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Helping Parents in the Game of Life:  Cleveland Heights couple invent Parent Talk board game on child rearing
Wednesday, September 03, 2008
Marcia Pledger

Juliette Reynolds was dreading the entertainment her husband, Michael, had arranged: inviting another couple over to their home to play a board game about finances.

The thought of an evening filled with money talk didn't especially appeal to Juliette or her friend, both of whom had put professional careers on hold to be stay-at-home mothers of preschoolers. Chatting as their children romped at a playground, "we jokingly agreed that we should have been playing a board game on parenting because that's what we spent all of our time thinking about," Reynolds recalls.

That night four years ago, she shared her playground conversation with Michael - and both immediately saw a business opportunity. They formed Babysteps Ltd. with the idea of creating a board game to help parents to think about how to handle challenging situations as their child grows and develops. 

That game is Parent Talk, aimed at the parents of babies and toddlers. Last month they launched ParentTalkGame.com, a Web site through which they sell the game.

"Over the years, my husband has had many entrepreneurial ideas. But the bottom line was I wasn't excited about running them," Juliette said. "Parenting is something I really get excited about."

The Reynoldses describe the $29.99 game as a proactive approach to parenting. If a couple agree on how to address a problem - such as a temper tantrum at the grocery store - they advance on the board. The game pieces represent children growing from birth to kindergarten age.

If the parents disagree, play stops briefly as they discuss an issue to see whether they can compromise. If they still disagree, players are supposed to write down the issue so they can discuss it later.

"We initially had people move backwards if they disagreed," Juliette Reynolds said. "But the problem was, some couples never got off 'Start.' "

Part of the fun, she said, is that two couples playing each other can agree on an answer. But one couple might move forward six spaces while the other couple move forward only one space, depending on a roll of the die. "There is some luck to the game."

Rather than simply determining winners and losers, the real goal of the game is to help players be better parents.

For most of us, parenting is a real challenge," Juliette Reynolds said. "Some people just get it because they have good communication. But the majority of couples come to the marriage with baggage and expectations of how they want to raise their kids. The problem is, a lot of things aren't discussed until they're in a situation."

Michael Reynolds, director of re-engineering at Citicorp in Cleveland, said he quickly bought into the idea of creating the game, based on experiences with their daughter, River, who was 4 at the time. The couple had also heard plenty of stories about difficult parenting situations from friends and colleagues.

Now the Reynoldses' biggest challenge is figuring out how to market their game.

So far, they have spent about $30,000 on manufacturing, graphics, Web site development, a YouTube video, and legal and accounting fees.

"We did a lot of market research on the Internet and with other people, and one of the positives is that it's a unique game," Michael Reynolds said. "That's also a negative, or at least a business challenge."

For instance, he explained, the game was listed on Amazon.com in April under the category "strategy board game."

"There is no category for parenting discussion games or parenting self-help games," he said. "Those categories are only in the book section, but it's not a book."

The couple decided to take a multifaceted marketing approach and see what works best. They're looking into options including catalogs for baby and child products, bookstores and local toy stores.

Kevin McNulty, vice president of sales at Endless Games Inc., a New Jersey company that discovers and develops games, believes the Reynoldses are on to something. Coming from a guy who has been in the game business 37 years, that's encouraging.

"It's a tough process getting a game to market, though," McNulty said.

He should know. His company marketed the original Trivial Pursuit game in 1983, which he calls the most successful game of all time. Endless Games fields about 50 ideas every week and helps bring one or two of them to market each year.

"I think it's a very valid idea," McNulty said of Parent Talk. "Now the success or failure of the item will depend on the execution."

The best chance for national success in the game business is having a company such as Endless Games license the rights to make and promote the game. When that happens, the creators receive royalties.

In the meantime, small game companies try all sorts of ways to sell their product. Every once in a while, an unconventional approach works.

"Part of the beauty of this industry is that an amateur can break every rule in the book and have success," McNulty said.

Such as the Seattle waiter who created Pictionary. In 1986, he got permission to demonstrate his new game at a Nordstrom store in Seattle - an odd choice, as the store lacked a toy department. Nevertheless, he managed to sell a couple of games a week. Word spread, and soon a department store across the street agreed to put Pictionary on its shelves.

"We heard about it because he started selling 3,000 a week in just two months," McNulty said.
Amy Speidel of Senders Parenting Center in South Euclid plans to host a Parent Talk night at the center on Oct. 14.

"One of the things we strongly believe is that parents really are desiring to have more proactive thoughts about how they are entering into parenting and how they proceed," said Speidel, a parenting and teaching coach. "The Parent Talk game really offers an opportunity to get some things out on the table."

Down the road, the Reynoldses see potential for a variety of other game boards - for parents of elementary school or high school kids, for parents of multiple-birth children such as twins or triplets, and even for single parents. For now, though, they're concentrating on making Parent Talk a success.

"We don't propose to have the right answers about parenting," Juliette Reynolds said, "but we do think we have a tool to help parents learn from each other and about themselves as a way to become more conscious and consistent in their parenting."

To reach this Plain Dealer reporter:
[email protected],  216-999-4813