PLAAYing the Long Game


Businesses don’t need to be big to be mighty.  PLAAY Games, a sports simulation board game company, has made its size and scope a huge asset by focusing on community, customer service, and keeping production costs low.

Founder and CEO Keith Avallone has always loved board games. As a kid, he made his own versions of Monopoly, The Game of Life, and various trivia games. The real game changer was when, at the age of 10, Keith discovered professional sports and a lifelong passion.

Fast forward to 2000 when Keith launched PLAAY Games with SECOND SEASON Pro Football, a board game he’d been developing since 1978. Since then, Keith has created dozens of games (with more in the works) for a variety of sports, including hockey, lacrosse, roller derby, and soccer.

An entrepreneur with a true affinity for his product, Keith’s approach to growing his small business is all about the long game. Part of his strategy is nurturing the sports board gaming community, through which his goal is to connect with those interested in the hobby.

Says Keith, “I have been connected with some of these folks for 20 years now.  The internet was key in bringing the hobby together. I started a Delphi forum for PLAAY Games back in 2000, and that has been a huge help in connecting people.  I used to snail-mail quarterly newsletters early on, (but) four years ago I started a monthly e-mailed newsletter, which has also served to bring people together.  Finally, about two years ago I started making trips to host game events and tournaments in an effort to build community, and that has really gained some traction.”


Incorporating both competition and social elements, PLAAY Games’s laid-back tournaments have played a critical role in broadening the hobby and enriching its customers’ experiences. Explains Keith, “Typically, we will meet at a local game store around noon on a Saturday, spend an hour or so getting to know each other, then conduct some sort of tournament which will run for four or five hours, wrapping up around 6 PM.  Then, in many cases, whoever wants to or is able to will gather at a local eatery for a meal and conversation. It’s amazing how quickly people can develop a bond. I have seen it time and time again, where total strangers become a ‘band of brothers’ in short order, due to our common interest in tabletop sports games.”

Savvy entrepreneurs know that minimizing costs and maximizing profits is vital. Keith’s solution is to efficiently produce an essential element of his games – the cards and card sets.  Which is where comes in! Says Keith, “Most professional print jobs can’t be profitable unless you do a minimum of a couple thousand (units).  So I had to find a way to create cards and card sets in small numbers, and perforated sheets work well for this purpose.  I can format products to be printed onto perforated sheets of standard size that I can either print myself on a high-quality laser printer, or easily farm out to local shops to have printed in smaller quantities. The customer can then separate the cards once they’re received.  This method also saves on mailing costs, as the un-separated sheets of  (perforated) cards can often be mailed in a flat envelope rather than a package.”

Knowing the niche, building the community and keeping production costs low are all elements of PLAAY Games’s small business success story, but the most important, believes Keith, is his emphasis on customer service.

“First, being small gives you flexibility and adaptability that big businesses don’t have, but you can’t capitalize on that unless you’re well-connected to your customer and listening carefully.  Second, running a small business, it’s often difficult to compete price-wise with the big guys, who have economies of scale not available to the little guys.  So it’s crucial to have an advantage somewhere else, and better customer service is one area that a small business can shine.”

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