Take a cue from this niche business
How do some shops survive for decades? In the last of this series, LAKEISHA LEO (firstname.lastname@example.org) learns their secrets
Tucked away in a corner on the third storey of Bukit Timah Shopping Centre is Monstercue Billiards, a shop specialising in billiards accessories and snooker tables.
It has a specific target audience and is synonymous with the sport. Around 70 per cent of its customers are new with the rest being regulars.
While the Bukit Timah Shopping Centre shop has been around for only three years, the business has been involved in the sport here for more than 16 years.
It started as a pool hall with an accessory shop at Concorde Hotel & Shopping Mall in 1999.
Owner Eric Ong tells The New Paper on Sunday that back then, pool was growing in popularity with pub-goers. He says: "The trend started around the late 1990s, and I think there were probably fewer than five pool halls back then when demand for the sport started picking up."
PASSION: Mr Eric Ong owns retail shop Monstercue Billiards in Bukit Timah Shopping Centre. TNP PHOTO: LAKEISHA LEO
Mr Ong, 44, says he started Monsterscue Billiards because he wanted a pool hall for young players and those who were interested in playing pool in a "non-pub environment".
He says: "There were people who may not want to buy a drink while playing or play in a pub where smoking was allowed."
By the mid-2000s, Mr Ong estimates, there were 30 to 40 pool halls here, when the trend was at its peak.
But rising rental costs hit hard, and the sport waned in popularity.
He says: "Pool halls need a lot of space - one hall can be 3,000 square feet and above in order for it to be profitable.
"Rental was going up by a lot, and pool hall owners did not want to increase the table rental rates because the youth made up part of our main client base then, and they had limited spending power."
Last July, Monsterscue Billiards closed its last pool hall at Bukit Timah Plaza.
Instead of quitting, Mr Ong started supplying accessories three years ago.
The industry is small, and Mr Ong says his business is surviving because it is a niche market.
Most of its customers now are students and young adults who are interested in buying billiards accessories.
Mr Ong says his customers want equipment that is not only personalised but also well maintained.
He says: "It is like people who play bowling - they usually buy their own bowling balls.
"The same goes for our equipment, because the cues used in pool halls are usually not well maintained.
"And for the more serious players, they want something they can call their own."
A billiard cue costs about $40. But depending on the brand and quality, it can cost up to $1,500.
Mr Ong says: "The sport itself is old, so people are always still keen on playing it.
"And being in the trade for so long, we know the demand well - it still attracts people to play the game."