Craig Billiards specializes in pool tables and furnishings to create game rooms for gatherings
Story and Photos by Ken Abramczyk
Craig Connelly calls himself the “billiards elder” of Arizona—and for good reason.
During his 40-year career, Connelly has sold and installed more than 50,000 pool tables in Arizona alone, mostly through his company Connelly Billiards, which he owned and operated from 1980 to 2009.
Five months ago, he opened Craig Billiards in the Scottsdale Airpark to market and sell equipment for a sport that was played by 34.5 million U.S. participants in 2013, according to www.statista.com.
“What’s cool about (pool) is it’s a great family activity or social activity,” Connelly says. “You can have friends over and, instead of watching TV, you can shoot pool and interact and it requires hand-to-eye coordination.”
Back in business
Connelly kick started his new business after experiencing the highs and lows of manufacturing, selling and distributing billiards.
Connelly began his career manufacturing pool tables while he attended ASU in the late 1970s, applying his woodworking skills he learned in his youth and metalworking in high school. He was hired to help a pool table maker at his one-man shop at 48th Street and University Drive in Tempe.
The tables were built during the week. On Fridays, Connelly delivered them to customers. In 1980 he decided to forego two corporate job offers upon his ASU graduation to start Connelly Billiards in Tucson. The business eventually grew to more than 150 dealerships across North America and abroad. In 2008, Connelly started a factory in Nicaragua. As chairman of the Billiard Congress of America’s specifications committee, Connelly wrote a majority of the table specifications for the industry in the 1990s, he says.
Like other industries, pool tables sales tanked with the recession. The American and international markets were further decimated by the less expensive Asian pool tables hitting the American market that Connelly called inferior. “You don’t know if the wood was dried or what chemicals were used to dry the product,” Connelly says.
In 2009, Connelly sold Connelly Billiards’ Tucson operations and the company name to a conglomerate in Texas in 2009. That company moved the Tucson operations to Texas. Connelly tried to continue to manufacture tables in Nicaragua, but he lacked capital to expand it globally and that forced him to close the factory in 2014.
Connelly sells American-made pool tables, but he also stocks shuffleboard, air hockey and foosball tables, and game tables for card players. He even sells a pool table that converts to a dinner table by adding a tabletop, and carries outdoor billiard, shuffleboard and foosball tables.
For those who want additional seating and bar ambience, he sells game room furniture, including bars, bar stools, pub tables and spectator chairs, including one with a compartment in an arm to store cigars and an ashtray.
Craig’s main line is pool tables, manufactured in Portland, Oregon, by Golden West Billiard Manufacturing. It features a designer series with styles varying from contemporary with its Reverse Rainbow incorporating LED lighting in its arch and base to the Heartland series with its craftsman style to match traditional woods in the home.
Even with all of his varied inventory in other games and furnishings, most customers look at the pool tables. Connelly says consumers should look at American-built tables with thick beams and thick corner blocks, “You are only going to buy one or two, so why not buy a table that is solid and well-built?” Connelly says. “They should look for solid wood and confirm that it is, and look for an American manufacturer.”
Connelly outlines a size chart on his company’s website so that customers can figure out what size works best in a particular room. Colors of the table’s cloth surface also can be matched up to other colors in the room.
As for the other game tables, shuffleboard is a hot item, as the board fits well in a tight space. “It only takes up an area about three feet from the wall,” Connelly says. The tables also can be used for bowling because special bowling pins are available to add a little variety to the table’s usage.
Now that the economy has rebounded, Connelly set up shop and hopes to begin manufacturing pool tables in an approximate 4,000-square-foot area behind his 2,500-square-foot showroom.
He remembers starting out in 1980, driving up and down the West Coast, learning as much as he could about manufacturing pool tables. “I just looked at the competition and think ‘that’s that, now how do we do it better?’”
That attention to detail and researching the competition began at a young age. “When I was 5, I started selling Kool-Aid. A kid down the street had a stand, so I bought some of his Kool-Aid. It was warm.
“I knew then I had to have a bigger sign and some ice cubes.”
15816 N. Greenway Hayden Loop, Suite 400