In the toy business, longevity in a company is something to be celebrated, particulalry when that company makes its products in the United States. That is why I asked Paul Dedrick, co-founder of Buffalo Games, to tell us a little about what the journey has been like. Buffalo Games was formed in 1986 by Paul and Eden Dedrick with the dream of bringing innovative games and puzzles to the marketplace. Today, Buffalo Games is a vertically integrated consumer products company, with 80 employees in administration, design, manufacturing, marketing and sales in an 85,000 square foot facility on James E. Casey Drive. Buffalo Games services 3,000+ retail accounts with over 200 Buffalo Games branded board games and jigsaw puzzles.
Much has changed in 25 years. My business partner Eden and I started with little experience, no business plan, no money (not our own, nor a banks), no customers, no employees and no brand. Now we have all of those items checked off in one form or another, plus a few others; we got married and had two kids along the way.
But so much hasn’t changed. For 25 years I’ve been asked, “do people still do puzzles and play games?” or “aren’t you concerned about technology or computer games”, and “how are you going to compete with them?” Over the years these questions have been posed many times from friends, media and business associates. My answer has never changed: “Yes, people still do puzzles and games” and “No, I’m not worried, there’s always plenty of opportunity”.
Obviously, computer games and technology are complements to the broader retail playing field on which we compete for consumers’ dollars and most importantly their time. But they haven’t replaced traditional board games and jigsaw puzzles. And don’t misunderstand that “traditional” means stale or boring. Our products are innovative and fresh in the way they deliver fun to the consumer, they just happen to use the proven platform of a board game, or the tactile experience of a puzzle. For although the media posits that we may be witnessing a fundamental shift in social interactions, human nature, and the love of gathering, partying, laughing and creating are intrinsic. We aim at that.
Then, in the last 10-15 years, the above conversation always lead to this question, “why don’t you make your product in China, wouldn’t it be cheaper?” or,”how will you ever compete against global manufacturing?” And my answer has never changed, “No, I don’t think it’s actually cheaper” and “our growth shows we’re not only competing, we’re winning”.
Far East Manufacturing and out-sourcing have become the norm in the industry, and are the only feasible solution for many toy categories. But after 10 years of domestic out-sourcing we made the strategic decision in 1996 to build a manufacturing facility in the US to produce our product, believing it would be a major competitive advantage for our growth. And 15 years later, having a modern domestic manufacturing facility is even a greater advantage today. Maintaining control over those things which it is possible to control has worked well for us thus far. I see it as parallel to the trends in pastimes I already mentioned: fundamental realities do not just disappear. And U.S. manufacturing doesn’t need to be stale and cumbersome. We retained the opportunity to be lean, responsive and excellent. We also aim at that.
I wouldn’t advocate what has worked for Buffalo Games as a blanket strategy. We try to plot a course which maximizes the enormous power of our best asset, which is the team of extraordinary people we work with every day. This is the true source or potential success of any company, in any industry. We use caution in the face of popular trends and fearlessness in the pursuit of excellence.
Looking back, I feel gratified we stayed our course over the years rather than trending with the times when we’ve had to make strategic choices. It’s been fun and rewarding building the Buffalo Games brand, especially in re-paving a familiar route for the Toy Industry.