Anyone who has spent time with children will remind you that a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down.
Or, as Khangelani Gama puts it: “When you tell children to sit down to read, they absorb little … their minds aren’t there. Children learn best if there’s an element of fun involved.”
The Durban-based entrepreneur has taken this simple truth and developed two board games that combine education, life skills and entertainment.
Getting the product to market is where the game is really won, and Gama has a trump card up his sleeve when it comes to this.
He has spent more than 16 years honing his merchandising and marketing skills, including at one of the world’s biggest consumer goods companies.
The games – Know My Africa and Game 4 All – are now in nine stores, including Game4u branches at some of the major malls in KwaZulu-Natal.
The 46-year-old said the idea came to him while he was employed as a social worker at shelter for street children in the north of Durban.
Thanks to donors, the children had plenty of toys, but these were competitive or encouraged solitary play – few were cooperative or educational.
Gama spotted a gap in the market.
HOW DO YOU FILL THE GAP?
After two years, he left social work for the private sector, joining Unilever in 1999.
The multinational company trained Gama by sending him on courses including sales and merchandising, customer management, finance and budgeting.
“I wasn’t only a sales executive, but also acting field manager looking after a merchandising company that was rendering services for key accounts,” he said.
In 2006, he quit Unilever to join Tudortech, a technology sales, marketing and distribution company.
Over the years, Gama learnt to negotiate with floor managers at wholesalers and to stand his ground so his goods got their fair share of space.
So, when he finally took the leap last year to become his own boss, Gama made sure to invest in quality display stands, at R2 000 per store.
He says Gifts and Collectables at Durban’s uShaka Marine World is his best-selling store.
Know My Africa appealed to international tourists who thronged to the beachfront theme park and wanted something other than run-of-the-mill curios to take home with them, Gama said.
Another business lesson Gama has applied is the need to offer more than one product, ideally a line.
“People like to have choice,” said Gama of consumers. Similarly, retailers “can see you mean business”.
Gama stumped up R46 000 to patent the games in southern African countries, and then opted for an initial production run of 2 000 of each game – a trade-off between unit cost and capital outlay.
A Durban printer made the boards, boxes and cards.
With a truly entrepreneurial spirit, Gama packs the games himself and fashions the wooden counters and novel dice with a machine he bought for the job.
Apart from stores and some sales to the department of correctional services through a wholesaler, flea markets and business fairs have proved worthwhile.
They provided useful cash sales, but the real value was in brand building.
For now, the focus is on building a strong base in KwaZulu-Natal, he said, but there was scope for more government business and a whole country to conquer. And, in time, who knows ... Africa?
DEALING WITH XENOPHOBIA
A desire to do something about xenophobia by educating the young inspired Gama’s Africa-themed
Know My Africa is a 42-piece jigsaw puzzle of a map of the continent, but with a twist.
Once the children (ages six and up) have completed the puzzle, they take a wooden pyramid throwing object and toss it on to the map.
For each of 53 countries the pyramid could land on, there’s a matching card that displays that country’s national flag, list of natural resources, capital city and date of independence.
Aside from providing a fun history, geography and economics primer, the father of two adult children said he hoped to get across bigger life lessons.
“I am trying to instil the thing of being able to work together. It’s got nothing to do with wanting to win … I am trying to break that thinking; to build a sense of belonging to a team.”
My daughters, Hellie (8) and Gensie Hattingh (6), enjoyed playing Know My Africa with Hope Miller and Snethemba Mkhize (both 11), who Gama brought over
for a visit.
The girls also had a whirl at Game 4 All, which has a vaguely Ludo look to it, but follows quite different rules for advancing pieces around the board.
The game was about developing numeracy and planning skills, said Gama.
He cited morabaraba, the traditional southern African game, as an influence when he came up with the concept, and chucking its four chunky half-round wooden dice gives things an African flavour.
The rules are a little more involved than Know My Africa and it calls for tactical thinking.
THE BOARD-GAME INDUSTRY
The South African toy sector is worth an estimated R4.5 billion and board games are worth perhaps 10% of that, according to an industry expert.
Toy company Hasbro SA, whose games include perennial favourites like Monopoly, Jenga and Cluedo, said a lifestyle trend was emerging as people seek new ways to connect, one of which is to host a board-game night with their friends.
Hasbro’s commercial manager, Gavin Mansour, said: “Hasbro has seen growth in the local board-game category, with year-on-year growth of about 30% being reported.”
Mansour said Monopoly remained a top seller, with the localised edition, Monopoly Mzansi, being its bestselling board game to date in the local market.