From BCA Insider – 2019 Expo Edition by Billiard Congress of America.
Kurt Schmidt of A.E. Schmidt is the recipient of the 2018 BCA President’s Award.
“I selected Kurt for this award because his company has been a mainstay in the billiard industry for over 150 years, and under Kurt’s stewardship, A.E. Schmidt Billiards has weathered, and even prospered during adverse economic conditions,” says BCA Chairman Brian Igielski. “Kurt Schmidt has spent his entire life in billiards, and his knowledge and history of this business is a living treasure for the game.”
A.E. Schmidt, which crafts beautiful pool tables and game room furniture in St. Louis, Missouri, has been family owned and operated since 1850, maintaining a remarkable allegiance to the original ideas of its founder, Ernst Schmidt.
“We have always maintained that quality pool tables should be the focus of our business, that we should be the ‘go to company’ when no one else can help,” says Kurt Schmidt, who co-owns the company with his wife, Karen. “A pool table hasn’t changed that much in 100 years; in fact, we still build one model that came out in 1924. We are all for the family-run mom and pop billiard dealers. They are the backbone of this industry year in year out. They need to be protected and helped in every way possible.”
Igielski notes that Schmidt doesn’t take shortcuts.
“When some in this industry have looked to alternative materials and construction in order to save money and time, Kurt has remained true to ‘quality first,’ because his name is on every table, literally,” he says. “To me, his biggest accomplishment has been his ability to remain committed to the industry and his ancestry. While most of us have come into the billiard industry as a career choice, Kurt was born into it. And his company has been a stalwart in this industry, successfully managing the ebb and flow of the billiard industry.”
It was about a decade ago when Schmidt wondered if the industry would continue supporting a domestically made pool table and he was pleased with what he discovered.
“That answer has come loud and clear that this industry still wants a quality, hand-built table. More importantly, they want options – lots of them,” he says. “We have based our business on trying to never say no to what the customer wants design wise. We currently build nearly 70 different models, some of which are private label. While most of what we build is semi-custom, we do lots of fullblown customs.”
The company’s flexibility in woods, finishes and designs has been a big help to many of its dealers and has helped A.E. Schmidt greatly expand its dealer presence. According to Schmidt, a top showroom in today’s world is made by what kind of experience you can bring customers when they’re in your store.
“Last August, we implemented that change to our own showroom, by closing a branch store and adding a showroom on the front of our factory,” he says. “We made this decision so that our customers could experience all the stages of our product, from going into the factory to seeing how the tables are built, then going back in the showroom and building their table exactly how they want. This type of experience really helps close a sale and helps show the customer the value of our product.”
Many years ago, Igielski was told by a colleague, “if you want to know anything about this industry or pool tables, just ask Kurt Schmidt. And when you do, be prepared for a lengthy history lesson detailing more than what you asked.”
“He has a willingness to share his knowledge because it’s the health and preservation of the billiard industry that is paramount to Kurt,” Igielski says. “Kurt Schmidt builds pool tables. Not just his company, but Kurt himself builds pool tables. Day and night. He will outwork anyone.”
“All the current members feel that we have to live up to what the prior generations have done,” he says. “That’s not to say that we all don’t have ambitions beyond those of the past for this company. Everyone wants to contribute and make their own mark. It seems so basic and simple, but we are one of the few that have not diversified into other industries. For that, I am proud.”