Dennis Ruber Marks 60 Years
From D & R Industries to Championship LLC, Business Keeps Evolving
by Matt Harding
There’s a whole lotta history with Championship LLC, long before the company went by that name. It starts with owner and founder Dennis Ruber, who launched D & R Industries in 1961 with his business partner at the time Richard Utanoff (hence “D & R”).
They incorporated in 1963, making 2023 officially the 60th year in business. D & R began as an amusement industry parts distribution business. By the late 1960s, the company became relevant in coin-op billiards and then the consumer market as well.
“The billiard business became our biggest business,” Ruber, now 83, explained. “In the early ’70s, being in Chicago, we became very close to Sears and Montgomery Ward. They became huge customers of ours in the billiard area and I really became more known in the billiard business.”
Over the years, D & R got into the games and sporting good sectors as well, offering retail backgammon, cribbage and board games, roller skates and bicycle accessories like helmets. (The company had a deal with Spalding, thanks to Sears, to sell those helmets and other bike accessories.)
While they had booming success in all of these ventures, the company made a big focus shift starting in 1988 when they worked toward becoming a manufacturer of high-quality billiard fabrics.
“After partnering with Santiago Textile in Mexico City, we became known as a textile company,” Ruber said. “We supply pretty much all the billiard cloth in both the coin and retail trades.”
This is around the time D & R became Championship LLC, to allow for foreign investment from their new partner, Martin Urrutia of Santiago Textile, which today owns 20% of the company.
Another instrumental part of the Championship LLC history was the company’s most recent president Fred Cohen, who unexpectedly passed away earlier this year. Ruber had purchased Cohen’s embroidery company in 1988 and Cohen soon became a partner in Champ Billiards, eventually leading as president and CEO and further developing the brand.
“Fred was a magnet – he was a force of nature,” Ruber said. “He did a lot for this company in terms of building the brand. We were one of the companies during the pandemic that did very well because everyone wanted something for the home.”
Ruber officially retired in 2008, with Cohen in complete control of the company since then. After his death, Ruber’s back at the helm, leaning on his team to keep the ball rolling.
“I have some very competent people here,” he said. “Right now, my team is everything.”
He’s referring to Vice President Cecilia Hoh, VP of Finance Marcel Sabio, VP of Purchasing Seth Novoselsky and VP of sales Bill Dunne.
Dunne, who has been with the company for 20 years, gave RePlay the rundown on today’s Championship LLC.
“Our bread and butter is still fabrics,” he shared, noting it’s a marketplace in which they have the dominant share. “We carry a fabric for every application.” While about 70% of their billiard business is for the home, the remaining 30% is for the coin-op/commercial market.
In addition to fabric, they’re also known for their billiard cushion rubber. Back in 2011, they acquired MBS Group and its brands, including DFS Table Covers, Cin-Caro Plastic Parts and MBS Cushions Rubber, making them a full-line distributor of these products.
Dunne said covers are a product made in-house for any table – yes, billiards, but also covers for trampolines, grills, patio furniture and you-name-it. Last year, Championship also bought out Silver Cup Chalk, adding that company’s product line to their portfolio of billiards-based businesses.
Making everything the best it can be is what Championship is all about. Dunne explained that product development is at the forefront of everything they do. With the Silver Cup Chalk line in particular, he said they’re revamping logos and labels and “making it up-to-date in today’s times.” They’re also revamping and upgrading machinery, working to create a performance chalk in the near future.
On the cloth side, not much has changed over the years. Championship’s partner in Mexico is a fourth-generation millwright and runs a state-of-the-art, 540,000-sq.-ft. facility (you can read a whole lot more about it at www.champbilliards.com/cloth-mill).
What’s “new” in cloth for Champ Billiards is some fresh colors, charcoal and lilac being two of the latest.
For more on their lines of fabric, covers, chalk and so much more, visit www.champbilliards.com.