World Poker Tour Amateur Poker League [WPTAPL] Licensee Dennis Downey

Date: MAY 31st, 2010

Topic: Spotlight on a Franchisee

World Poker Tour Amateur Poker League [WPTAPL] Licensee
Dennis Downey

I guess I have always had an entrepreneurial spirit and I was just tired of seeing everyone else make money off my hard work.  With family, limited funds to invest and a day job that I was not ready to leave it was hard to find the right business for me.  I had been to franchise shows and looked at other opportunities, but most of them required substantial investment and a full time commitment. I actually found the WPTAPL opportunity when I was online looking for a poker game to play in.  I sent an email for more information, because I love poker and had been looking for a business.  The opportunity looked great, but the timing wasn’t right for me.  Three months later life settled down and I was ready to go. 

I launched in February of 2009, with 5 events in my first week. One bar cancelled that first week but the rest remained with me for lengthy periods of time.  I learnt an early lesson from the bar that cancelled and that is if you don’t think the bar is committed to working with you then you may as well move on.  There are plenty of places to run tournaments and there is no point in killing yourself to meet unrealistic expectations.  After six weeks with my four remaining venues I moved up to 7 events per week.  Two months later I moved up to 12 events per week.  I now typically range between 8 and 12 events per week.  In May of 2009 [only 3 months after launch] I was making enough money and felt secure enough in my poker business to leave my day job and I haven’t looked back.

This business really breaks down into two areas: players and finding bars.  As a small business we are obviously, not running a huge advertising budget so we had to get creative.  I got lucky when after inquiring about advertising in my local newspaper and seeing that it was out of my budget, I received a call from them telling me they had an empty page they needed to fill and they would let me have it for 80% off.  That got me an instant player base that I have been able to leverage with things like refer-a-friend programs.  I also have a facebook page and post my events wherever I can for free, like craigslist and kijiji.

The other side of the business has been finding bars. That takes door knocking and persistence.  You want to make sure to find bars that will work with you and to set realistic expectations.  I have found some great people with bars in my area and I have explained to them that I want to work with them for both of our long term mutual benefits. Then we have to prepare them to get there servers ready to meet our special needs.  Our players are not what the average server is used to.  When most people go to a bar they go to eat and drink.  Our players go to play poker.  They will eat and drink, but they require more service then the average patron. We have worked with the bars to maximise their revenue potential from our events. We let them know we will have pop and water drinkers and they may want to sell bottled water as opposed to just giving away free glasses of water.  Some bars have changed their free refills on pop to say, free refill with the purchase of food.  Most bars run a poker night special and we help them to push that special.  One other thing we have worked with bars on is what we call “Strip club service”; that is the process of regularly asking individuals if they are ready for something to drink and not being deterred if they say no.  I would say almost all of my players will support the venue, but only when they are ready.  If you ask a player when they walk in if they would like something to drink and they say no, it maybe because they want to get settled in first, or they want to order food first, but if you ignore that person for the rest of the night you will most definitely be missing potential sales.

The WPTAPL experience has been a great one for me in a number of different ways:

I get the opportunity to work with Sherry, my wife and we share a lot of the duties of the day to day business
It is the most low stress job I have ever had.
I have attained a real life/work balance as I have the majority of days to myself.
I am able to recruit Tournament Directors to run events if I want an evening off.
It was a low investment opportunity with a really quick return on my investment.
I have been able to increase the number of licensed territories, either on my own or in partnership with other business associates.
I am a social animal and have forged many new friendships and these days [some 15 months on] it seems less and less like business [although in fairness I am always looking to increase my event base and player base]
It is the only job that it is not only acceptable to drink on the job, but actually encouraged. 

I received personal training from the Master Licensor and he regularly comes out to my events to support me.  He has been supportive and helpful with the issues I have encountered.  I like the calm and relaxed atmosphere that he promotes and the encouragement that he offers all of his licensees to share best practise so that we can all become more successful.

Like life, this business has had ups and downs for me, but far more ups then downs.  This business may not be for everyone, but if you have the entrepreneurial spirit and the will to make it work then maybe this is the business for you.