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Good move: Game fans start successful business



Published: Thu, April 17, 2003 @ 12:00 a.m.



The online business owners expect their sales to hit $2 million this year.

QUAKERTOWN, Pa. (AP) -- As Erik and Kristi Szabo brainstormed, trying to come up with an idea for a job Kristi could do from home after their first child was born, the discussion kept going back to board games.

And why not? When it comes to games, the Szabos are experts, practically professionals.

"We would get together with friends on Friday nights," said Erik Szabo. "And we were very good. Our friends began calling us the game experts."

They're so good at Pictionary, Erik Szabo said, that if he and Kristi go first, it's all over. "Often, the others never even got a turn," he said.

And so, in January 2000, they launched Board Games Express, a Web site -- www.boardgamesexpress.com -- that sells games. The basement and garage of the Szabos' Richland Township home is filled to overflow with more than 700 games, from Ants in the Pants to Zobmondo.

They sell 50 versions of Monopoly, including Elvis, New York City (the World Trade Center towers are still part of the game), Wizard of Oz and NASCAR Monopoly; 15 games featuring "The Simpsons" television series, including Monopoly, Trivia (regular, Trivia II and Travel Trivia) and What Would Homer Do; and more than 65 Bible games, including Bible Baffle, Bible Charades, Bible Pictionary and Bible Trivia.

Sales figures

According to Erik Szabo, Board Games Express did $300,000 in sales in 2002 and he expects to do "at least $2 million this year." By the end of the year, they plan to offer more than 1,000 different games.

"We thought whatever extra income it generated, great," Erik Szabo said. "We never thought it would turn into a business."

According to Diane Cardinale of the Toy Industry Association, board games and puzzles accounted for $2.09 billion in sales in 2002, up 19 percent from the previous year. "The latest figures we have for online retailers," she said, "is from 2000 and they accounted for 2.1 percent of sales. I'm sure it's gone up since then. People seem to have too many things to do and not enough time and online shopping is a great resource for them."

The market

The board game industry is dominated by the "big five" of Wal-Mart, Target, Toys "R" Us, Kmart and KayBee Toys. Everyone else, according to Andrew Beyfuss, president of Boardgames.com, is considered "market six." He said the big five account for 90 percent of sales and the market six companies account for the remaining 10 percent. The key for the smaller companies and Internet sites, Beyfuss said, is to offer the hard-to-find games the big five don't stock in their stores or on their Web sites. "Seventy percent of the games out there you'll never find at the big stores," he said. "Plus, we sell the mass-marketed games at competitive prices."

For example, the Szabos specialize in Bible games and are the exclusive sellers of Compatibility, which is made by an Australian company. It's one of their top-selling games.

"Everyone buys board games," Erik Szabo said of competing against the big five. "There's more than enough of a market for all of us."

Rapid growth

During the past Christmas season, 150 to 200 orders a day poured in.

"It quickly became more than I could handle," said Kristi Szabo, a former German teacher in the Northampton Area School District. "Especially the computer part."

In September, Erik Szabo left his job as a computer specialist at Carson Helicopters in Perkasie to work full time for the company. Kristi Szabo now sells the Pampered Chef line of kitchen items and works part time for Board Games Express.

Another part-time employee is their son, Caleb, 3, who just might be the world's luckiest kid. He said his favorite games include Candyland and Chutes and Ladders.

One of the highlights of Caleb's day is when the UPS truck stops by to deliver games. He loves to carry in boxes and slide them down the stairs to the basement. "I like Pat," Caleb said of the UPS driver, who -- just like in the television commercial -- is practically a member of the family.

They still play

Erik and Kristi Szabo still love to play games, although with a business to run and two young children (Caleb and Joshua, 1), they only get together with their friends every third or fourth Friday.

"My favorite game seems to switch every month, based on my mood," Erik Szabo said. "To me, the thing that makes a game interesting is, does it have a unique quality you can't find in any other game."




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