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June 2008 | Vol. VII - No. 6
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Bananagrams Maintains Ap’peel

Top-Selling Game Keeps It Simple


“We are 350 percent over last year.” Abe Nathanson, Bananagrams
Abe Nathanson and his family love word games. In 2005, Abe wanted a new game — an anagram game so fast it would drive them bananas. It didn’t exist, so he and his family invented it and called it Bananagrams. Abe, now Top Banana of the company, talked to TDmonthly Magazine about the fast growth of Bananagrams — and how a simple word game climbed its way to best-seller status.

I have a place by the ocean and my kids and grandkids come and we play word games all summer. During the summer of 2005, I decided we needed a faster game, one that could be played in five minutes.

We wanted something portable — which meant no board — but not tiny. We wanted to be able to play in restaurants, airline terminals, on trains, etc. And it needed good-sized, quality letters.

WORKING WITH FAMILY AND FEES


Bananagrams is really a family project. My daughter Rena and her two children helped work out the permutations of the game and select the font style. My ex-wife helped make the pattern for the banana pouch prototype. Rena, who lives in London and is in charge of BANANAGRAMS EUROPE, did a fantastic job of marketing the game.

I invested $50,000 to $100,000 in the first few months, mostly for the patent and attorney fees, copyrights and molds for the tiles. I’m a photographer and graphic designer, so I diverted my regular income into the game.

It didn’t take long to make the first prototype, but the first working game took about three months. I found someone to make the first 50 to 100 pouches, and then we had the whole thing made in China.

SIMPLICITY PLAYS WELL

Bananagrams doesn’t require paper, pencil, pad, timer or box. All you need is a flat surface. And it’s portable; the pouch fits in your pocket or a purse. The letters are heavy, high-quality plastic. They’re not injection molded.

Virtually anybody can play Bananagrams. It’s one of the few games where an adult doesn’t have an advantage over a child because you’re not rewarded for having a superior vocabulary. I cannot beat my 11-year-old grandchild at this game.

GETTING OUT THERE

The first launch was at the International Toy Fair at the Excel Center in London in January 2006. It was an immediate hit.

A year later, in February 2007, we exhibited at Toy Fair in New York and were the talk of the show. We had one of the busiest booths and immediately picked up a few hundred retailers.

We avoid big-box stores and focus on the specialty shops and educational toy stores and bookstores.

One of our first local stores, Up With Learning, loved Bananagrams from the beginning — we get a reorder from them almost weekly — and helpfully steered us toward the National School Supply and Equipment Association show.

WORD OF MOUTH PROPELS SALES


We belong to the American Specialty Toy Retailing Association as well as to NSSEA, and they spread the word among their members that we have a terrific product. They started talking about us in the educational market because, apparently, Bananagrams is a wonderful product for education. Dyslexic kids find it helpful.

We do little advertising, and it amazes people that we’ve done so well. It’s mostly word of mouth, which is unusual. Bananagrams almost has a cult following.

We run the business without reps and deal directly with stores, with a couple of exceptions. We met a rep from the Minnesota/Dakota area who loved the game so much, and we felt it would be difficult to market in that area, so he represents us.

So far this year we are 350 percent over last year. People tell us that Bananagrams is the best-selling game in their stores — not necessarily in dollars but in terms of the number of games sold. We hear that all the time.




MSRP: $14.99
Age Range: 7 and up
Gender: Boys And Girls
Category: General Games
Educational
Award Winners



The fast-moving word game consists of 144 ivory-like letter tiles in a zippered banana pouch. Players place the tiles face down on the table and randomly select 21 tiles. They turn their letters right-side up simultaneously and proceed to form as many intersecting and interconnecting words as possible, rearranging their own letters as many times as desired throughout the game. Awards: TDmonthly Top Seller 2007; 2009 TOTY Game of the YEAR, 2006 Oppenheim Toy Portfolio Gold Seal; 2007 iParenting; 2007 Parents' Choice Recommended; 2007 Dr. Toy Best Products. (Read Review)
— This product has been making the TDmonthly Best-sellers lists since 2007.
— As of 05/13/2011 this product had 4.8 out of 5 stars from 456 reviews on Amazon.com.
— Eight of 66 retailers vouched for its best-selling status in May 2008; seven of 63 did in Sept. 2008. Shani Watmough of Planet Toys in Rockland, Maine, said her store sells 60 per month.  Fifteen of 38 named it a top-selling game in Feb. 2010.
— As of April 5, 2010, Bananagrams had spent 570 days in the top-100 best-selling toys and games on Amazon.com.
— According to owner Brett Sommer of Figpickels Toy Emporium in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho,  “It was the 2009 game of the year. The brilliant packaging definitely helps this product."
ToyDirectory Product ID#: 8301      (added 6/19/2006)
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Elizabeth GreenspanWriter's Bio: Elizabeth Greenspan edits and writes for trade and technical publications. She has interviewed and collaborated with some of the top practitioners in their fields. She lives in Philadelphia and travels extensively for her work. Read more articles by this author

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