Forest Hill Society support, promote and encourage local businesses. In each newsletter we plan to interview successful businesses in the community who are helping to make Forest Hill a vibrant and successful town centre.
Helen Wicks from the Forest Hill Society recently met local businessman John Parris, owner of Parris Cues who manufacture snooker cues in Church Vale Forest Hill.
Q. How did you get into the snooker cue trade?
It started as a hobby, I played snooker and started experimenting with repairs/ fiddling with snooker cues. I was asked by others to repair their cues and it progressed from there. It’s quite a niche market and there are not a lot of competitors just small ‘one man bands’. Obviously larger shops sell mass produced cues much more cheaply, but like any other sport, if you are serious and/or talented, bespoke equipment is recommended.
Q. Why Forest Hill?
I started in Bromley about 30 years ago. We outgrew our premises in Bromley and were looking for a larger site, and then found this building in Church Vale SE23 which was bigger with good transport links by road and rail into central London. Our premises in Forest Hill are very modest and many of our distinguished customers expect to see a grand showroom are surprised to find the business tucked away in the back streets of Forest Hill in an unglamorous shop. We are established here now, we like it – we have no plans to move.
Q. How many people do you employ?
It’s a family business run by myself and my wife and my son looks after the IT side of things. We employ 8 people including an apprentice and I will soon be looking for a second apprentice to work on a new leather snooker case line that I am introducing. I am fortunate to have a skilled and loyal workforce with very little staff turnover producing high quality cues.
Q. Who are your customers?
At the beginning we were basically providing cues to the UK market. During the 1980’s snooker was very popular in England…..thanks to Steve Davis and Jimmy White.
We are now a global business and 60% of our business is export. Our biggest customers are from China particularly Hong Kong, and also Brazil, Canada and Australia. The Crown Prince of Brunei has bought cues and flew me over to deliver them. He has even visited the showroom arriving in 3 limos …blocking Church Vale!
The internet has facilitated this success. We have invested a lot in our website and this has been an important way to reach the world market.
The fortunes of Parris Cues prospered during the 1980’s snooker boom and were further lifted by the Sporting Events Promoter Barry Hearn, who as chairman of the World Professional Billiards and Snooker Association and the subsequent controlling interest in the commercial arm World Snooker Limited, revitalized the game from 6 tournaments a year to tournaments somewhere in the world every week.
Q. Any well known customers?
Yes, snooker players; Ronnie O’Sullivan, Jimmy White, Steve Davis, Stephen Hendry, Stephen Maguire, John Higgins, and Neil Robertson. Other celebrities who have bought cues include: Ronnie Wood, Damien Hirst and Ian Wright.
Have a look at our photos on the website!
Q. So how did you manage to get such big names on your books?
It all started when I cornered Steve Davis at a tournament… I offered to produce a replica of a cue that he damaged in a tournament…and he liked it! From this stroke of good luck, I built up my reputation on recommendations and to add to this Steve has become a good friend.
Q. How many snooker cues do you make on average every year?
We manufacture about 1500 cues a year.
Q. What materials do you use?
I source wood for the cues from all over the world, exotic wood mainly, ash and maple from North America in addition to British plum and pear tree wood.
Q. Snooker was very popular - Why do you think are there no clubs in Forest Hill?
There were three clubs within walking distance of Forest Hill station, two of which were in Perry Vale behind the station and one at Brockley Rise... a real shame they closed…I believe this was because of high rents, combined with drop in popularity, possibly also because smoking ban and gaming regulations took their toll on profits. However most pubs are not big enough for snooker tables but do have pool tables – incidentally, we also make cues for pool and American Pool!
Q. Can you give any advice to a budding entrepreneur wanting to start up a business in Forest Hill?
Yes, find a niche market product that you are passionate about and spend as much as you can on a website to promote it!