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Partners learn that marketing is no game.

For a group of seven North Bay-area friends the idea of launching a business venture came about during a rousing round of a homespun game.

The seven realized that their chance-oriented game could be marketed, so they decided to modify and develop it.

The partners, Barb and Keith Lennox, Denise and Grant Burton, Joyce and Ron Garlick and Greg Burton, became the Gaburlen Group; a composite of their last names.

Barb Lennox, Gaburlen's president and general manager, admits that if the group had known what was entailed they might never have started to develop their game, called Dark Horse Classic.

The original game was based on the roll of dice - a concept that lent itself to any form of racing. The members of the Gaburlen Group chose horse racing because of the mystique associated with horses.

Dark Horse Classic features a large, folding board with an oval track and 11 black, numbered horses.

The game players become the horse owners, and they compete to buy shares and win the purse.

Coming up with a name was tricky because the Gaburlen Group's first choice, Off To The Races, was not available for trademark in the U.S.

After much brainstorming, they came up with Dark Horse Classic, partly because of the element of the mysterious dark horse who comes from behind and wins.

Once the game concept was developed, the group turned to Blake Cassels and Graydon, a Toronto law firm which specializes in intelligence properties.

"That was money well spent," recalls Lennox.

There is copyright protection once the rules are in written format, but they found the best protection was in the development of a trademark.

"It is more than just your name; it's your look. It's what you're known as - the product is known as," she explains.

The working prototype evolved through trial and error. First, the group tried making each lane a different color.

"It was quite literally an assault to the eye," recalls Lennox.

They approached a local creative designer, Jack Bureau, for advice. He suggested a black-and-gold color scheme.

Bureau accepted the challenge of developing the prototype, turning the group's idea of a horse in a cameo into an appealing logo.

He developed 15 prototypes of the game, right down to the black, plastic trays which hold the accumulating play-money purse. These Bureau hand-molded in his own oven.

About 100 people tested the game between May and November of 1990. By the middle of that period the Gaburlen Group decided to produce and market the game themselves, rather than settle for licensing and royalties.

To reduce costs the seven partners applied their own expertise, from number-crunching to finding the best shipping deals. Lennox estimates that this saved them more than $70,000.

The game was printed by McLaren, Morris and Todd, the original producer of Trivial Pursuit.

The first run was 5,000 copies, with the initial 800 copies arriving on Dec. 21 1990 - too late for the 1990 Christmas season. That meant launching in January and waiting for the next Christmas to see sales soar.

During 1991, the first year of sales, the Gaburlen Group sold more than 1,600 copies of Dark Horse Classic, most in the last quarter.

Lennox has targeted 1992 for national and global expansion. She looks back at 1991 as a learning experience full of some tough realities.

First, the group had to incorporate and bring in shareholders to raise the $100,000 it needed for marketing.

They were not able to secure any financing from the government or the bank.

The condition of the retail market was also discouraging because many of Northern Ontario's cities and towns are only served by toy store chains.

"Small independent toy stores are in such rough shape, and they are afraid to take on a new product," says Lennox.

Today, the game, which sells for $29.95, is sold by several North Bay businesses, including Guardian Drugs, the It Store, Bayview and Red-i-vue video outlets and Zellers.

As well, it is sold in some of the smaller centres of the surrounding area such as Sturgeon Falls, Callander and Powassan.

The response from southern Ontario has been positive, with the game being carried by It Stores, Dufferin Game Room stores and the gift store at the Woodbine race track.

The next step, says Lennox, is to convince toy store chains to sell the game nationally.

The Gaburlen Group has attended the Toronto and New York toy fairs but, while there was plenty of interest, the industry likes to watch a new producer for a year to measure its stability and reliability, says Lennox.

"Every day we gain ground, and every day the job gets bigger," says Lennox.
COPYRIGHT 1992 Laurentian Business Publishing, Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1992, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Title Annotation:Gaburlen Group markets new board game
Author:Smith, Marjie
Publication:Northern Ontario Business
Date:Apr 1, 1992
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