George Ward of Stouffville, Ont., has been in the family business for about 15 years. Following in their father's footsteps, he and his sister are sales representatives for toy manufacturers selling to retailers in Canada. The toy industry, he says, is shrinking and competition is stiff.
"Historically, the target age range for kids in the toy business was newborn to 12," says Mr. Ward. "Today, it's newborn to age six. That's a small window and it has dropped because by age six, kids are on computers and cellphones and video games. Twelve-year-olds today don't want to play with action figures. They are texting their friends. The market is getting so small."
There is a bright spot: board games. Board games represent one of the fastest growing categories within the industry, Mr. Ward says. "Parents want an alternative to video games. They want to do something as a family. Board games can be played by adults, too, so it's on the rise."
That's what got Mr. Ward interested in Syllables
, a game developed by his high school friend Mike Ross. Mr. Ward liked the game's concept and took it to the buyer at Scholastic Canada. "I said 'here is the concept of a board game I might get into, what do you think?'" The buyer liked it enough to order 500 games.
"I knew I wasn't going to spend any money before I had sales," Mr. Ward says. "That's one lesson my sales training taught me. On the show you see those inventors who dump hundreds of thousands of dollars into their inventions with nopromise of sales. There was no way I would do that."
His total investment to date for Syllables
is $5,000. And he has already managed to find distributors in Canada, Australia and the United States. "From the outset my goal has been to make as much money as I can
," Mr. Ward says. "I didn't want a royalty deal. I wanted to find someone who would buy the product from me and then resell it. That made it a little harder as well."
The game has hit the shelves of Borders and Toys R Us USA and is available in Canada at Zellers and Giant Tiger. He has sold more than 30,000 games and broke even in his second year.
Mr. Ward credits much of his success to the game's simplicity. "It's easy to learn. The letters A to Z are on the board. Roll the dice and whatever letter you land on you have to spell a word starting with that letter. The longer the word, the more points you get. Fifty bonus points are awarded for each syllable in the word. We also allow handicapping of winning scores. It's one of the only games where you can have three different skillsets playing at the same time because younger children might need 5,000 points to win where as adults might need 25,000. So it's challenging and fun for everyone."
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