality and consistent play on those tables,” he said. “Also, we started with two steel crossbeams in the table but decided to go with four because on the next generation table, we’re working towards a better slate leveling system. There are just so many under-the-hood things I could talk about but it’s really all about the Brunswick brand making a reentry into the coin-op space and doing it right.”
Going (More) Public
The team debuted the GCc at the 2022 Amusement Expo, showing it at the Championship LLC booth. In 2023, they were ready to grab attention especially with the BCA billiard show co-locating with Amusement Expo. Not only would they have their commercial billiard customers on hand to see Brunswick’s latest, but also coin machine operators.
GM of the Brunswick Billiards Group Nick Baron said, “We had a great turnout at the BCA Expo and were so excited to see many AMOA people coming over to the booth full of enthusiasm over seeing Brunswick there. They were pumped, and it was fun to see that.
“I think Brunswick is situated quite well to get back into coin-op,” he continued. “It’s exciting, and I love the coin-op world – it’s such a cool, interesting, fun business. And, there’s a lot of room for more players in it, especially one with the Brunswick name.”
Emphasized Baron, “It’s a great product and it’s going to get even better. We’re improving it every day. I also want operators to know that this is part of our business… not a one-off table. It’s a commitment to them and our business.
“For us to provide the most shareholder value, we need to have both sides of the billiard world covered, the commercial/coin-op world and the consumer/home table world. That’s where my macro vision comes into play, and I know Roger is 100% on board with me. We’re going full steam ahead to build up production and possibly move on to different versions and price points.”
“We’ve always said that the brand has to be represented right – and the product has to be right – and when that happens, we’ll go full force into production,” Blank said. “I’m excited to say that time has come! It’s an exciting time!” To learn more, email [email protected] or visit www.brunswickbilliards.com.
Operator’s Perspective – More from Trent
Florida’s Greg Trent said pool tables have long lives, “but at some point, it gets too hard to take it back to its original play condition. Any good route operator will look at upgrading their equipment on location on a regular basis. I think this new table from Brunswick is a great choice. First, it’s a near replica of their Gold Crown pool tables players like to play on in pool halls. While it works just as well in a dive bar, it can also help an operator get a table into a higher-class location that may have resisted having a pool table. It gives you new options when approaching reluctant customers.
“Over the years, we’ve always had pushback whenever we’ve talked about raising our prices,” he continued. “But where we’ve set these new GCc tables, there’s been no pushback on increasing prices or for getting a better split. That’s helped us – and helped us a lot.
“One of the locations where we’ve put the GCc is a bowling alley where we’ve run games and different things for probably 20 years. The owner took out four of his lanes and filled that space with a ‘pool hall.’ We put in six of the GCc tables and use the same card system – Amusement Connect – that we use for the arcade equipment. The table’s built-in electronics allow us to do this easily and gives us more flexibility with pricing, like being able to offer happy hour deals all while offering that high-class look.
Of his operation, Trent said they have about 300 pool tables on location, some Diamond and the majority Valley. “For operators running Diamond because their players and their locations demand it, my opinion is that the Brunswick outperforms them partly because of the play quality and the added features. GCc offers electronics and pricing opportunities – play by the hour, by the rack, bonus pricing and all those things you can structure into it. It takes it above the competition. Brunswick’s partnership with Global Billiards on the electronics, developed for their Matrix system, made this possible,” he said.
“I appreciate everything the other manufacturers bring to the table, but I think what Brunswick has achieved – from player appeal to operator needs to the table’s ability to generate revenue – brings it all together. We’ve had nothing but positive responses from our locations.
“For us, the GCc brings a fresh, new excitement to pool tables. I think it can also appeal to a younger generation of player who’ll see it as something that looks a little more advanced and has other payment options built into it. I think that’s what we need to bring in the younger generation to start playing pool,” he said.
“In short, Brunswick is taking their Gold Crown commercial table and putting in the electronics from Scott Gramstrup’s Global Billiards. The result is a table that works efficiently with very low maintenance and service issues. It’s a great combination for the route operator,” Trent concluded.
The Development Story
Brunswick has a long history of building billiard tables and for years, that also included coin-op. But by 2003, when the company bought Valley-Dynamo (which they owned until the late 2000s), Brunswick didn’t build its own coin table. The purchase allowed them to re-enter the market and they did so further when they bought the rights to the Dufferin D1 commercial table when that Canadian maker went bankrupt. The D1 was rebranded the “Brunswick Metro” and later, a coin-op version debuted. But, while these coin tables were within the Brunswick family, production and sales went through Valley-Dynamo.
Blank, who’s been with Brunswick for about 20 years, said, “I’ve always had commercial customers and we sold Brunswick Gold Crowns, Centurions and other models, but when they asked me for coin-op tables, I’d either have to say I can’t sell it…or later, that we just don’t have it.”
In 2016 when Life Fitness bought Brunswick, he and John Kazik, GM of the Brunswick Billiards division from 2016-2022, started planning the development of a coin table. In 2018, they began talks with others outside the Brunswick umbrella, and two really stuck: the late Fred Cohen of Championship LLC and Scott Gramstrup of Global Billiards. Going forward, the development of the GCc would be very collaborative.
“Fred’s true contribution was introducing me to Scott,” Blank said, adding that he was instrumental in selecting just the right cloth for the table. “Global brought their longtime expertise in building tables and their electronic acceptance system called The Matrix.” The Brunswick team was also able to tap into the vast expertise of Global’s founder, the late Torben Gramstrup.
“Scott’s dad was right there in the first meeting and I’m glad he got to see the project come to fruition before he passed,” Blank said. “The wealth of knowledge that man carried was amazing and to the point of detail…things like how to create the proper pocket opening on the table, how to maintain the integrity of the cushion nose height and more. Scott’s father had that knowledge and was a big help to our engineering team.”
Brunswick Engineering and Design Manager Ted Caron was also an integral piece of the puzzle, said Blank, working with Scott Gramstrup on a weekly or bi-weekly basis as they ran ideas and floated plans by each other, looking at how Brunswick would build the table.
Halfway through 2019, Kazik asked Blank to assume the lead role in this project but just as they were starting to do their first production runs, Covid hit. On the corporate side, Brunswick Billiards had been put up for sale by parent company KPS Capital Partners, LLC but the process was put on hold due to the supply chain issues of 2020 and 2021. In January 2022, Escalade Sports Inc. purchased Brunswick Billiards and a transition ensued that resulted in the creation of the Brunswick Billiards Group.
Nick Baron, formerly COO of Valley-Dynamo came aboard at Escalade Sports as GM of the Cue & Case and American Heritage brands in October 2020, bringing experience and contacts within coin-op and a desire to re-enter the space. Jacklyn Ady was added as Product Manager for the Brunswick Billiards Group, and helps find ways to be more efficient in manufacturing, rein in expenses and maintain the all-important Brunswick brand quality.
Brunswick gave the industry at large its first look in 2022, showing the table in Championship LLC’s Amusement Expo booth. At the 2023 expo, the stars really aligned with the co-location of the BCA billiards show where Brunswick had a booth showcasing its commercial tables, including the GCc, and their Cue & Case line of game room and table game supplies, furniture and more.