What would you say if I told you that the largest jigsaw puzzle manufacturer in North America was located right here in Buffalo? Buffalo Games currently makes 500 different jigsaw puzzles and 75 other types of party games. To demonstrate just how big the company is, over the last five years, the jigsaw puzzle industry has grown by 25%. According to the company’s president, Nagendra Raina, retail sales at Buffalo Games account for 80% of that market growth.
I caught up with Raina, to see how the COVID-19 virus was impacting Buffalo Games, and what he had to say was both enlightening and sobering. At this point in time, the company has transitioned its paper jigsaw manufacturing to Asia, because the local production operation in temporarily shuttered. I asked Raina how he was able to shift manufacturing so quickly to Asia, to keep inventory flowing, and he said that they normally outsource their plastic and wooden game manufacturing overseas, so it made perfect sense until everything is once again operational back in Buffalo.
Although Raina had a backup plan, he says that the transition has still been painful, and that the company has been dealing with major challenges due to production headaches, which has led to some empty warehouse shelves.
Interestingly, the problem has been solely on the manufacturing side, not the sales side. In fact, sales of these types of puzzle games is very strong, and Raina has witnessed competitors vying for shelf space during the pandemic. This new competition is coming from game manufacturers in other states that are still operating “business as usual” during the crisis, says Raina.
“Our US competitors are operating in states that are still open for business,” explains Raina. “They are eating up some shelf space at retailers such as Walmart, Target, and Amazon. We are coming up with temporary solutions, because we have run out of inventory during a time when people are looking for games to keep them occupied. At the same time, we are totally behind Cuomo’s ‘state of the state’ decisions that are keeping us all safe. We just need to be more inventive to get through all of this, until we can get back to work in Buffalo.”
Discussing with Raina about how big the game market has become during the crisis, it is interesting to note that Amazon recently conducted a survey that ranked jigsaw puzzles as the 8th most requested product, behind masks, respirators, gloves, and gowns. Gaming of this nature is so popular that the prime minister of Australia just declared jigsaw puzzles as ‘essential’.
Quantifying how big the market has become, and how much Buffalo Games is occupying the space, I asked Raina how he manages to keep at the top of his game. He credits the success of the games to the quality, diversity, and ingenuity of the products, while placing an emphasis on “investing quite a bit getting puzzlers into the game space.” Smart.
Still, I was very surprised to hear that these types of throwback games are so big in a marketplace that I assumed was dominated by tech games. Raina explains that the tactile experience that puzzles provide can’t be offered by “tech”… yet. “People want to share these types of tactile experiences with their friends and families,” Raina reflects. “Technology has actually helped the puzzle industry in so many ways, including being able to market and sell the games.”
I asked Raina what his favorite jigsaw puzzles were, and without hesitation he answered, “Charles Wysocki, because of the details of the Americana painter.”
Curious about how Raina came to be president of this fascinating company, I asked him a little bit about his history with Buffalo Games. He told me that he was originally a software consultant in India, and sold his company when he was 22. At that point, he wanted to be closer to his brother, who was living in Toronto, so he ended up attending University at Buffalo. From there, he wound up as a finance strategist at Fisher-Price, before joining Buffalo Games as General Manager in 2013. Eventually, he ended up as a third shareholder with the two founders, and in 2018 the company was purchased by a private equity group.
Buffalo games was founded in 1986. Today there are 100 full time employees and 40-50 seasonal employees. The business has grown 8 times over the last 7 1/2 years, according to Raina, who says that future growth will include toys for preschoolers and arts & crafts.
When asked if he is a puzzler or a gamer, Raina replies, “gamer”. He says that his favorite Buffalo Games game is “I Dissent“, which celebrates Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s groundbreaking work and fierce commitment to equality and human rights!
At a time when we could all use a little more fun in our lives, it’s good to know that Buffalo Games is still going exceptionally strong after 34 years in business, even with an unanticipated bump in the road. Thankfully, the Buffalo piece is ready to be put back together when this is all over.
What started off as a small family-run business, has skyrocketed into a globally competitive enterprise, while still operating right here in Buffalo.
This city might be known for its chicken wings, but if you’re looking for something that’s even hotter, you might want to check out Buffalo Games. While the jigsaw puzzle was invented in London around 1760, it is still being perfected in Buffalo to this day.
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