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Betting on Billiards Franchise Felt Right

How going with your gut can lead to franchise success

It was an unseasonably warm November day in 1995 when Brian Frankland stepped off an airplane, surveyed his surroundings, took a deep breath of ocean air and said to himself, "This is where I want to be."

So much for needing an extensive fact-finding mission to determine if indeed he should move to San Diego from Champagne, Ill., to launch the city's first American Poolplayers Association franchise. "I came out to see if it was a move that would work for the APA and also for me," he recalls. "As soon as I got off the plane, I knew I wanted to be there. I figured to myself, I'll make this [pool franchise] work."

With the help of his wife and business partner, Jill, he's done exactly that. Frankland, 46, has turned his initial $15,000 startup investment in the San Diego APA franchise into a vibrant league for eight-ball and nine-ball players that, after 14 years, now includes some 415 teams and 2,700 members.

Seven years playing pool in APA leagues in Champagne had convinced him he could build a successful franchise using the organization's unique model for amateur pool leagues. That model, pioneered by two professional pool players who founded the league in 1979, caters to the pool-playing masses, not the sharks, explains Frankland, with looser, "any pocket, anytime" rules and a handicapping system designed to put players of all skill levels on more equal footing.

"It's a model for the ages," he gushes. "APA set this up exactly as it should be set up."

With about 275 league operators and 260,000 players in the U.S., Canada and Japan, APA touts itself as the world's largest amateur pool league. Over the past decade, it also has rated consistently at or near the top in Entrepreneur's yearly franchise rankings, a testament to the strong support it offers not just to players but to franchisees such as the Franklands. Free promotional materials, a readily accessible support staff and frequent opportunities to network with other franchisees are part of the package. But perhaps the biggest hook when it comes to building membership are the local, regional and national tournaments, where the format gives even average pool players a chance at some pretty substantial prize money.

All that has helped Frankland turn his home-based San Diego operation into one of the APA's 20 largest franchises numbers-wise. And he still has time to get out a couple times a week to play the game he loves. "Actually," he says, "I think the experience has made me a better player."

David Port is a freelancer based in Denver who writes on small business, and financial and energy issues.

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This article was originally published in the March 2010 print edition of Entrepreneur's StartUps with the headline: Betting on Billiards Franchise Felt Right.

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