Though many people look to sports for physical release, there's also the social aspect--the camaraderie that comes from getting together with friends after work, showing off your skills and leading your team to the championships. "We offer an opportunity [for players] to get together and socialize," says Renee Poehlman, president of the American Poolplayers Association (APA), a Lake St. Louis, Missouri-based franchisor that organizes amateur billiard leagues. "It's a great social timeout."
APA franchisees recruit players wherever pool tables are present, from bars and lodges to corporate-sponsored events. By using a handicap system, players can compete on the same level, regardless of their skill, for the chance to attend the annual national championships, where the APA awards $800,000 in prizes.
Phil Brooker was already passionate about billiards before he became a franchisee. A veteran of APA leagues, he discovered other people were searching for well-organized leagues. "I started telling people about the APA league and how they use a handicap system much different than [most] local leagues," says Brooker, 33, who, with his partner, Taz, and one employee, runs 125 teams around Camarillo, California. "The response I usually got was a raised eyebrow and the statement `Someone should start that up around here.' Well, enough people made that comment that I decided to look into an APA franchise."
Brooker, who also works a full-time job, spends nights and weekends recruiting league players and finding locations. "I don't find customers. I find pool tables. Hang around pool tables, and customers will find you," he says.
One of the main challenges, Brooker says, is keeping up with the paperwork for the leagues. "We won't be successful if the handicap system isn't accurate. Many of our customers only see the paperwork we exchange on a weekly basis, so it's important the paperwork is handled promptly and accurately. Taz does a good job of that."