Jim Graven took a decades-old billiard manufacturer and retailer and with the help of his children, has grown it into a full backyard and home entertainment mecca for north central Kentucky. What may seem like an odd product evolution makes perfect sense to Gunnar Graven, Jim Graven’s son and Steepleton’s vice president.
“Billiards is a seasonal product; it starts in October and ends in February,” Gunnar says. “We needed something else. And in the state of Kentucky, being what we believe is the basketball capital of the world, every driveway has a basketball goal. So, we added basketball goals.”
Basketball goals lead to playsets, which lead to trampolines — and eventually hot tubs in the late ’90s. Gunnar says customers start out as playset customers, with young children or grandchildren to entertain. As the kids grow out of the playset, the customer moves onto a trampoline or basketball goal; and finally, a hot tub or billiard table.
Allison Graven, general manager, says she loves seeing this happen, too: “It’s amazing how fast the time goes by.”
Gunnar says Steepleton puts big emphasis on taking care of that return customer, “because once we have them in our grasp, we don’t like to let go of them.”
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Steepleton was founded in 1910 by brothers Clyde and Claude Steepleton as a billiards and bowling retail establishment that manufactured high-end commercial billiards tables. Jim Graven began working for Steepleton after high school, working his way up until he bought the company in 1980. In 2010, Steepleton shut down the manufacturing side of its business to focus solely on retail. Graven still owns Steepleton, but Gunnar and Allison run the day-to-day operations of this now 112-year-old business.
Both Allison and Gunnar have worked at Steepleton for more than 20 years. They keep a close eye on backyard and home entertainment trends, making sure both their online and brick-and-mortar showrooms are ready to bring in whatever is popular.
“If the trend of grilling goes down and something else is picking up, we’re going to pick up the next newest, hottest home leisure trend,” Gunnar says. Allison adds that they’re always on the hunt for new and exciting products.
Gunnar always knew he wanted to work in the business, even after watching his dad run it. “I saw the positives, the negatives and the struggles, and I loved it,” he says.
“It is a family business, so every day you show up and take on the role that needs the most attention,” Allison says. “It’s fun. You never know what you are going to get.”