July 23, 2018
October 2008 | Vol. VII - No. 10
Challenges of Chess Spawn Line of Educational Cards
Entrepreneur Battles Stolen Property While Helping People Learn
A passion for chess was behind Jean-Pierre Grenier’s line of educational and souvenir playing-card decks. But it was his weakness in the game that sparked the idea for his first product.
| “Don’t believe you can succeed; know you can.” — Jean-Pierre Grenier,
Les Entreprises SynHeme Inc.
A FLASH OF BRILLIANCE
“My main weakness at the game was the openings,” Jean-Pierre told TDmonthy Magazine. “The first few moves … are called the opening. That’s where you stage your pieces for the battle to come. There are literally hundreds of openings and thousands of variations possible. … I had the idea of making flashcards to help me remember the most important chess openings.”
Jean-Pierre had a notion that he wasn’t the only one who had a hard time remembering all of the opening possibilities. But, instead of flashcards, as he’d originally thought, he decided a deck of cards would be even better.
The idea first came to Jean-Pierre 18 years ago, and, after years of thinking, “One day that will be cool,” three years ago he finally “jumped head first and did it.” Since then, he has created 13 original products.
Jean-Pierre initially told family and friends about his idea. Some encouraged him, but others tried to discourage him, fearing he’d fail.
“Our decks of cards are registered at the Canadian Intellectual Property Office, and we also registered them with the Library of Congress in the United States,” said Jean-Pierre, discussing the intellectual property theft of his chess moves cards by a Chinese company.
The deck has since been redesigned, making it easier for retailers to spot counterfeits. He also contacted his clients and made them aware of the counterfeit decks.
Some of the companies stopped selling the fake decks. Jean-Pierre sent cease-and-desist letters with a copyright law abstract to those that didn’t, demanding they stop selling the forged decks or further action would be taken.
PLAYING HIS CARDS RIGHT
Despite the warnings and his own fears and self-doubt, the computer programmer turned entrepreneur invested his savings and mortgaged his home, going from prototype to product in three months. In June 2005 he formed his Sherbrooke, Québec-based company, Les Entreprises SynHeme Inc.
Jean-Pierre kept everything local, hiring local freelance artist Daniel Cauvier to translate his ideas to paper, and printing company Grafikom LP to produce the cards. His biggest obstacle was figuring out a balance between production costs and retail value.
Initially, he thought he would start with 50,000 decks to get the best cost, but he was advised against that. His first printing was for 2,000 decks.
“This year’s goal is to sell 20,000 decks,” he told TDmonthy. His best sellers, he added, are the periodic table and human skeleton decks.
Others include a self-defense game and musical scales. The decks are bilingual in English and French, and the self-defense version is also in Japanese.
“They sell very well,” he said of the cards. “Nothing pleases me more than meeting people [who] come up and tell me, ‘Oh, wow! I wish I had that when I had to learn my periodic table. I am buying one for my children.’”
On the darker side of business, Jean-Pierre has been the victim of intellectual property theft. Within six months of the release of his chess moves deck, a Chinese company replaced his copyright mark and company name on the deck with its own and began selling them worldwide.
“I estimate the damage to be at least C$300,000,” he told TDmonthy, noting that the fake decks are being sold in many countries, including Australia, England, Germany, the U.S. and Canada.
After having sent cease-and-desist letters to retailers selling the counterfeit cards, [see sidebar] Jean-Pierre said that chapter is behind him. “I do what I enjoy, what gives me pleasure,” he told TDmonthy. “I create educational playing cards that I know are helping people out there learn new skills or … pass a school exam.”
Jean-Pierre currently works full time for the City of Sherbrooke as a computer analyst but probably won’t for much longer. If all goes as planned, he’ll be working full time for SynHeme in three years. His advice to others launching a business? “Don’t believe you can succeed; know you can.”
See some of Les Entreprise Synheme’s cards below:
Periodic Table Playing Cards by Les Entreprises SynHeme inc.
This double deck of cards has one card per element. Each essential characteristic of the element is present on the card: The atomic number, name (in English, French and Spanish), symbol, mass, melting and boiling points, period, group and more. Ideal as homeschooling aid and a great science related gift. 1/18/2006 (MSRP: $14.98; Age: 6 and Up)
Human Skeleton Playing Cards by Les Entreprises SynHeme inc.
Every bone of the human body on 52 cards! Each card illustrates one or two bones using vivid color for easy recognition. Each bone is presented in its context with its name in English, in French and in Spanish. Two cards illustrate the bone structure and the Jokers serves as index. 8/31/2007 (MSRP: $7.98; Age: 6 and Up)
Chess Opening Playing Cards by Les Entreprises SynHeme inc.
Whether you are a youngster learning chess, a casual chess lover or an avid chess club player, these cards will help you improve your game. Each card has the Chess Encyclopedia reference, the opening name, the moves for White and Black, a diagram of the key position and the following most commonly played moves. Finally an easy way to learn chess openings! 1/18/2006 (MSRP: $5.98; Age: 6 and Up)
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