The phones are ringing incessantly at the Swing Set & Toy Warehouse in East Hanover, New Jersey.
Sue Williams, a sales representative for the company for the past 30 years, has never experienced anything like it.
“It’s been a shocking last month and a half,” she said.
Swing Set & Toy Warehouse, which also has locations in Upper Saddle River, Freehold and Fleming, has seen about a 50 percent increase in sales of outdoor playsets, trampolines and basketball hoops.
“Usually families decide to buy swing sets when their children are age-appropriate. But now, I’m seeing even people with very young kids buying,” said Williams.
With stores, restaurants, clubs, theaters, event spaces, public parks and pretty much every gathering place closed due to the COVID-19 outbreak, climbing on swing sets, clacking puzzles together and bonding over board games have become much more attractive ways to spend one's time.
The proof is in the money.
The game company Hey Buddy Hey Pal’s Amazon sales were up 4,000% in the last week of March and in-store sales at Walmart were up 100%, according to Forbes. Puzzle maker Ravensburger’s sales were up 370% in March, Forbes also reported. Hasbro CEO Brian Goldner told CNBC the company's games have been in high demand since March.
Jim Silver, a toy journalist and the editor of the toy review website TTPM with 36 years in the biz, has worked through the market crash of ’87 and ’08, when folks were pinching pennies and looking for in-house entertainment. He can recall the attacks on 9/11, when families stuck together in their homes. But he’s never seen puzzle sales shoot up like this — about 300%, Silver said.
“Puzzles appeal to an extremely wide demographic. It doesn’t matter if you’re 5 or 85 years old,” said Silver.
Similarly, construction toys such as Lego and Mega are enjoying increased sales. Building sets are an alternative for folks who don’t like puzzles — Silver is among them.
“If I have time to kill, I’ll do a thousand piece Lego set instead of a thousand-piece puzzle. I can make a Lego Death Star or ‘Game of Thrones’ set,” he said. “It’s a puzzle for the fan or geek.”
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While puzzles can be done in a group or by oneself, board games are conduits of social interaction. When the work laptops get put away, the television is switched off and the incessant scrolling on TikTok ceases, family, roommates and quarantine pals can gather together, as in the days of old, around a board game.
A mainstay of inexpensive fun, board game sales, Silver reported, have seen increases when the economy tanked in the past. With millions of Americans out of work, board game sales are once again rising.
“You can use board games with multiple people for long periods of time, over and over again,” said Silver. “During tough economic times, consumers have found the value of board games."
Puzzles, board games and outdoor playsets all have an attractive side effect: They get us away from our screens.
“Parents don’t want kids on a screen 24/7,” said Silver. “They also don’t want to be on screens 24/7.”
Of course, online video games continue to be popular, and can even be socially connective when playing multi-player games with friends and family, said Silver. But, taking a break from the glow of a screen has perhaps never seemed more attractive than during quarantine.
“Getting outside is helping every family I’ve spoken to,” said Williams of Swing Set & Toy Warehouse. “It eases the stress of being together all the time.”
Small vs. big business
But not every gaming sector is thriving. Small independent game shops are not deemed essential, and many that cannot support online orders have closed. Data shows that Amazon, Walmart and Target – big-box stores with online order infrastructure already in place – are selling the most games and puzzles, said Silver.
Niche game makers aren’t doing as well as big brand names, either. Monopoly, Uno, What Do You Meme, Relative Insanity and Rummikub – games with brand recognition – are selling out, while lesser-known games are struggling.
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Tiki Tiki Board Games, a shop that sells new and used board games in Woodbury, has been selling enough games to stay in business, but not as many as it did before coronavirus. Owner Ryan Morrison never used to have his inventory online because it changed so often;he has more than 4,000 games in stock.
Luckily, Morrison and his business partner know about computer programming and were able to pivot to online sales after having to close their store due to the pandemic. They've placed a locker outside of their shop where people can pick up the games they ordered online.
“We’re selling games consistently,” said Morrison. “Our customer base is incredible. More reach out to us every day.”
Morrison can’t compete with big-box stores when it comes to the price of new games. But his customers have come to rely on him for recommendations and a familiar voice on the other end of the phone, something that places like Amazon and Walmart can’t offer, Morrison said.
Is he worried that larger stores will steal his customers? Not yet. Is he afraid physical, cardboard and plastic games will become obsolete in our world of online entertainment? Not a chance.
“Games aren’t going anywhere,” said Morrison. “One of the major things the pandemic has done is make people appreciate time playing games with each other more.”
Family game recommendations
From Tiki Tiki Board Games owner Ryan Morrison. We've listed the Amazon.com price and link but encourage you to call your local toy store to see if it has the game in stock.
The goal of Cinco Linko is to connect five of your colored tiles in a horizontal, verticle or diagonal row. It's a simple, yet technique-drive game. "We usually start or end our game nights with it," said Morrison. "It's like tic-tac-toe but with more variation."
Costs $7.88 on Amazon.com.
Take Five is a reprint of the German games 6 nimmt and X nimmt. In each card game, you attempt to score as few points as possible by placing cards down to get rid of your own cards and beat out other players. "It's an unpredictable numbers game," said Morrison.
Costs $13.16 on Amazon.com.
In Splendor, players try to build their jewel empire by buying gem mines, shops and means of transportation. The more you acquire, the more points you get.
Costs $31.39 on Amazon.com.
Can’t Stop is an old game from the '80s where you have to press your luck by rolling dice and laying claim to columns on the game board. Players can keep rolling the dice until they choose to end their turn -- the more they roll the more they can win or lose.
Costs $15 used on Amazon.com.
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