Board leader: Buffalo Games
Buffalo Games takes its turn
Nagendra Raina of Buffalo Games has seen the game and puzzle industry grow by 600 percent.
Photo by Stephen Gabris
How cool is it for a Buffalo business to become a continental market leader by selling products that bring people together and provide hours of fun?
Just ask Nagendra Raina, CEO of Kaisertown-based Buffalo Games, who has seen the board game and puzzle company grow by an astonishing 600 percent over the past five years. “It’s really fulfilling,” Raina says. “It’s a fun business to be part of, especially as you are developing products and then in a few months, you walk down the aisles at a retailer and you see the innovation, right there in front of you.”
By “retailer,” he means the Targets and Walmarts of the world—no small feat for what began as a family business launched from a small North Buffalo office in 1986. Founders Paul and Eden Dedrick began selling board games to mom-and-pop shops, diversified to add jigsaw puzzles, and made some noise in the mass retail market with innovative offerings like the double-sided World’s Most Difficult Jigsaw Puzzle.
All Buffalo Games needed to take that next step, Raina says, was to ramp up manpower and strategy. In 2013, Raina was a rising star at Fisher-Price, where he’d started as an intern after completing his MBA at the University at Buffalo. At F-P, he honed his skills in product development, marketing, business strategy, and finance. He was drawn to the opportunity he saw in Buffalo Games: “It was such a beautiful thing on a local basis, waiting to be taken to a much broader, higher level,” he says. “I joined the business, took a leap of faith, and the rest is history.”
Buffalo Games has since grown six times over and, this past fall, the Dedricks sold it to private equity firm Mason Wells along with Raina and other managers from the company. As the largest jigsaw puzzle maker in North America, it now makes about half the puzzles sold throughout the United States and Canada—that’s a fifty percent market share—with major imagery licenses ranging from Americana artist Charles Wysocki to Star Wars.
The company also designs and makes board games and party games, often taking advantage of the heightened agility that comes with controlling its own manufacturing and having in-house game design talent. For example, Buffalo Games responded quickly to capitalize on YouTube sensations with games like Watch Ya’ Mouth (which went from a concept to the shelf within a few weeks) and Ryan’s Rocket Race Game. Other offerings like Skee-Ball, The Fanny Pack Game, Beard Ball, Chickapig, and Boom Box Game play on nostalgia and current trends.
That bodes well for the Buffalo Games workforce, which has grown to 125.
Culturally speaking, at last count the company had fourteen different countries represented on its staff. “We’ve been able to attract a lot of immigrants,” Raina says, noting that the influx before the current US administration brought workers to Buffalo from the Middle East, Africa, and some parts of Asia including Burma and Bangladesh. Raina says he’s proud to employ those “who might today be American citizens, but … came from fourteen different countries of the planet to be working at Buffalo Games.”
As for what’s on the horizon, Raina says continued growth and innovation will keep the company on its upward trajectory. “But the core propellant for either is our workforce,” he says. “If there’s one thing that I’m most proud of the last few years, it’s our talent. We are as good, or better than, anyone else on the planet when it comes to making puzzles or creating new intellectual property for games. And that’s exciting.”
Wait—board games? Jigsaw puzzles? What happened to everything going digital?
“Broadly speaking, I would say there has been a cultural resurgence toward board games,” Raina says. “Let’s go back five, six years in time: I think the category was a bit jaded, and maybe there was a perception in the marketplace that everything was going to be digital, on phones, and in apps. And by no means am I anti-technology or suggesting there isn’t a space for that. Absolutely there is. But there also is a space for a one-to-one relationship. There is a space for people getting together, and having a sort of icebreaker conversation. There is a space for a tactile element, as in making a jigsaw puzzle.
“So those things have not eroded as such because of technology,” Raina concludes. “If anything, there has been a resurgence of that element, because people value it so much more when there is a time competition between digital elements and tactile elements.”