RICHLAND HILLS, TX -- When Valley Dynamo LP took the wraps off its Top Cat pool table at last year's IAAPA Attractions Expo, the look wowed operators. The table, which features solid maple construction, worsted cloth and the luxury look of fine furniture, is eye-catching. It was something new in coin-op, made possible by the Texas-based manufacturer's acquisition of Connelly Billiards from Arizona's Southwest Billiard Manufacturing five years ago. Designed specifically for such upscale locations as hotels and private clubs, the Top Cat already has proved its ability to expand the reach of coin-op pool, less than a year after its launch.
With all that style on display, it was easy to overlook the practicality behind the glamor. Now, as the table settles into the marketplace, its pragmatic features are coming to the forefront. Operators are learning that it is what's old, as well as what's new, that makes the Top Cat unique.
Valley Dynamo's Dave Courington explained that, although the Top Cat has a distinctive new look, many of its operator features are the same as those on the company's Panther pool table. Its internal parts, the legs and the flush-mount casting are the same as the Panther's, as are the slate, cushions, magnetic separator and MEI bill validator. Operators also recognize and appreciate the easily replaceable top laminates, as well as the easy-access cushion rail bolts.
For this reason, Courington pointed out, many operators already stock the parts for the Top Cat, and their route service personnel are well schooled in its maintenance. "An operator doesn't have to retrain staff or carry double the replacement-parts inventory," Courington said. "Even the software is identical; the programming is the same as on the Panther. So operators already have the parts and the knowledge infrastructure."
This standardization and use of proven components saves the operator time and money, the Valley executive emphasized. And, while the table's hardwood maple with its grooved dado joints between rail and apron gives the appearance of extravagant luxury, the Top Cat's heart is still in coin-op.
Top Cat has some unique features, too. The manufacturer reduced its pocket openings by a 1/4" to appeal to pro leagues. But smaller openings can slow down play, so operators can change over to larger openings. Also notable is the absence of a side door access to balls, a typical table feature that has been replaced with a ball view window; this is intended to eliminate lost revenue by stopping free pool.
One feature that has mated especially well with the Top Cat is Valley-Dynamo's computerized pricing that allows timed play. The Panther ZD-X electronics package, when used in a bar setting, permits adding value by offering pricing that corresponds to happy hour promotions and tournaments. And in a hotel or club, the system allows for the kind of play that emulates a billiard hall and distinguishes it from a bar game.
"The bottom line is that operators all like it because it looks and plays different, and it is not their usual bar box table," said Courington. "It can help them get into locations that don't want that bar box look. Similar to what digital downloading did for jukeboxes, this is going to make them think a little differently about pool and about how to price it." The bill validator offers operators a range of creative opportunities they've never had before, he summed up.