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Nagendra Raina - Problem-Solving the Future, One Piece at a Time

How did you come to a career in toys?

Frankly, it was unplanned. I interned at Fisher-Price and instantly became captivated by the industry. What’s not to love? As a business that demands newness every single year, it keeps you on your toes. There’s no room for complacency in the toy industry and that aspect of always being challenged remains very appealing to me.

Where did you grow up and what was your favorite thing to play with as a child?

My childhood was largely in New Delhi, India. I loved the original View Master with all the reels. It transported me to a different world … dinosaurs, the depths of the ocean, even the planets!

You are a father of young children. Being in the play/learning business must give you a different perspective. What do you find yourself doing or not doing-- influenced by what you do for a living?

Being a parent gives me a first row seat to observing how kids really play with toys – intended and unintended. It always makes me think of safety and quality and how they are sacred pillars our industry takes very seriously.

Watching my boys play for hours inspires my creative thought at work. What interests them and doesn’t interest them often helps shape upcoming toys in the Buffalo Games line.

You have equal parts finance and marketing in your background - how do those skills serve each other in a more entrepreneurial environment like Buffalo Games?

I can dream up something fantastic and then rein myself in on costs! Because I started with a financial foundation, I tend to focus on critical priorities that are needle-moving. I think it also enables me to connect the dots across teams and create intersections where creativity, viability and productivity can flourish.

Great toys often become great because all the business aspects come together seamlessly; great toys are the products of great execution in its entirety.

Tell us about two of your greatest moments in the business.

When I was on the marketing side at Fisher-Price, I helped launch the first iteration of Smart Cycle – a toy that resembled a stationary bike that put kids in the game as they pedaled. From the moment I saw the rough inventor concept to the product launch at NYC Toy Fair with Richard Simmons – it was just a blast – a ride on a rocket ship. It became the most successful 1st year SKU in Fisher-Price history.

Of course, meeting with the founders of Buffalo Games, Paul and Eden, I had that “Do I jump?” moment. I was well-situated at Fisher-Price and comfortable. But their story was incredibly motivating to me because it was a passionate one. The company had immense potential and just needed to fine tune their mindset, going from a family-run business to a well-oiled machine. This was an opportunity, in an industry I loved, so I took the leap. We have grown 10-fold in seven years and it’s been so rewarding. As I look back and think about our accomplishments as a group, I couldn’t have asked for a better place to work.

The pandemic sent everyone inside very quickly last spring. The puzzles and games category soared. Describe what the impact was like in spring and through today.

In the beginning of March, we started to see a spike in sales we were not expecting. POS was through the roof and we were facing an insatiable pandemic demand curve across our entire portfolio.

Just as we started adjusting our throughput, NY State closed all non-essential business operations; that was heartbreaking. There was a massive need and we were not able to service our retail partners and consumers. Consumers were sending us hundreds of emails requesting wholesome games for their kids and families. There was so much time to fill and it was a perfect opportunity to spend it playing together as a family or as siblings …even playing via videoconference with friends and family. This was our moment.

What did you do?

We made ends meet by sourcing our product from global vendors and, when we were allowed to re-open, we hit the ground running and cranked up our production capacity significantly.

While we are still not fully stocked, we have started to recover our retail inventory positions. All said, we’re extremely encouraged to see the long-term growth of our toy industry and its resilience with the American consumer in challenging terms. Certainly, we are thrilled at the renewed interest and appreciation of puzzles and games.

What are the hottest commodities you offer?

Interestingly, jigsaw puzzles were a top 10 search item on Amazon during the early days of the pandemic. New puzzlers were entering the category every day. With 10 hours of puzzling time for a 1000-piece puzzle, you can unhook from reality for a bit and just problem-solve something more enjoyable.

We have a broad offering of puzzles and games below $20, many in the $9-11 range. Our line is affordable and offers an extended period of play time. We are anticipating two robust seasons of selling ahead as we head back inside. Pacman, I Dissent (Ruth Bader Ginsburg game), Skeeball, Plinko, and our children’s product statement at Target – Chuckle and Roar – are very hot right now.

What's the culture like at Buffalo Games? You are a small shop with several employees who came from big corporations. That's interesting. What's the draw?

Though we have a tough time summarizing our culture in a phrase, there’s a definite vibe -- entrepreneurial, structurally flat, innovative, competitive, nimble, but fair and empathetic. We work with a sense of urgency, but always show respect.

The management team is a group of seasoned leaders from larger business units where they were outperforming peers, but were stifled by the rigidity, lack of speed in decision-making and forward movement. The expediency of decision-making and execution at Buffalo Games is a huge draw for our employees. And, we have fun!

Tell us your people management philosophy.

Don’t preach. Give your team solid frameworks in which they can make informed decisions, keep your door open, and let them go.

What keeps you up at night related to business? And conversely, what excites you the most?

Fear of losing. Fear of letting the team down. I draw great satisfaction from winning as a team.

What excites me the most is making sure that never happens. I love running ahead to clear obstacles, secure resources, choosing the right people for our company. My success and the team’s success is synonymous.

The coming year promises more of the same. How are you preparing? How are you reacting to the cancellation of Toy Fair?

When the going gets tough, the tough get going. Our nimble business model is well-suited and equipped for a disruptive environment.

It’s always fun to meet with peers and inventors at Toy Fair, so given the circumstances, we’ll go about keeping up our connections and think tank opportunities in a different way – via technology. We can’t lose those connections.

Businesses are looking at how they go forward. What's next for Buffalo Games?

We are committed to a faster pace of growth fueled by aggressive innovation in fun toys and games!

Finally, how are you staying sane through the up-and-down pressures of life right now?

My family keeps me sane, I’m good. Right now, my drive is really important. There are a lot of awesome things to look forward to and I have the mentality that I am not going to miss out personally or professionally. I don’t mind jumping.

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