Excel Leisure and Simply Pool are both recognised brands within the UK pool industry and when the companies merged earlier this year they became a force to be reckoned with. Stan McKenna tells Helen Fletcher where they go from here

SAT in an office, in the north of England, piled high with paperwork and boxes it is clear that the integration of two of the biggest UK pool manufacturers into the one company, Simply Pool Ltd, has been a "little hectic" to say the least.

Now headed up by Simply Pool’s Paul Adams with Bob Underhill as sales director and Stan McKenna as commercial director, it would seem that, rather than a decision forced out of the economic climate, the two companies have been discussing such a move for some time and see the exercise as strengthening all round.

"We all worked together years ago at Hazel Grove Superleague so we’re not strangers to one and other," said McKenna. "The decision came mainly to combat what is essentially a mature replacement market with an element of new business."

Excel and Simply were competitors situated just five miles apart, selling similar products to similar customers. "It just made sense," said McKenna. "The idea was that if we could combine the turnovers and cut costs then we would create a good platform for when the upturn does begin. We continue to be busy with existing customers and plan to get busier by entering new markets."

Although already doing business in France and a small amount in Spain, new international markets are definitely going to be a major focus for the company over the next year, along with getting the message across that the two now come under the one name and for McKenna this is another positive that has come from the merger, telling InterGame: "When you’re working in a smaller team you don’t get chance to escape the daily grind and get out there and start looking at new markets - with the team we’ve got now we’ll definitely be able to do this.

"We are at the researching stage at the moment and it might be a case of visiting the shows to get an idea of the markets and then we would start to exhibit."

The manufacturer is also keen to look for the right representation in international markets through the use of distributors. For McKenna though, it is all about the "right kind of company," telling InterGame: "They need to do a proper job for the product as sometimes you will get operators who want to also sell machines. We are looking for distributors with proper sales structures and that are already active in the market."


There is also an Italian element to the new structure with Excel bringing with it a Garlando distribution deal further strengthening the company’s product offering. "The exclusive coin-op football table is a very good line for us and we are also the exclusive distributor for the domestic market," said McKenna.

Although the company name will be Simply Pool Ltd, McKenna was clear that the two brands - Excel and Simply Pool - will remain and products will continue to go out into markets branded in such a way. The company will also continue to support all customers with existing products, with the only area possibly rationalised being the domestic tables.

"For the consumer it can get to the point where you have too much choice," he said. "But we will continue to support the domestic market as I believe as more people choose to stay at home because of the smoking ban, drink-driving, or the price of alcohol, home entertainment will become increasingly important, with pool and football tables being an important part of that."

Talking about the recent announcement that stakes and prizes for UK Category C machines is to be increased to £1/£70 and the impact it will have on the market, McKenna said: "The stakes and prizes change needs to come through to give the operators a boost. A lot of operations rely quite heavily on gaming machines and when they do well and bring in extra rents then it has a knock-on effect and boosts sales of other machines, including pool tables."

The UK pub market, which is the traditional location for pool tables, has been suffering recently but according to reports back from operators the good news is that actual cash in the box has increased slightly and for McKenna, it might be influenced by the fact people are watching the pennies. So, rather than going to the cinema consumers are deciding to go the pub for a couple of drinks and a game of pool as it works out a cheaper alternative.

"The actual prize of a Category C machine is never going to compete with the betting shop (the main competition for the UK street market) but it is a reasonable price increase so there is an opportunity for new players coming along to win a bigger prize.

"Quite often with a new machine and new payout you also get higher rent and if rents do go up even by a few pounds then everyone’s better off," he said. "As well as this pubs attract a different kind of player - it is a social venue and people will decide when they get there whether they will play the fruit machine or not - whereas if you go to a betting shop then you are there specifically for gaming."

It would seem that pool is still holding its own, even in the midst of a recession, and with the amalgamation of the two companies Simply Pool Ltd has positioned itself well to offer a product suitable for any location or market, whether it be a weatherproof table for outdoor venues in hotter climates, American tables for the bowling alleys, or a traditional pool table with customised cloth.