Nestled on shop shelves this Christmas, between annual best-sellers and TV quiz spin-offs, are many independent boardgames games vying for customers’ attention.
The industry is a hyper competitive world requiring a thick skin, according to Shaun Delaney, inventor of boardgame Jask, which is now stocked in 140 stores nationwide and is even owned by the Prime Minister.
“It’s certainly more snakes and ladders than Who Wants to be a Millionaire”, said the 57 year old. “You get knock backs but you just have to have belief in what you’re trying to do and not take no for an answer.”
Shaun invented Jask while on a caravan holiday in 2003 with his three teenage daughters. Frustrated at gaps in their general knowledge he came up with a game which was both fun and educational to play. Essentially players land on a letter on the board and are then asked to name as many things as they can beginning with that letter - anything from capital cities to words which sound the same but are spelt differently.
“It started out as a few markings on a piece of cardboard and my kids absolutely loved it,” said Shaun, from Bedgrove, Aylesbury.
“Luckily I had a friend who was a printer and he knocked up a prototype for me. Now things were getting a little more serious, I enlisted the services of professional designers who made sure the box looked attractive, which is incredibly important when it’s going to be next to the likes of Trivial Pursuit and Scrabble.
“Then I made the big decision to get it made for real. The first batch of a thousand was made in this country but it was extremely costly.”
Once armed with a professional looking game, Shaun, who was also working full-time as a warehouse manager, set about persuading shops to stock his product.
“The pitches are a bit like Dragon’s Den, you are talking to someone who is trying to catch you out but if they like what they hear then they are in. Once you’ve got in a few stores it’s like a snowball effect, it gives you credibility and then it’s easier to sell it to other retailers.”
Jask is now sold in the likes of Hamleys, John Lewis, Fortnum and Mason, Fenwicks and Waterstones. Two months ago Shaun, who puts the money he has invested in Jask into the ‘tens of thousands’, quit his job to concentrate on it full-time.
“Now I don’t have the safety net of getting money from that job, so that’s a bit scary. But I know I have got everything in place to provide me with more than a good living.”
Jask is now produced at a factory in China at a much cheaper rate, enabling Shaun to get a better profit margin.
“The people I deal with call themselves names like Tony or Wendy and they all talk pigeon English. It has all gone extremely well and for a quarter of the price.”
The games are usually shipped over, but with Christmas on the horizon and the games selling well, Shaun has just had to have some delivered by air freight. Once over they are put in secure storage ready for delivery to the shops.
But getting the product on the shelves is only half the battle when you’re up against huge multi-national manufacturers with eye-watering maketing budgets used to entice consumers. To counter this, Shaun spends every weekend travelling up and down the country demonstrating Jask in shops. In the stores he visits he often outsells the big name games.
Shaun made contact with Aylesbury MP David Lidington to ask for his support, and earlier this year he presented David Cameron with a copy of the game at Chequers.
“The key is never to give up,” said Shaun, who now also acts as an agent for other independent board game makers, helping them get their products on the shelves.
“There’s so many great independent, British-made games out there so it’s a shame the market is dominated by a few big names and spin-offs which are actually inferior to play, but it’s just the branding that people recognise.”
He adds: “I feel I am on the cusp of something really big. Am I obsessed? I think my family would probably say yes I am, but in this industry you simply have to devote yourself completely to your goal, otherwise you’ll get no-where.”