Ipswich: Board games specliaist Drumond Park has that winning touch
The run-up to Christmas is always a busy time for manufacturers of toys and games. Business writer David Vincent went to visit the team at Ipswich-based board games specialist Drumond Park to discuss what makes a winning formula.
It is one of the most enduring of Christmas traditions. Families gather for a Christmas meal, watch the Queen’s message on television, then switch off the box and get together to play a board game ? a few arguments, keen competition and lots of fun!
But there is a great deal more than Cluedo, Who Wants To Be A Millionaire and Monopoly on offer these days, and one small Ipswich company, Drumond Park, is helping to keep families together with its own range of board games including Logo, Don’t Laugh, Best of British, Best of TV and Movies, Pig Goes Pop and Articulate.
From their office at the Masterlord Office Village the team develop raw ideas into new products, ready for launching to the toy trade in the Spring, and already earmarked for the shops and our living rooms next Christmas.
Thousands of board games are sold in this country in the run up to Christmas, many through major retailers like Argos, Toys R Us and WH Smith.
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In the UK, Drumond Park us now up there competing with international giants such as Hasbro and Mattel. Hundreds of thousands of games a year are sold every year and the Ipswich company is in the best sellers charts, with 15 out of the top 50 board games being sold in the UK this time.
Business development director John Mariani said: “We are number one in adult games, and even better than Hasbro. We have three of the top five selling adult board games. A lot of people will be playing our games with their families over Christmas, for the first time.
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“That is what we are working towards all year. We aim to make board games fun. It is about bringing families together.”
Logo, invented and developed by the team at Drumond Park, has now been selling well for four years.
It is based on favourite brands, products and general knowledge. Here is one question by way of an example:
Q Think of products named after birds
3 Chocolate bar
4 Toilet cleaner
This year too there is a new game climbing the sales charts, Logo Billionaire. “It doesn’t have questions,” said John. “It is closer to Monopoly, involving buying and selling famous brands.”
Logo 2 is already on the way, for next year, as well as other (yet un-named) games which are still under wraps. Games are launched to the trade at the Iternational Toy Fair at Olympia at the end of January.
Drumond Park is based in Ipswich and in Edinburgh where founders Sandy Duncan and Claire McColl live. “I go up to see them every fortnight,” John said, “We work very well together.”
It is a very seasonal business. John Mariani said: “We sell 80% of our games in October, November and December. And we spend a seven figure sum on television advertising. You have to be on televsion these days.
“We are very successful in this country but we are doing very well abroad too. Logo is number one in the USA. It is a game that young and old can play together, so it is great for families.
“It is in 18 countries so far. We are now working on the Scandinavian editions and planning for Brazil,Argentia and Mexico.
“We get a lot of lovely letters and emails from people who say they have enjoyed playing our games. We have had seven years of growth during the hard times out there.
“Perhaps people have been staying home and playing more games together? Our staff have worked very hard the past few weeks and deserve time off with their own families.”
The games are made in Europe and the Far East, and the logistics of getting them here and then to the shops is the responsibility of Adrian Hatcher, head of logistics and finance.
Adrian sees over the sales team of Emily Bibbings, Lawrence Smith and Zara Grant who in turn take care of the sales directors and sales agents from all over the UK.
Around 1.2million board games are sold by Drumond Park every year and have to be transported here, and delivered to retailers, in good time to be sold. Imagine a convoy of 200 20ft containers end to end...
Locally educated John Mariani has a background in board games that goes back to Trivial Pursuit and the Really Nasty Horseracing Game.
His first job in board games was writing questions for the Italian edition of Trivual Pursuit.
He explained: “I had played Trivial Pursuit in the USA, while I was working there, for Rolex. When I heard someone was needed to write Italian questions, I thought, I can do that. I went on to become European editor, responsible for finding people to write questions in every country.
“I must have written a million questions over the years. It has been the core of my business life.”
When I met him just before Christmas, he was proof-reading questions for a Swedish version of Logo. Each local/national game has its own local questions/brands. such as Volvo, Saab and Ikea in Sweden as well as international names like Mars, Nestlé and Kellogg’s. Brands included in the Swedish game would also include, for example, ones for pickled herring, meatballs and fish soup as well as Volvo cars.
All the companies featured all have to give their approval for use in the games.
John also provides advice on question-writing. “They need to be a bit cheeky. We might meet up in a bar, or over dinner, to discuss them,” he said. It helps that he speaks seven languages, five of them fluently. “And I can get by in others,” he said.
One of the key roles in the business is held by Kate Campbell, international project manager. It is her job to contact manufacturing and other companies and get their approval to be included in a Logo game.
It can take 18 months to get an international company to agree to its name or brand to be included. “You have to check every single thing,” she said.
What will she be playing over Christmas with her family? “We try all the games out,” she said, “It has got to be Logo Billionaire this year, probably on Boxing Day.”
As for John, his long-suffering family will be the guinea-pigs for a brand new game. “It is something that brings families together. We will be playing a new game which we hope will be big next Christmas.”