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Chronic illness can cripple some families but the McCartneys from Lymm made the best of a bad situation by pooling their creative and business resources to invent PLYT: a brilliant board game for all ages and abilities that makes maths fun. It also makes them our first ever Fampreneurs of the Month.
Ian McCartney contracted Lyme disease in 2009 but the diagnosis and treatment was slow and symptoms so bad that he had to give up his job in 2012. During this time Ian and his wife, Lisa (an accountant) wanted to help their children’s confidence with numbers. They couldn’t find anything that the family could all play together where everyone was challenged, no matter what their age or ability, so they made the most of Ian’s new free time and invented their very own maths game. They called it PLYT.
Within months, Thomas’ and Ella’s teachers were so impressed with their improvement in numeracy that they wanted to know more about the game. Keen to make a good impression, the McCartneys invested in a prototype to replace the laminated board they’d been using and started visiting local schools. The response was incredibly positive and Ian and Lisa began the journey of making their board game a bona fide business.
Preliminary market research found that 17m adults in the UK have the maths ability of an 11 year old, over a third believe poor numeracy has held them back and the estimated cost of poor numeracy on the economy is £20bn per year. Most importantly, it was revealed that parents like Ian and Lisa have found it difficult to find enjoyable ways to make a difference. There was a definite gap in the market.
The next step was entering the game industry as novices. Lisa says, "Setting up a business from scratch without any previous experience in the game industry was daunting. Ian had developed some prototypes, buying components from the internet and using a local printer, which we’d taken into schools successfully but we needed a more professional product to take to the wider market."
Lisa and Ian found an artist based in London with games board design experience. They had strong ideas about the design but also needed a look that appealed to all ages.
Then there was the issue of production. After a lot of searching and deliberation the McCartneys awarded the contract to Grand Prix International which is based in the USA and produces in Hong Kong.
The finer details which followed were also complex; a bar code had to be bought, a PO box set up and the criteria for the mandatory CE mark had to be met. In addition, safety tests were required to get the product into the EU and US. At every stage the McCartneys learnt something new but it often meant having to go back and make changes to what they’d developed.
Lisa says, "With no trading history we had to pay everything up front. So here we were dealing with people in the US who we’d never met and couldn’t visit, who in turn were dealing with Hong Kong manufacturers in a language and industry we didn’t know – and we were risking our savings trying to help improve maths. It was very nerve-wracking and there were many times we wondered whether we were mad."
The freight costs from Hong Kong were high so the McCartneys had to ensure that they ordered the most efficient number of games to fill a container (in order to bring down the cost per game) but this also meant additional storage costs for as long as it took to sell them.
"The board game market is low margin and notoriously competitive and we wanted to make sure we could prove it really worked." Ian explains, "So we followed up our own market research by appointing an independent research agency to carry out a study, who found that playing PLYT at least once per week for just six weeks improved numeracy in 7-13yr olds by 30% and in adults by 22%."
Since then, PLYT has also been endorsed by leading maths consultants and National Numeracy as one of the most effective games available. PLYT sells for £24.67 (incl. VAT & Delivery) on www.plyt.co.uk and Amazon.
Whilst the game was being produced the McCartneys launched www.plyt.co.uk to promote, sell and fulfil orders direct. They took great care to ensure that the packaging materials were protective and also that proportions were compliant with Royal Mail guidelines - to keep delivery costs to a minimum.
To garner interest and build momentum the McCartneys have undertaken many marketing initiatives. One of the most successful is the daily #Plyter on social media - a quick, fun, mental challenge with a monthly prize that has been sponsored by companies including John Lewis.
Since launch, the Mccartneys have sold 2,000 games and enjoyed accelerated demand as they become more established. As well as enjoying a healthy presence in the UK market, PLYT is now selling well in Germany - and the US and Canada are the next territories marked for expansion.
"Following PLYT’s success in Germany we will expand to the rest of Europe during 2016." Lisa says. "We also know that there are real opportunities for PLYT in the Far East and India where it has been shown that there is a high level of parental engagement in children’s education, so PLYT should fit perfectly. We will start to look at selling options in early 2016."
To date the McCartneys have funded their fampreneur venture from family savings and are reinvesting profits into the business.
However, the family have big plans for the future which will mean attracting investment and finding partners to help them make a real difference to people’s lives by improving confidence with maths.
The next production run will also include a second game in the PLYT family and, as with the first game, the whole McCartney clan has been involved in the design. The ‘sequel’ game will be available in 2016 and a third model is already in development for 2017. In addition, a PLYT-based TV show is also in development.
Lisa concludes, "PLYT has brought our family closer together… getting the whole family involved in developing PLYT and making it a business has actually been great fun and incredibly bonding. Perhaps more importantly though, having experienced the results first hand, we’re passionate about how PLYT makes a difference to people’s lives. We feel that what we’re doing is very positive and can only help people and this helps us all pull in the same direction. "
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