Rule #3: Do your homework before you buy the cue.
This rule helps you decide which direction to take your cue collection. This is where you put Skills #1-#4 into effect. Determining a direction for your collection will be easier if you can master these skills. Taking the time to do your homework before attending a show or tournament may save you money and will allow you to invest in cues that will complement you growing collection.
I know what it is like to see a cue and have to have it! The thought of walking up to that first table in the cue show and buying a cue quickly is exhilarating. I just know if I do not get it right then there will be many more people coming in right behind me who will want that same cue.
The very first national tournament I ever went to if I remember correctly was Johnston City in 1969. I paid my money, walked through the doors and entered The Hustlers Jamboree. Every top player in the country was in the building. Beautiful cues were in the hands of all these masters. Cues would be up for sale in attempts to raise cash to gamble. Gordy Hart from Viking cues was there also selling some of his cues of which I did make a purchase and still have to this day. In the years to come I started to attend more tournaments which also attracted cue makers and dealers.
Take your time, relax, and enjoy the moment. The worst enemy for a custom cue collector is buyer’s remorse. This is the feeling you have within a day or two (sometimes almost immediately after paying for the cue), that you made a mistake. It is ok; every custom cue buyer out there has felt this to some degree. I wish I could say I had not.
Truth be told, not one person involved in the selling of custom cues wants you to ever feel buyer’s remorse. As each time this happens it takes away a little from the enjoyment of custom cues. Those of us who sell custom cues want you to be happy and enjoy each cue you buy. So, while at times, we who stand on that seller’s side of the table may seem a little anxious. Ultimately, we understand it is in everyone’s best interest that you take your time and make what you feel is the right decision.
to understand. This will, hopefully, help you look past what many of us consider the most important factor: price. I would say to you that price is not as important as the cost. Some of you may be thinking. Isn’t price and cost the same thing? The answer simply is no.
Price is what you are willing to pay for a product. Think about this. How many times have you looked at a price tag and thought to yourself: this is too expensive? Is this really the case though, is this product too expensive?
Now let’s consider cost and look at an example. Cost is the hidden part of price. Have you ever been offered an extended warranty? Companies offer these because they know a percentage of their products are going to break down. They are selling you insurance. They use the money they get from those products that do not break down to cover the cost of repairs or replacements of those products that do. Cost is the ultimate price for that product. If you purchase a cue solely on price, you could pay much more than the initial purchase price.
Example: You are offered what you feel is an excellent price on a cue. The cue maker points out a few flaws and explains this is why he is offering this cue at such a good price. In our excitement over the price or just because you want the cue, you overlook the small flaws.
The following week you get together with a few friends and show them the cue. One friend points out there is a little wobble in the shaft and the other points out that there are large gaps between the inlays and butt material. You defend your cue telling them that the cue maker pointed out these flaws to you and you bought the cue because you got a greatly reduced price.
Your friends give approval and one says, well, since you’re just going to beat it up at your league play anyway, it doesn’t matter. However, the other friend points out, that you could have gotten a beater cue for a lot less money. Now they have done it, the light bulb comes on in your brain. You admit to yourself that this cue was not bought as a beater. So, you contact the cue maker and explain to him the problem. He agrees the cue does have those faults, which is why he sold it at a reduced price.
You ask if you can send it back to have it fixed, he agrees. He quotes you a fair price, you have to pay shipping both ways and because of his backlog, it may be 6-8 weeks before he can get to it. You agree and send the cue out the next day, along with the extra money for the project and return shipping.
What this cue has now cost is the full retail price, shipping (both ways) and additional 6-8 week wait for your cue. When you receive your cue back, it is as it should be. Oddly enough, you are now anxious to sell or trade this cue. With this in mind, you list the cue on the Internet and sell it at a slight loss.
As we can see from this, the excellent price offered was an excellent price for the quality of the work provided. Both parties understood that going in. However, enlightenment can be a strange thing. The buyer, who because of his level of enlightenment, knew the price was excellent. However, that same level of enlightenment also made him unhappy with the cue. Ultimately, the cost was substantially more than the price.
Buying the best cue you can afford, does not mean taking out a bank loan to buy the greatest cue ever made. What I am advising is to consider your purchases carefully. This is another reason why mastering Skills #1-#4 are so important. These skills will enable you to determine which cue is best for you, given the money you have to spend.
Sometimes it is a better decision to take the money you were going to spend on two cues and only purchase one. Possibly, you should forgo purchasing the cue you want, to save up a little more money and purchase a cue of better quality. When you are considering purchasing a cue, always employ Rule #1. In addition to that, you should consider the short- and long-term cost of each cue you buy.
Rule #5: The World Changes.
This is true with so many things in life, which includes the cues in your collection. Enlightenment as we saw earlier can be a double-edged sword. As you gain expertise in custom cues, you will begin to evaluate your collection. Mistakes that were not seen before now start to surface.
Do not be too hard on yourself, all custom cue collectors go through this, I know I did. However, this expertise is now helping you select better-crafted cues.
Custom cues can also follow a cycle. There is the cycle, where stainless steel joints seem to be more popular than wood or Implex joints. Within this large cycle, smaller cycles can be found. These are referred to as trends. Then there are even smaller cycles, which can be referred to as fads. Fads generally produce the least desirable cues in the long term. Cycles, trends and fads are not limited to just cues. They are also found among woods, wrap material and inlays.
Trends and fads are caused by a combination of several things.
Billiard magazines having a cue on the cover or doing a specific article on a cue, cues or cue maker will influence the custom cue buyer.
This is neither good nor bad. It is just something you need to be aware of as a collector. Remember, one of the focuses of a billiard magazine is to give exposure to many different cues and cue makers as possible. Billiard magazines continue to influence the buyers months after they come out and, in some cases, years. As the world changes within your collection, you will review these magazines again and see cues that years before would not catch your eye. Old cue styles resurface just like clothing in the fashion world. It is these old styles that some collectors may only add to their collection.
The Internet. Because of the ability to disseminate information quickly, the Internet has become a powerful factor in both trends and fads. Magazines will take anywhere from 2-4 months from the time the cue is completed until you see it in the magazine. With digital cameras, cue makers can now have their cue on the Internet within minutes of completing it. This allows collectors to see the latest works.
This starts, what can be a cue maker’s greatest asset on the Internet. The buzz. It is called the buzz because so many people are talking about it at once, it sounds like a buzz. The buzz can influence buyers to act quicker than they normally would, creating a huge backlog of orders for the cue maker. Of course, the buzz can work both ways. Should a cue maker create a cue that does not live up to the hype, the results can be devastating. Collectors need to pay attention to the buzz as it can have a long-term affect on their collection.
Styles change, materials come in and out of style and the cue maker’s ability to maintain their position in any given market will change. These factors and others, previously discussed, will influence your collection in both a positive and a negative way. It is up to you to follow the changing markets and react accordingly. Remember, the world is in a constant change.
In addition to quality work, another key is a cue maker’s willingness to talk about their cues. I have found over the years that if a maker cannot take the time to talk about their work, then generally collectors will not either.
While it is true that you are buying the cue and not the cue maker, for many collectors the two share the same value. Fact is, you will be more willing to give your money to someone you feel comfortable with and who treats you fairly. Because the custom cue community is so close, a cue maker’s reputation can either enhance or decrease their cue’s desirability. I know a few collectors that admire a cue maker’s work but will not purchase their cues because of ethic issues related to customers.
I have been working with cue makers now for over 25 years and have found most of them to be honorable and sincere men and women who love making cues. However, as in any profession there is always that 10%.
The following are some suggestions when working directly with the makers and ordering a custom cue.
Communication: When ordering a custom cue directly from the maker, this is the most important element. It is during this process that you will find out which ideas are feasible for your custom cue. When talking with a cue maker about your cue you may want to refer to Skill #1. Custom cue makers want to make you the cue you want. This is why it is best to discuss this, perhaps even do a drawing, as this will give you at least a two-dimensional look. If possible, use concepts or components from cues that the cue maker has previously created. This will give him/her a guideline in which to start. I have only ordered a couple cues, that because of lack of communication, the cue did not turn out as I had hoped.
Ordering a cue under most circumstances is a simple matter. You see the cue maker at the show or tournament and you place an order for a standard model. You request particular materials and a certain wrap. The cue maker then quotes you a delivery time and at this point, you either choose to order the cue or not. You agree to the price and delivery time, shake hands and walk away already anticipating your new cue. All in all, this process seems simple.
I recommend you consider these ideas when ordering a cue:
First and foremost, both the cue maker and the client need to understand exactly what has been ordered. Next, understand that the delivery time is an estimate. This is the cue maker’s best guess based on their current load of orders, shows and personal commitments. This may be the biggest downside to working with a custom cue maker. For there can be numerous reasons why the cue maker cannot meet the agreed upon date. If something happens to the cue maker, anything from illness, loss of staff or material shortage, this will postpone the delivery time. There are times when machines break, which cause delays. Remember when a cue maker says delivery in September that does not mean September 1st. More than likely, it will be closer to the end of September. Understandably, many cue makers are hesitant about quoting delivery times past 8 or 9 months for fear of not getting the order. Some will mislead you and give you a delivery time that will seem more appealing to you. This tactic is not fair to either party, especially in the long term. Some cue makers lose sight of the fact that, like many of the collectors, must work on a budget, as well. If this is the case for you, explain that to the maker. Ask the maker for the real delivery time.
For a cue maker to not meet his delivery time, in the long run influences their sales. A collector who was given a less than honest delivery time may never buy another cue from that cue maker. In addition, the bad word of mouth advertising that the cue maker will receive could perhaps cost the cue maker future orders and affect their position in the market.
This topic is one that gets people into discussion. Deposits can be a procedure that a cue maker follows as business practice. By receiving a deposit, the cue maker understands that you are serious about the cue. Others may not require a deposit. I have known cue makers to take an order without a deposit and when the customer is notified that the cue is ready, the customer will come up with several reasons why they may not want the cue.
Legitimate reasons for deposits:
The cue you are ordering requires special materials, additional labor or equipment.
The cue you want built has specific requirements that if you were not going to take this cue, the cue maker would have great difficulty in selling it.
You prefer to give a deposit as good faith which will help offset the final cost.
Deposits are interesting. First, a deposit for work to be completed in many states is a legally binding contract. Both the cue maker and the collector may wish to enter into this to ensure the other lives up to their part of the deal.
If the cue maker does not produce the cue in the agreed upon time a complaint can be made to any and all professional cue maker associations that the cue maker is a member. Generally, this will require a written letter outlining your complaint. Be sure to include all copies of cancelled checks and the receipt. The letter should be sent to the current president of the organization or whoever the contact would be for the ethics committee. Each organization may have written policies on how complaints are handled. Do not expect overnight results. Both sides of the issue will have to be evaluated.
Should ordering a cue turn into a legal matter, having a receipt with a record of the cue you ordered, anticipated delivery time, total price, deposit paid and balance due will be key evidence in court. This I’m sure both parties would like to avoid.
Deposits do, of course, have a downside for both the cue maker and collector. By the maker accepting a deposit, they have implied permission for that collector to call them any time to check on the status of their cue. A word to collectors here, if the cue maker says the cue will be ready in 5 months, don’t call them in 3 weeks and ask if your cue is ready. However, there is nothing wrong with calling a month ahead of time to see if the cue will be ready as promised.
Unfortunately, it is a fact that some deposits are taken and the cue is never finished. Some cue makers require a 50% deposit or even a 100% deposit. NEVER GIVE A 50% OR MORE DEPOSIT. The custom cue business has peaks and valleys even for the best cue makers. It is easy for a maker to live on 100% of their salary. However, it is almost impossible to live on 50% of your salary. Consequently, what happens is in order to make up for the missing 50% the maker will finish the cue. While it is true that you will be paying 100% at the time of delivery, 50% of that money has been previously spent. In the mind of the cue maker, they have less incentive to make your cue. Imagine what the incentive for these cue makers would be if you had paid them in full?
Please understand I am speaking of very few cue makers. If a cue maker asks for a big deposit, you may want to check with any professional organizations they belong to and see if any complaints have been filed against them. You can then do the same with the local Better Business Bureau in the cue maker’s town. Every state has a consumer protection department. Sometimes this can be accomplished by conducting an on-line search.
Fortunately, the large majority of cue makers are honorable individuals who want to do what they love and make you the very best cue possible. By establishing good communications to start with, there will be less confusion. Both cue maker and collector will put themselves in a position to enjoy a long and rewarding relationship.
Custom cue dealers have to develop a unique skill set. Unlike cue makers who, for the most part, only have to be concerned with their cues, custom cue dealers must be familiar with hundreds of cue maker’s cues.
Through sheer repetition and with the help of Brad Simpson’s Blue Book of Cues, custom cue dealers are familiar with more custom cues and their makers than any collector could hope to be. If you were to accompany me at a show or tournament, (after a couple days of answering questions about the fifty or more cues on the table), you would have those cues committed to memory. Now, imagine doing it for 20 years.
This is what gives the custom cue dealer the advantage. This is what the custom cue market is truly about. The better-known custom cue dealers will buy and sell more custom cues in a year than most collectors will own in their lifetime. This should not be news to anyone. If it were your profession or obsession to buy and sell custom cues on a daily basis, developing a sense of who’s who in the custom cue market would be inevitable.
As with custom cue makers, the explosion of the custom cue market has begun to recognize the well-known dealers as experts in a particular market. The interesting thing about this expertise is that for many of the dealers it follows the trends.
Generally, the dealers who are known as experts have gained this reputation due, in no small measure, to longevity. Most of the nationally recognized dealers have been around for years.
As with cue makers, many of the dealers are very versatile. Because of their knowledge of the entire cue market, some can move from specialty to specialty and still maintain their position in several markets.
Dealers provide custom cue buyers with information that no one else can. Possibly the biggest advantage is the variety of cues and cue makers they feature on their table or website. Particularly at a show or tournament, this gives the custom cue buyer an incredible knowledge base to reference. Where else can you compare, side by side, the work of 5-15 cue maker’s work and style?
Cue dealers can also do something for you that most cue makers will not and some will argue should not. Answer questions as to who is the best. By asking a cue maker this question, it is a lose-lose situation at best. If they tell you they are, they can come across as arrogant or conceited. If they tell you someone else is better, then there is a chance you will leave their table, in search for the other makers table.
Why do collectors buy from a custom cue dealer? For some collectors the reason is as simple as the dealer has the cue their looking for and the cue maker does not.
Many collectors have found that by developing a long-term relationship with a cue dealer, that they can get cues they want with a minimal investment in time. Many collectors just do not have the time to attend every major show, search the Internet and talk with other collectors around the world.
Additionally, should the collector need it, custom cue dealers are usually a good source for information. They can provide guidance for your collection. They can also compare and contrast both a cue maker’s work and their position in the market for the type of cue you are considering.
Other criteria you may want to
Prices: Are the prices of the cue dealer competitive with that of the cue maker? Paying an inflated price to the cue dealer for any cue is almost a guarantee that you will never get your money back out of that cue. There are exceptions to this rule. Cue maker’s cues that are in great demand will cost you more than the maker’s price. This is usually because of the difficulty in obtaining these cues.
Trade in Policy:
Does the cue dealer offer a trade in policy? If so, what are the terms of the policy? If the cue dealer does not have one, you should ask why. If the cue dealer is only willing to allow you a percentage of what you paid for a cue, you should also ask, why? Well, there are legitimate reasons. How well has the cue been taken of, overall condition, cost to repair imperfections or total recondition, all of which will require time which in turn equals money. If the dealer will only allow you a percentage in value, they either do not want that cue back or they do not believe in the cue makers they represent.
Getting answers to these questions will be beneficial to you. It will give you insight into both the cue maker’s cues you are thinking about buying and the dealer who is selling them. Trade in polices should be a positive experience for both the dealer and the collector.
Position in the Market:
The same concept for cue makers applies to dealers, as well. They should advertise, have a web site, attend shows, tournaments and have a booth at the show or tournament. Just like cue makers, cue dealers can have their own position in a market influenced by the billiard magazines. When stories are done on particular cues, often time’s dealers are sought out for their opinions. Cue dealers also provide information to the press in other ways. This could include the projects they may be involved in lead to articles and in some cases the cover of a billiard magazine. Some cue dealers are asked to judge at shows, tournaments or, on occasions, to conduct or be part of a group that conducts a seminar at shows.
If you are working with a cue dealer, it is important that they offer these basic services (listed below in Relationships with custom cue makers) in regards to their connections with cue makers. This will put them in a position to purchase cues that you need for your collection. This is especially true if your collection includes cue makers with extremely long waiting times.
Relationships with custom cue makers:
A cue dealer’s ability to form long-term relationships with cue makers is important to all. For cue makers, cue dealers can offer another form of advertising, especially if the dealer attends shows that the cue maker cannot. A cue dealer can introduce a cue makers cue to collectors that may not be able to physically handle the cue before purchasing. If you collect that cue makers work this benefits you, should you decide to sell or trade a cue from that maker.
Another aspect of these relationships is that a cue dealer may receive a cue earlier than if you ordered it from the cue maker directly. Because of their long-standing order with the cue maker, they can get the cue you want sometimes weeks earlier.
Finally, it is the long-term relationships that many times can result in a unique cue opportunity. This cue, because of its rarity can become one of the most sought after cues they ever craft.
Even if you never buy a custom cue from a dealer, I would highly recommend spending time talking to them at a show or tournament.
Thirty years of selling custom cues will allow you to observe many
changes. It has taught me how to identify with some degree of success
which cue makers will stay around long enough to become well-known.
Buy what you like, but consider some of the things I have presented to you.
When attending a cue show or tournament bring a pen and a pad of paper, especially at the larger shows. You will lose track of the cue maker’s booth and the specific cues that were in those booths. By writing down the who, what, where, why and when you see a cue of interest you will save valuable time. You would be amazed at the number of people I see at shows and tournaments who walk around with a confused look on their face, as they cannot remember where they saw the cue they wanted.
Remember, quality always sells or, more importantly, resells.
Price tags on cues. Ever wonder why some cues are priced and others are not? One school of thought is that by not pricing the cue it will create interest and force the individual to ask, how much this is thus starting a conversation with the potential customer. This is an excellent sales strategy and would explain the lack of clear pricing. However, another reason for no price tags is profiling. They are looking at your mannerisms, dress and the questions you ask. They compile this information and try to determine how much you will pay for the cue.
Do not become part of that game. I got cured of that game when I asked a cue maker several years ago at a show, how much is this cue? His response was you can’t afford it. Even though I had the cash in my pocket I let him feel he was 100% correct. The conversation progressed no further and I spent my money elsewhere.
If you are having difficulty with a cue maker on a custom cue order, do everything you can to resolve the problem between yourselves. During this time, keep track of every phone call and email. Make notes of what was said by both parties. This will help you develop a time line of events.
If this fails, your next step should be to write a letter to the president of the cue organization from which they are member. Do not get wordy. State the facts and include a copy of any receipts, cancelled checks, copies of email messages and your time line of events. Let the facts speak for themselves.
At this point, the organization
has guidelines as to how to handle it.
Always send any correspondence of this nature via certified or registered mail.
When cue makers attend shows and tournaments, many will work long hours to finish that last cue. If you are interested in a particular cue, ask the cue maker when they finished it. If their response is, I finished this cue last night, make sure you give that cue a good inspection.
Haggling is a talent all of its own. This is the right of every consumer in the world. Haggling goes on all the time at shows and tournaments. In most cases there are only three reasons that a cue maker or cue dealer will reduce the price.
1) The cue is over-priced to begin with.
2) The cue is a slow seller.
3) They need the money.
I recommend to every cue maker I work with to never haggle. Clients will tell the world how they got a great deal from them. It is important for collectors to know which cue makers will reduce their prices and which will not. If you pay full price for the cue and someone else gets 10% off, how much is your cue now worth? Well, it is safe to say, not what you paid for it.
My suggestion to you is that before you start the haggling processes ask yourself, do you really want a cue in your collection that the cue maker or cue dealer did not believe in enough to only accept full price? I have seen some cue dealers reduce the price of cues 25 % to 30%. What does this tell you? How would you like it if you paid full price only to find that it is now worth much less? This was not a good investment. The cue maker in this case will not be pleased to find that a cue dealer maybe even at the same show or tournament is selling his cues for much less. I’m sure this cue maker would address this issue with the cue dealer and possibly not provide this cue dealer with cues in the future.
Honesty is a very important thing when it comes to custom cues. This is especially true when being asked for your opinion on a custom cue. Not every cue, every cue maker produces is going to be incredible.
The best thing you can give a cue maker, other than money, is constructive criticism. Many times tired eyes can miss small flaws. By pointing out these flaws in a positive way, you are helping the cue maker take the first step to eliminating this mistake in the future.
When you are at a cue show or tournament, be polite and respect what the cue maker has tried to create. Ask permission to handle a cue. If there is a crowd at the booth, be patient and wait your turn. Some cue makers and cue dealers are now using locking cue displays so you will have to ask if you can see a cue. Be careful handling the cue and try to put the cue back in the position and location from which you removed it from the rack.
Remember, at one time even the most sought-after cue makers were unknown. As a collector, one of your goals should be to find the next legend, preferably before they become one.
Most important is to always remember.
BUY WHAT YOU LIKE AND ENJOY YOUR CUSTOM CUE COLLECTION!