CLEARWATER — Aargh. You're out of cash, you're awash in heavily margined stocks that are plummeting and war just broke out in the Middle East.
Having fun yet?
Local orthopedic surgeon/game enthusiast John Barrett is counting on it, having invested $50,000 in materials and staff time into creating and marketing his Play the Stock Market board game.
Anyone trying to sell a new board game in this era of the Wii, Guitar Hero and high-definition video has to be a bit of a risk taker. Especially when that game is based on navigating the tricky world of trading stocks and bonds, an arena that might intimidate some prospective players just looking for fun.
Then again, in market-speak, you might not want to sell Barrett short. The 69-year-old entrepreneur, perhaps best known as founder of the Florida Knee and Orthopedic Centers, has a knack for good timing.
Barrett sold a hotel in St. Pete Beach, property in Ocala and a shopping center in Clearwater before the commercial real estate market started drying up. He pulled his money out of the stock market — $20 million — in early 2008, avoiding this past fall's carnage. And he's kept much of the stash in cash since then. "Cash is a good investment," he says.
Now his passion is peddling a Monopoly-esque board game that he hopes will educate middle America that the stock market isn't nearly as complicated as some experts would have you believe.
There's no better time to encourage financial education and make it fun, he said, than during the current economic upheaval.
After all, the model for his game was also born in tumultuous times. Charles Darrow, an unemployed domestic heater salesman from suburban Philadelphia, created the popularized version of Monopoly in 1933 during the peak of the Great Depression.
Unlike Darrow, Barrett will be competing against cable TV, the Internet and an endless barrage of video games. But he's encouraged that board game sales are in a resurgence as families search for cheaper forms of entertainment and more direct social interaction.
In 2008, board game sales rose 24 percent to top $800 million. This year, consumer research group IBISWorld projects another 5.1 percent jump to $834 million in sales, or nearly 37 million games sold.
Of course, board games are far removed from their heyday in the 1980s and represent a fraction of the $21 billion video game industry. And IBISWorld spokeswoman Savannah Haspel says the long-term forecast is for board game sales to slump 7 percent in 2010 once the economy recovers and "more people will revert back to electronic games and other forms of entertainment."
Barrett is wasting no time, striking while the market is hot.
Raymond James Financial agreed to offer his game on the brokerage firm's online store. He's in discussions with the marketing department of broker TD Ameritrade. Some copies are being shipped to schools and libraries. And he's talking with longtime friend Gus Stavros about incorporating the game into the curriculum of Enterprise Village, the Largo mini-town designed to teach fifth-graders about the free-market system.
A couple of hundred Play the Stock Market sets have been sold in a soft launch over the last two weeks.
Pieces, mini ticker boards, stock certificates, boards and playing cards for 1,000 sets have been assembled so far, taking over a conference room in TVC Marketing, another Barrett-created venture in Clearwater that creates educational videos and other marketing tools in the health industry.
"If we could sell 3,000, I'd be pretty happy," he says, "but this really isn't about the sales. It's about getting it into the schools and libraries."
Barrett has one of those resumes that indicates he doesn't like to sit still for long.
After training in orthopedics at Harvard University and Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, he worked at a leper colony in New Orleans studying how their condition affected pressure points in their feet and similarities to rheumatoid arthritis patients. That led to developing a patent for a shoe targeting arthritis patients.
Barrett began to specialize in knee surgery in the late 1970s and was among the first orthopedic surgeons in the United States to use an arthroscope. In 1983, he founded the Florida Knee and Orthopedic Centers, which grew to handle a fourth of all joint replacements in Pinellas County.
In the '90s, he began traveling frequently to Romania to teach courses in advanced orthopedic surgery techniques, which led to a scholarship and mentoring program bringing Romanian surgeons to the United States. "That was unquestionably my life's most enriching experience," he says. "It was fabulous."
Through the years, Barrett and his family have operated golf courses in Florida and Georgia and run a precious mineral mining operation in Arizona.
He stopped practicing orthopedic surgery four years ago but keeps current with other ventures, such as TVC, his health care educational marketing firm in a suite next to his Clearwater orthopedic office.
The shift from health care education to fiscal education, he says, came naturally.
Last Christmas, in the wake of the stock market meltdown, Barrett jotted down his board game idea on paper. He created Successful Family Investing and spent the next seven months collaborating with TVC employees on the concept. TVC chief executive Nannette Wiser became creative director for the game and artist Alan White developed graphics.
With most board games in the $30 range, the game's initial version is on the high end, priced at $59.95. "But it's a lot classier than the average board game and a lot more educational," Barrett maintains.
Getting the price right
He's trying to arrange future production in China, which could cut per-game manufacturing costs from $3.50 to $11 per game (plus 50 cents a game for shipping back to the United States). Once marketing and retail mark-ups are factored in, he figures he could sell the next version of the game for closer to $30.
"If this does what we think it will do, Successful Family Investing has a lot of potential," he says. Books. Newsletters. Videos. Other games.
And, for those non-board gamers, Successful Family Investing wants to come out with an electronic version of the stock market game by Christmas 2010.
Jeff Harrington can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8242.