PLAINWELL — Fun and games are always in the cards for Nikki and Todd Jacobs.
The couple own and operate Talicor, a board game company located at the end of Lincoln Road in a non-descript 43,000-square-foot light blue building here in Plainwell.
The company’s products are sold in more than 5,000 brick and mortar retail stores and on hundreds of national and international online retail sites. Big box retailers such as Toys-R-Us and Barnes & Noble as well as independently-owned stores such as the Teacher’s Center in Portage and Hopscotch in East Grand Rapids are among those that carry Talicor products.
Todd Jacobs said he enjoys telling people that he plays games for a living.
“I have a job where I get to play games everyday,” said Jacobs, Talicor’s 30-year-old vice president. “I always liked board games as a kid.”
Ironically, during his childhood, Jacobs said he and his grandfather used to play a board game called “The Ungame.” It was the first product launched more than 40 years ago by Lou Herndon, founder of the Ungame Co., which was acquired by Talicor.
Nikki Jacobs, president of Talicor and Todd’s wife, said she and a silent partner acquired
Talicor and Aristoplay, a board game company in Dexter, in 2003. Both companies are now part of a holding company that Jacobs, 35, and the silent partner own, called Toad Publishing. Talicor is short for “tally the score.”
Thanks in part to a flagging economy, which has prompted families to look for cheaper forms of entertainment, Talicor sales increased 15 percent from 2009 to 2010 with the publishing and manufacturing of 106,500 new and reprinted games.
The company sells more than 250 different board games, some made in travel-friendly sizes, and puzzles ranging in price from $5.99 to $29.99.
“The Ungame,” which is designed to generate conversation by asking players questions about such things as their goals, continues to be a top-seller for Talicor with more than 4 million copies sold in 14 different languages and six different versions.
“Herd Your Horses” is another big seller, especially among girls between the ages of 8 and 18, Nikki Jacobs said. “You can either be a rancher or a horse,” she said. “The object is to get your horse to pasture.”
But the game also is a teaching tool that allows players to learn about the markings and characteristics of various horse breeds listed on the game cards.
The games produced by Talicor are mostly family, education or Christian-themed.
Todd Jacobs said he receives four to five inquiries each week from individuals who have a concept for a board game they want to discuss with him and his wife. He said the concept for “Math Animals” was developed by professors at Grand Valley State University. It teaches addition, subtraction and multiplication skills.
“They bring the idea to us,” Todd Jacobs said. “We license the idea and become the owners of the game and bring it into retail stores.”
“All of our games are developed here with our art director,” Nikki Jacobs said.
The games and puzzles are then manufactured and prepared for shipment by EPI in Battle Creek. The Jacobs’ said they take pride in knowing that 95 percent of their products are produced in Michigan.
By the time the games hit the market, they generally look very different from the original concept, Todd Jacobs said.
However, not all of the games and puzzles sold by Talicor are original to the company. Nikki Jacobs said Talicor has a licensing agreement with the hugely successful Veggie Tale franchise to sell their board games and puzzles.
Having some more established and recognized games in the portfolio helps to increase the visibility of other Talicor products — a key strategy in an industry where buyers often take a wait-and-see approach before buying large quantities of product for their store shelves.
Nikki Jacobs said the board game “Apples to Apples” sold by Mattel was in the marketplace for 10 years before being picked up by larger retailers.
“Buyers for bigger stores want to see how a game sells in smaller stores,” Todd Jacobs said.
But, the couple isn’t sitting around waiting for their existing games to garner national attention. They are focusing on a five year-growth plan which calls for getting Talicor products on the shelves of larger retailers and developing new games.
“We see games in the strategy segment as a real emerging field,” Todd Jacobs said. “We have to plan out. Already we have two to three products that we’re doing for 2012.”
A couple of strong sellers:
• Talicor’s LifeStories game is considered a storytelling game that helps “warm up a family gathering, rekindle a friendship or renew histories.” It is a medium for family members and friends to recall memories and reveal hopes and dreams as they respond to questions. It sells for about $30.
• The Ungame, sold for about $25, is considered a non-competitive, family communications game. Players progress along the playing board by answering questions like ‘What are the four most important things in your life?’ and ‘What do you think life would be like in 100 years?’”