Strat-O-Matic taking people home to the ballgame amid coronavirus pandemic
On one hand, Strat-O-Matic expects by far the highest annual sales revenue of any in its 59-year history.
On the other hand, “We absolutely would rather it not be under these circumstances,” company president Adam Richman said on Monday.
Such is the strange position in which the select companies that have benefited financially from the COVID-19 pandemic find themselves.
Strat-O-Matic, the sports simulation game company based in Glen Head, is one of them. But its goal has been doing right by its employees and customers in addition to its bottom line.
“What’s so bizarre about it is that this is a horrific time,” said Richman, who has had people close to him and his family die from the virus. “I cannot wait for this to be over. It’s horrendous.”
Richman declined to provide April sales figures beyond saying they are “way ahead” of what they were for the last two weeks of March, when sales already were 50 percent higher than last year.
Strat-O-Matic baseball board game sales rose 60 percent in the second half of March compared with the first, before the sports world – and the world at large – mostly shut down.
On March 27, the day after what would have been Major League Baseball's Opening Day, traffic on the company’s website was up 472 percent compared with the same day in 2019.
“Even before all of this we had our biggest year ever last year, and this will far exceed it,” Richman said.
But even thriving businesses face challenges in this environment.
Delivering Strat-O-Matic’s digital products has not been difficult, but what about the assembly and shipping of its venerable board games? That requires people power.
State guidelines for non-essential businesses allow only one person to be on site. Often that is the company’s full-time shipper, Dave Columbo.
He lives in a Harlem brownstone with four young people. One of them is his girlfriend, Laura High, who is the company’s social media director, and three are actors, comedians and theater artists whose work temporarily has dried up.
The residents are abiding by quarantine rules, leaving the house only for High to drive Columbo each way to Glen Head. Before Columbo goes into the warehouse, High enters the building to gather supplies and brings them back to Harlem, where her housemates assemble them into games for Columbo later to ship.
“So we are able to do it in a way where we’re contributing to the gig economy and keeping some people fed, which is amazing,” Richman said.
He added, “They have a very large brownstone. On the bottom floor of their brownstone they’re doing this for us, and we’re able to keep shipping our games and still abide by the law.”
Richman would not say what percentage of the business comes from board games rather than digital products, but he did say, “Had the rules been different and had we had to shut down the physical product shipment totally, it would have put us in a very compromised position.”
The company has seen business this spring from “existing, fanatical customers,” as Richman put it, lapsed players who have returned and entirely new customers. The idea is to hold onto all of them once the virus crisis is over.
“That’s obviously what we’re hoping and planning for,” said Richman, whose father Hal, now 83, founded the company.
In the short term, though, there are game boxes to ship for people with many hours to while away.
“The nice thing about this for us professionally is that we’re able to give back to everyone stuck at home and give them not just a connection to sports but a connection to each other,” Richman said.
“Strat-O-Matic has always been about connecting generations of players, and that’s what we’re seeing now more than ever.”