Viking Cue Interview with Mark Larson

MADISON, WI.—January 15, 2012. Viking Cue Manufacturing, LLC-Mark Larson interview by Patricia Simms 

Mark Larson rescued an iconic pool cue business from dissolution in May (2011)—now Viking Cue, based in Madison, Wisconsin is growing. In a rough economy, Larson says listening—really listening—to customers is the key to improving sales.

“Listen to your dealers, listen to the consumers,” said Larson, 47, who also owns Midwest Prefinishing Inc. in Middleton, Wis. “They are talking, but many companies are not listening. When you care about your dealers, and their profits, they notice. We treat our customers how we would want to be treated.”

When Viking Cue ended production in 2010 after 35 years in business, some thought the firm, one of the largest makers of two-piece pool cues in the U.S., was headed to China for cheap labor. Others thought the company, started by Gordon Hart in the basement of his Stoughton, Wis., poolroom, had just died.

But Larson, 47, bought the unique business after visiting the company's facilities off a busy Madison highway. 

“My motivation for buying the company was two-fold—my relationship with Rick Rolli, head of production at Viking for 27 years, and the reputation of the Viking brand,” Larson said. “I have known about Viking for many years. Being an iconic brand in billiards, I was intrigued about a possible purchase. While there were several other companies interested, my offer was the only one looking to keep the brand intact and the production of Viking cues right here in Madison.”

But brand alone doesn't grow a business, especially in a soft market. “Obviously the industry is impacted by the economy, and the home building industry in particular,” Larson said. “And, as in most industries, there are winners and there are losers. The winner properly assesses the marketplace and drives their efforts in filling consumer demand. Make no mistake, there are still many pool cues being purchased—millions, in fact.  And make no mistake, Viking has identified these consumers, and we are focusing our products to fill their needs. So far, our sales growth is proving our strategy right.”

Larson said he measures success by the number of dealers and pool players that Viking positively affects. “We are having a very positive impact on the industry thus far. We feel that all of the right pieces are falling into place. More specifically, we will have a dealer website where you can place your orders 24/7/365, over 60 new cues, a new shaft line, new accessories, new price points, an authorized repair center for all billiard cue brands, limited edition cues, and new cue specials throughout the year for our dealers.”

Larson admits he's not much of a pool player. “But our two sales managers play a lot of pool and know the game inside and out,” he said.

Married with five children and two grandchildren, Larson said his kids love pool cues. “All of them—and they want to design their own. They love the game.”

When Larson acquired Viking, he brought his extensive knowledge of wood based products and wood finishing processes to the deal. “What I find fascinating and intriguing is all of the great designs we come up with and then turn into works of art. And I do feel that our cues are works of art. We can take a piece of exotic wood from West Africa, and combine that with 75 to 90 CNC-milled (computer numerical control) intricate pieces of other exotic woods, and turn that into a gorgeous piece of art. That is truly exciting, and a testament to American craftsmanship. We have actually made a $12,000 cue that featured real ivory, embedded jewels and an amazing 180 inlays.”

Now Larson is looking forward. “In the years ahead, Viking will be ramping up its capabilities to stay positioned as the absolute top-of-the-line cue maker in the industry. We're taking on a new direction while staying true to our name by investing in cutting-edge technology that will allow our cues to perform better than ever. On top of that, we're introducing innovative new products and accessories to add a whole new dimension to the playing experience. We have a large dealer base in the U.S. and Canada, both brick and mortar and online retailers. We also have accounts in over 40 countries around the globe.”