Off To International Toy Fair Races

February 6, 2004
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GRAND RAPIDS — Tim Lutz and Geoff Weirich took a fun idea for a game and ran with it. Now they are headed down the stretch for an international launch of a locally marketed and manufactured board game that features cards, dice and horses.

Lutz, 41, and Weirich, 44, are showcasing the Horse Race Game at the American International Toy Fair in New York City later this month with hopes that the lively game of chance will end up on tables across the country.

Lutz and Weirich are displaying the innovative game in Booth No. 6076, alongside the likes of the Hasbros and Parker Brothers of the world.

The Feb. 15-18 toy extravaganza is the biggest toy and game show exhibition in the Western Hemisphere.

“Everybody who is anybody in the business is there,” Lutz said.

The Horse Race Game retails for just under $30. It may be ordered from the Web site (www.thehorseracegame.com) Lutz created. They said their goal in New York is to begin to develop a distribution network for the game.

“There are a lot of game and toy stores out there that specialize in this type of stuff,” Weirich said.

Although the Horse Race Game is not new to Lutz or his family, it had never been commercially produced until the graphic designer developed a board and playing pieces for one of his classes at Kendall School of Art several years ago.

“It was a game I played in my family for a long time,” Lutz explained. “We used to play it with a deck of cards and paper, and we would draw up the races on the paper.

“When I went to school at Kendall, in one of my final classes I had to develop a three-dimensional board game, so I made it out of the Horse Race Game.”

Lutz, who said he learned how to play the game from his brother-in-law, has been playing a version of the game for approximately 15 years.

“To this day, we have no idea where he got it from,” Lutz said. “We played it with dice and cards and markers, and we spent many New Year’s Eve parties playing it.”

Lutz’s first official prototype of the game was made out of wood.

“We would play it quite often, and then people began borrowing it from the family,” Lutz said.

Then one year for Christmas, Lutz re-designed the board game, laminated it and passed games out as gifts. Weirich was one of the recipients.

“I knew he had to do something with it,” Weirich said. “I had no interest in the company other than hoping he would do well, but when he asked me if I’d like to be part of it as an investor and test market specialist, he didn’t have to ask twice.”

Weirich took the show on the road, so to speak, and began to play it at parties and gatherings with friends. The response was overwhelming.

“My wife was on me for a long time to market it, because every time anybody played it, they had a great time,” Lutz said. “I didn’t have the money to invest in it at first, but then the circumstances fell into place, I got together with Geoff and he invested in it with me.”

The original game boxes were manufactured locally and the boards were manufactured in North Carolina.

“We ended up putting together an affordable version and made 1,000 original games and signed and numbered them,” Lutz said. “We wanted to see if there was a market out there.”

Lutz said that he and Weirich have sold close to 700 of the original 1,000 and hope that the showcase at the New York Toy Fair will enhance their marketing and distribution efforts.

“We sold 700 games without any marketing,” Lutz said. “It was just strictly from word of mouth and people who had played the game.”

The commercial venture developed between the two while working together at Walker-based Jarob Design, where Lutz is a graphic designer and Weirich a project manager.

“Tim brought the game he was making for Christmas presents to work and gave it to me,” Weirich said. “Everywhere I go with it, people just love playing the game.

“It is exciting to play, and the more people you have playing the game, the better it is.”

Lutz and Weirich plan to market the game at specialty toyshops such as Fred Meyer Toy World in Battle Creek. Meyer originally encouraged the duo to go to the toy expo in New York.

“We went to the New York Toy Fair last year and just walked it,” Lutz said. “After being there, we knew our games could sell there.

“What we learned last year in New York City is that the prevailing thought is that you’ve got to get into the major chains such as Wal-Mart or Toys-R-Us, but our goal at first is to get into the specialty toy stores and mom and pop shops, and hopefully the popularity will grow from there.

“With (Meyer’s) advice, we put together a game plan to go this year.”

The game consists of dice, cards, little horses and the board — or racetrack.

“It is based on the odds of rolling the dice,” Weirich said.

For the new edition of the game, Lutz said that different elements were added, as well as a new design for the box. The individual game pieces now have names, ranging from family-owned horses to offshoots of names of well-known champions such as Sky Biscuit and Spectacular Bud.

“It is very flexible in the rules and there are different ways to play the game,” Lutz said. “People who may not normally like board games love to play the Horse Race Game. The game plays itself. You can talk and have a good time while it is being played.

“When you play it, it can get pretty wild.”

The Horse Race Game can be played as a party game or with real wagers, as well, according to Lutz.

“The way it is developed, there is horse race fun money and kids of any age can play it,” Lutz said. “One party had a cross section of people from 4 years old to 79 years old and all ages in between playing the same game.

“It’s very popular to be played with real money,” Lutz added. “You can play it with pennies, with nickels or whatever. Each game takes about 15 to 20 minutes, so you can have many races in a single night and can play for hours.”

Lutz said he discovered a turnkey game board manufacturing operation just 11 minutes from his home in Allegan. Delano Services manufactures more than 50 percent of the new game boards in the United States.

“They do it all, from manufacturing, to boxing it, to warehousing, to shipping,” Lutz said. “If the response is as good as we think it will be when we go to the show, we are going to start mass producing it.”

The duo is now preparing for their next run of game boards.

“We decided to make a bigger investment, and need 5,000 games to get to the retail market,” Lutz said. “We’re setting up for 5,000, but we can adjust depending on the response in New York.”

Lutz said that there are still 300 signed and numbered collector’s editions remaining.

“Potentially, this game should be a very big seller,” Lutz said. “We’ve had offers from investors from a lot of people.

“The neat thing about it is that the game is so different from others on the market.”    

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