Greg Knight, An Interview with the McDermott CEO ~ Anthony Beeler

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 When was McDermott Cue founded?  Talk to us about the history of your company…

Jim McDermott founded McDermott in 1975. Jim had been repairing cues for a number of years, and he had been observing the mistakes that he saw others in the industry making. He decided that he could do it better, so that’s what he set out to do. What he ended up creating were some of the most technologically advanced cues that the industry had ever seen. When he wanted to do something with wood that others said would be impossible, he would simply not take “no” for an answer. Jim would hire on the talent and purchase the equipment that he needed to get it done. He really was a visionary in the cue manufacturing industry.

When did you take over?

I purchased the company in early 2009. Like many other cue manufacturers, McDermott was struggling because of the market decline, but the company also had some of its own challenges internally that needed to be overcome. I have always been up for a challenge; I was excited to step in and get the company back on track.

Didn’t your factory change locations sometime in the past few years?  Talk about the new factory and it’s advantages over the old factory.

Yes, in 2012 we moved into our current location. The previous building was very nice – and very big – but the space was not set up well for our needs. Each stage in the manufacturing process was in its own separate room, so cues would constantly have to be walked from one room to the next. It slowed things down considerably. Members of our office and sales staffs were also separated from each other, so communication between them was not at the level that it could have been.

In addition to improving efficiency and communication, buying this new building allowed us to modernize our equipment. Before we moved in, we were able to install a state of the art temperature and humidity control system along with some new production equipment. To do that in the old building would have required us to halt production while we remodeled.

Another benefit of the new location is that we are right off of the interstate now, so the company is much more visible and easier for customers to find.

Tell us a little about yourself.  Where you grew up? Family? Your background with pool, business, etc…

I grew up in Wisconsin and went to college at MSOE University and Marquette University for my Bachelors and Masters degrees, respectively. Early on, I felt the calling to be a business owner and purchased my first business in 2008. I purchased McDermott Cue in 2009, and recently acquired a third company.

Do you play a lot of pool?

I play pool for fun a couple times per year.

 

Tell me about your job?  What is your favorite part of work?  Least favorite? Most difficult?

I enjoy being involved in all aspects of the business; every day is different which is what makes it fun. Getting to develop and implement new product ideas and production improvements are some of my favorite aspects of the job. Currently, the most difficult task is hiring reliable, skilled staff for our production area. The most rewarding aspect is the fact that we have grown to almost 35 people in the company. Personally, I am proud of being a job creator.

Talk to us about your current cue line including: Cue of the Year and a Cue of the Month, McDermott, Star, and Lucky?

The Cue of the Year continues to be a fan favorite. We design and make a cue, from scratch, that showcases our abilities. It includes numerous inlays, exotic materials, and more. Such showcase cues usually go for several thousands of dollars, but we keep the Cue of the Year models pretty affordable; 2018’s Cue of the Year starts at $1,399, a bargain when you consider the amount of work that went into it.

Our Cue of the Month program gives customers the ability to have a custom cue without the hefty price tag that usually accompanies it. We take a cue from our collection, change or upgrade some of the materials, colors, shaft, and even artwork, and sell it without any customization charge. We had some really impressive cues last year.

The McDermott line of cues is the continuation of the line that Jim started in 1975. We still use premium materials, real inlays, and offer just about any customization options the customer can think of. And, just like in 1975, they are still made right here in Wisconsin.

Our Star and Lucky lines provide a lot of value for players that are on a budget looking for an entry-level cue. We design and engineer them in-house, so you still get that great McDermott playability. With our Star line, you also get a limited lifetime warranty.  

Tell us about your new carom line?  What prompted you to start offering carom cues?

One thing we have been trying to do is expand our presence in the rest of the world. Pool is not always the most popular game in other countries. Sometimes it is, but sometimes the game people go for is carom or snooker. So, we made our new carom line, which provides carom players with the same advancements in playability that people love in our pool cues, to appeal to those customers. We are also working on a line of snooker cues for the same reason.   

You are also offering a wide-variety of shaft choices.  Tell us a little about the various options offered (i-Pro, i-Shaft, G-Core, standard maple).

Yeah, shaft technology has been improving very rapidly across the industry, and we have definitely kept up. The i-Pro is our latest creation, and we’re really proud of it. We take the carbon fiber core found in our Intimidator series, and surround it with 8 maple slices. The result is a shaft that is incredibly consistent around its entire circumference, meaning you can get the same result no matter the orientation of the cue. You cannot do that with a solid piece of maple.

Our Intimidator series – i-1, i-2, and i-3 – continue to be very popular with pros and more advanced players. Each of these features a full-length carbon fiber core, but the shafts have very different personalities. The i-3 gives the player incredible control over the cue ball. It is a great choice for someone who really knows how to use spin to his or her advantage. The i-2 is more of an all-around shaft. It still provides a high level of control, but it also provides more power. The i-1, being a break/jump shaft, is obviously the most powerful of the three. It’s our strongest break shaft, but players really do love using it for jumping, too.

The G-Core and our maple shafts cater to the players that like a more traditional feel. The standard maple shaft is basically the same one that McDermott cues have come with since the beginning. The G-Core retains that classic feel, but leverages our carbon fiber technology to produce more consistency and less squirt. That mix has made it our best-selling shaft by far.

You also seem to be moving more towards offering customers a complete custom cue from top to bottom.  What has prompted that?

Competition. With the influx of cheap cues from China, there are now more companies than ever selling pre-made, non-customizable cues. The advantage that we have at McDermott versus these competitors is that our factory is in the same building. If a customer wants a customized cue, we can talk to the production staff about what the customer needs — we don’t have to spend weeks trying to communicate the changes to someone overseas. Plus, we can include a lifetime warranty.

I’ve noticed a huge improvement in playability.  McDermott cues have always played well but the new technology being incorporated seems to be putting you ahead of the competition.  Were you one of the first companies to start using carbon fiber in cues/shafts?

Yes, we were the first to start using carbon fiber inside our shafts. As I noted before, the competition in shaft technology has exploded in the past several years. In decades before, a cuemaker could survive by making good-looking cues. Now, a good-looking cue will only get you so far; customers are more interested in having a high tech shaft that will help them compete.

Luckily, we have a factory full of smart people just a few steps away. Not only can they design and produce a new shaft quickly, but the shafts they produce are of much higher quality than could be made in factories overseas. It is really because of them that we have technology like the new i-Pro shaft.

Steel joint construction has changed as well.  I’ve noticed you have switched to a lighter flat-faced steel joint with a quick release pin?  Has that been popular among players?

Our 3/8”-10 joint has always been, and continues to be, really popular among players. There is nothing else that matches the feel of our wood-to-wood joint. However, many players like the convenience of the quick release joint and the look that the steel joint provides. It was important to us that we satisfy those customers too. We are really trying to provide a high level of customization so that the cue the player gets is the one that matches their exact needs.

Do you have a team in charge of cue playability? Besides yourself who makes the big decisions on cue playability? Who decides the standard shaft taper etc?

Our entire team, from the production line, to the sales staff, and to our Team McDermott Ambassadors, is responsible for cue playability. Keeping every group involved in the process is really what makes our playability so good. Obviously, the production team has to be involved, but it would be detrimental to leave out our sales team, as they are the ones getting direct customer feedback. We would not want to leave out Team McDermott either, as we want to make sure that our cues can compete on a professional level.

Talk a little about some of the partnerships you have developed. You have an existing relationship with Navigator.  How has that helped McDermott produce the best playing cue in the industry?

It is simple, really. We have very high standards for the companies that we align ourselves with. When it comes to tips, Navigator has the same commitment to quality that we have to our cues. It was a natural fit for us.

Besides playability I think one of the major selling points of your cues is the fact your company stands behind their products.  You have made some great decisions hiring people to work with the general public. Tell us a little more about that…

We have always and will always stand behind our cues. McDermott offers a great warranty for the cues that we sell, and our people will take care of you. People appreciate the fact that they can talk to a real person if they call us to ask questions or provide feedback (good or bad). We take this feedback, discuss it and see how we can continue to make improvements. It is important to listen to your customers who use the product.

We also support fans who own our older cues as well. Our repair and refinishing service is great. I love knowing that a D, C, or even MR series cue is still being played with regularly. It really speaks to the quality that our cues are built with.

I know McDermott cue is constantly giving back to the industry.  Tell us about some of the great things you are doing for the billiards industry?

We have always been interested in sponsoring players and tournaments that help to promote the sport. This year, we are helping to take that love of billiards internationally. We are now sponsoring the Hellenic Pocket Billiards Union, a national organization in Greece that promotes the sport of pool. We are also a sponsor of the first ever National Snooker Expo, in the U.K., which will bring players and manufacturers from the industry under one roof. Of course, we also have our ongoing partnerships with the Ardennan Cup, German Tour, and other events. Team McDermott has also been growing, with international additions like Lebanon’s national team captain, Mohammad Ali Berjawi, Terry Davies, from Wales, and Steve Mullins, from England.  

We also support the future of our industry by supporting youth organizations. The Billiards Education Foundation (BEF), for example, offers a number of youth programs and academic scholarships. We are proud to sponsor them. We are also a sponsor of the 2018 Atlantic Cup Challenge, an event that pits the best youth players from Europe and the United States against each other in a Mosconi Cup style event.

What can we look forward to in the future?

We have some amazing new technologies in the pipeline that we’re excited to debut. I am not ready to discuss them yet, but I can assure you that you have never seen anything like them before.

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Sponsored by Jacoby Custom Cues

Author: Anthony Beeler

Editor: Shaylyn Troop

 

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