The following interview has been given on kozoom.com. You can read the comments also.
Bernard Bollette, commercial director of Simonis: we can’t let people say misleading things
© Harry van Nijlen/kozoom.com
Bernard Bollette: the Simonis cloth is successful on a global scale for all disciplines of billiards.
VERVIERS – Iwan Simonis will celebrate its 335th anniversary in 2015. Suffice to say that the route of the famous Belgian manufacturer of billiard cloth is part of the history of our sport. It is this specialization and unique expertise that have enabled the company to prosper while a large part of the European textile industry has been decimated by Asian competition in the last thirty years. Recently, many rumors have been circulating on social networks about a new cloth that has been described by some as miraculous. Is this ‘Business Buzz’ or a billiard innovation? It is still difficult to completely understand rumors. Could the ”Royal Pro” dethrone the famous Simonis 300 Rapide used in most clubs today?
To better understand, we asked Iwan Simonis’ commercial director, Bernard Bollette for his views. His tall figure and his smile are well known to billiard champions who have regularly crossed paths with him at major events for many years. He agreed to give us his point of view and put his discreet nature aside to answer a few questions.
Kozoom: The Simonis 300 has established itself for many years as the reference cloth in carom clubs. What is the reason for its success?
Bernard Bollette: The Simonis cloth is successful on a global scale for all disciplines of billiards. It is used not only in Carom, but also in pool, and other less known disciplines that are very popular in other parts of the world, such as Pyramid or Russian billiards, and to a lesser extent English Pool and Snooker. The success of our range of cloths can be summarized in a few points: first and foremost our experience in textiles dates back to 1680 and our specialization in billiard cloth, which dates back to the mid 19th century, thus adding up to more than 160 years of experience. In addition to our expertise and our research and development policy, the care and the quality checks ensure their consistency and reliability. That is essential.
Kozoom: Is the key to success therefore based on experience and quality control?
BB: For the most part yes, but it goes along with our marketing and promotion strategy that gives us the opportunity to equip the top leagues and tournaments, where players can enjoy our products while our brand gets visibility. For decades we have surrounded ourselves with the best players and champions who give us their advice and feedback to ensure that we continue to produce a cloth that matches the needs of the market and players. The best proof of this is the continuous progression of averages achieved in recent years, particularly in three cushions. I’m not saying that this improvement is due solely to our cloth, there are other factors of course, but it proves that the quality of our cloth is constantly progressing even if we do not always realize it. Our success is also due to the quality and professionalism of our network of distributors worldwide. That is also a key element.
Kozoom:: Let’s look more specifically at the Simonis 300, well-known among carom players. If I understand correctly, the cloth made 20 years ago is not the same as today? Has the manufacturing process evolved?
BB: Yes indeed, the current cloth is not quite the same as it was twenty years ago. We incorporated new techniques and have made its processing more sophisticated to gradually make it superior in terms of speed and accuracy. If new trends emerge, of course we will consider them and we will produce according to demand without any problems. I would even say that we precede some requests, because we have been working for some time on a new version of our cloth for cushions. Simonis has always had a cushion specific cloth. This was the “Super Extra Roulant” at the time and the “585” in recent years. This new cloth for cushions is in the development phase and once our tests are successful it will be brought to market. As for the cloth for slate, players are fully satisfied with the current 300 Rapide, which does not prevent us from anticipating the next move as in a game of chess.
Kozoom: The Royal Pro, a new cloth without wool has been getting a lot of buzz on social networks in recent weeks. We haven’t tested it, but the flagship argument is that the table would not need to be heated anymore… What do you think?
BB: Broad debate! First of all, we must not confuse roll, sliding, speed – whatever term – with precision. Our current 300 Rapide cloth is very fast, but also very accurate when it comes to 3-cushion, as wells as Balkline and Free games. What about a 100% synthetic cloth from a precision point of view for the series games and Artistic? I still have doubts as to the accuracy of the trajectory of the ball just before it stops on a 100% synthetic cloth on the slate. This is a very important point. And what about a 100% synthetic cloth for 3-cushion in the early days after placement, especially for a championship: will just it slip or skid?
Bernard Bollette (r) in the stands with Eddy Merckx
Kozoom: The 100% synthetic formula is not a magic formula according to you…
BB: Did you know that a 100% synthetic cloth is not only prone to getting dirty but also terribly noisy? Magic formula? I will explain my answer. Regarding the use of such a cloth on cushions, it is clear that the absence of wool probably allows the restitution of the effects to be a little more regular and constant. I recognize that a 100% synthetic cloth can be considered relatively innovative, not in terms of composition and construction which are very basic, but in terms of its use on cushions. As a matter of fact our research and development department has been working for some time on various types of cloth for cushions as I have said before. However, regarding the use of 100% synthetic cloth for the slate, I’m pretty adamant such a cloth has many more disadvantages and therefore not as many qualities as cloth produced essentially from fine wools such as Simonis 300 Rapide. Regarding the heating, it is still necessary to heat a table even for a synthetic cloth, but maybe to a lesser extent. I also want to make it clear to your readers that unlike the wool that we use that is naturally fire resistant, viscose used in the production of this 100% synthetic cloth ignites and burns very easily, especially if this material covers the whole surface of the table on both cushions and slate. I know that this thought is not directly related to the game of billiards, but it is an indisputable fact.
Kozoom: The other flagship argument for this cloth that can’t be ignored is its price …
BB: Of course, a 100% synthetic cloth is significantly less expensive to manufacture, but the price difference is only true for the product, which is the cloth. The cost of labor is exactly the same, regardless of the cloth. We all know the high price of installation, and if this synthetic cloth gets dirty more easily it also means that must be replaced more often. But if I take into account the “hyper basic” side of the production of such a cloth, the quality of materials used and country of production, I can tell you that in the end, the price at which it is sold to clubs is very high.
Kozoom: One has the feeling that your cloth is a victim of its own success today. The market seems to positively, but blindly welcome any novelty. Is that type of competition good?
BB: Of course competition is good, it is not a problem at all, and believe me, Simonis lives in a very competitive world, contrary to what many people mistakenly believe. In all disciplines in the sport of billiards, we have at least a dozen different competitors in the world. That is something. However, Simonis is perhaps the prime manufacturer of specific cloths for all disciplines. With regards to blindly welcoming any novelty, I think you are right. You know, when you have a network of distributors, as we have in the world, you cannot afford for your reputation and notoriety to let people say misleading things about your product and you cannot let them say misleading things about the competition either. Your credibility is at stake. Our direct or indirect communication is therefore relatively controlled. The competition from the 100% synthetic cloth does the opposite. I feel that as a result people at times lose their objectivity with all the subjectivity and untruths that result. In fact, these rumors, sometimes true, sometimes false, are the result of a lack of control or a willingness to not control communication around this cloth, which allows its promoter and his network to say misleading things.
Kozoom: Social networks amplify the word of mouth phenomenon that has always existed in billiards. This give the opportunity for a « small competitor » to build notoriety for little money, but it is also a way to denounce the monopoly that you are sometimes blamed for, at least in carom. Is that the case?
BB : Wrongly blamed for in fact. I am speaking to the ones that blame us, in the carom world in particular, of having a monopoly in cloth supply and sponsorship of World tournaments: do they know that the UMB has had two cloth suppliers for a very long time :Simonis and Gorina? It is quite normal that a federation contracts the use of sports equipment against payment. If with the years some cloth manufacturers don’t have the means or the willingness to support the sport with these sponsorship contracts and only one supplier is left on board, is that Simonis’ fault?
Kozoom: Of course not, but your leadership position makes you subject to this type of critics…
BB : Yes. But in any case these contracts of support to the billiard sport only apply to certain competitions. All others are open. Some people are wrongly criticizing us based on a lack of information. Our attitude is to give back to billiards in general, and to carom in particular, what it brought to us in terms of notoriety. For decades, our company has for mission to be profitable of course, but also to bring our contribution – and it is quite sizeable – to the development of the sport, renewal of players with training young players, to the organization of tournaments that would not otherwise happen without our help. As I explained earlier, we continue to innovate with new cloth developments, but also with new colors that make leisure billiards more attractive to private homeowners. We have accomplished all of this as a manufacturer who controls his production from A to Z and not as a middleman relying on cloth produced somewhere else. It is tempting to criticize Simonis, it is the case for all leaders, but without our technical contribution and help for all these decades, billiards would not be quite the same today.