The Game of Monopoly: A World War 2 Hero

In all my years in the toy industry, I never knew about the following story and the role of Monopoly in helping Prisoners of War escape in World War 2. It is a fantastic tale and exemplifies Entrepreneurial thinking at its best. Entrepreneurship is a way of thinking, not a particular type of person.

In this case there was:

Need – Find a way to help captured airmen escape.

Knowledge – The key Knowledge factor was discovering that the International Red Cross Care Packages for POW’s could include games and pastimes.

The Opportunity – To supply the POW’s with special Monopoly sets as set forth in this story which I’ve verified is true from multiple sources.

 

Here is the creative Entrepreneurial narrative directed to a higher purpose than profits, just as it was sent to me:

Starting in 1941, an increasing number of British Airmen found themselves as the involuntary guests of the Third Reich, and the Crown was casting about for ways and means to facilitate their escape…

Now obviously, one of the most helpful aids to that end is a useful and accurate map.

Paper maps had some real drawbacks — they make a lot of noise when you open and fold them, they wear out rapidly, and if they get wet, they turn into mush. Someone in MI-5 (similar to America ‘s OSS ) got the idea of printing escape maps on silk. It’s durable, can be scrunched-up into tiny wads, and unfolded as many times as needed, and makes no noise whatsoever.

At that time, there was only one manufacturer in Great Britain that had perfected the technology of printing on silk, and that was John Waddington, Ltd. When approached by the government, the firm was only too happy to do its bit for the war effort. By pure coincidence, Waddington was also the U.K. Licensee for the popular American board game, Monopoly. As it happened, ‘games and pastimes’ was a category of item qualified for insertion into ‘CARE packages’, dispatched by the International Red Cross to prisoners of war.

Under the strictest of secrecy, in a securely guarded and inaccessible old workshop on the grounds of Waddington’s, a group of sworn-to-secrecy employees began mass-producing escape maps, keyed to each region of Germany or Italy where Allied POW camps were located ). When processed, these maps could be folded into such tiny dots that they would actually fit inside a Monopoly playing piece.

As long as they were at it, the clever workmen at Waddington’s also managed to add:

1. A playing token, containing a small magnetic compass

2. A two-part metal file that could easily be screwed together

3. Useful amounts of genuine high-denomination German, Italian, and French currency, hidden within the piles of Monopoly money!

British and American air crews were advised, before taking off on their first mission, how to identify a ‘rigged’ Monopoly set — by means of a tiny red dot,

one cleverly rigged to look like an ordinary printing glitch, located in the corner of the Free Parking square.

Of the estimated 35,000 Allied POWS who successfully escaped, an estimated one-third were aided in their flight by the rigged Monopoly sets. Everyone who did so was sworn to secrecy indefinitely, since the British Government might want to use this highly successful ruse in still another, future war.

The story wasn’t declassified until 2007, when the surviving craftsmen from Waddington’s, as well as the firm itself, were finally honored in a public ceremony.

It’s always nice when you can play that ‘Get Out of Jail Free‘ card!

U.S. Embassies: An Out-of-the-Box Entity to Help a Small Business

The United States has an embassy in almost every country in the world. You can go to the State Department website http://www.state.gov for a list of all the countries and the contacts there.

The Embassy is an out-of-the-box entity for a Small Business source. My personal story in utilizing a U.S. Embassy was when I had my watch company and acquired a license for an Elvis Pressley watch. I had noticed earlier that many retailers sold musical Mickey Mouse watches, and my research showed that these watches were made by Seiko, which owned a patent on the musical part of it. Seiko was a Japanese based company. I tried to contact them re obtaining a license or to have them make the movement for me with the Elvis tune that we would supply, and I was prepared to visit them in Japan. It was an easy stop off for me when I visited China where our watches were made. Despite numerous attempts to contact Seiko to set up an appointment, my entreaties were greeted with silence. So, as a long shot, I contacted the U.S. Embassy in Japan to ask for help in getting an appointment with Seiko. I was pleasantly surprised at their timely response in contacting management at Seiko on my behalf. This was quickly followed by my receiving a warm response from a high Seiko official, inquiring when I would like to set up an appointment to see them. When I did see them in Japan, I was ushered into an elegant conference room where 12 Seiko people were sitting, waiting to hear my story. This was an amazing outcome in my mind to a simple inquiry. A Small Business guy (although I was physically taller than everyone) all alone with 12 managers of one of the largest companies in Japan.

When you think about it, one of the missions of an Embassy is to assist American citizens visiting their country. My inquiry was a rarity and therefore got their attention. Compared to the complex problems they frequently encounter, this was an easy good deed for them to accomplish. An official request from an American Embassy can carry great weight with a foreign business in a friendly country.

The old maxim “nothing ventured, nothing gained” applies here. I believe this is as good a source to use as any to get an introduction to a firm you want to sell.

The back end to this story is after a lengthy, cordial meeting, they refused to sell me or license me their technology. They did offer to sell me their musical clocks, which I somehow believed were not good sellers for them.

Fortunately for me, six months later, someone invented a new musical watch chip, much less expensive than Seiko’s, which I was able to successfully use.

 

Cash Free Ideas to Beat Competition

Competition for customers in most industries is extremely intense. This is exacerbated if the customer is a large one and your product is not particularly unique or patent protected. Your customers are also in a high pitched battle with their competitors. This can be seen in your everyday life. Look at the competition in cars, retail stores, food stores, homes, computers, music, etc., for your dollar. This extends into the industrial sector and personal services.

Here are some non-cash ideas to help  your small business better compete.

Exclusives. If you have any type of new or unique product and no money to promote it, think of offering a key/large customer an exclusive. The exclusive can be for 30 days to a year with a performance clause for a time specified renewal. When we were in the game business, we would introduce a new game to the leading department store in each major city. We sold them on an exclusive basis for 30 to 60 days in return for their running an ad for our product at their expense. Your exclusive could be narrowed down to a particular channel. For instance, I  know of companies that gave Amazon.com an exclusive for all internet selling in return for them giving special promotional pushes for the product. Examples are running 2-day sales or pop-up ads when customers look at a related product (i.e., a wine game when a customer searches for one of their 9,000 wine books).

You could simply give an exclusive to a large retailer for buying it and putting it in all their stores: Radio Shack with 6,000 plus stores, Costco with 400+ stores, Wal-Mart with 3,000+ stores, etc. Exclusives can get you immediate orders, free ads, better position, earlier pay terms, earlier orders, etc. The result is more credibility, more cash, and brand building at no cost.

Better Service. Contrary to popular opinion, most purchasing is not based on the lowest price. Service is a key component in many buying decisions and can take many forms: shorter turnaround in shipping than competitors, customer training on your product features and how to use or sell it, friendly and knowledgeable people manning your phones, customer friendly website, dealing with problems quickly and fairly, admitting, correcting, and paying for mistakes.

One of the key factors of our success in the watch business was our service and special offers. The business was mature, highly competitive, and a me-too industry. We entered the industry with a unique novelty approach that featured artwork on the face and a rotating disk with art as the second hand. For instance, our most successful watch was a cute cat with a rotating mouse going around the dial that the cat always just missed catching. These watches were easy for competitors to copy. However, we copyrighted each design and consistently earned money from infringers. We offered two elements that propelled our success.

  1. Special exclusive designs for a low minimum of 200 watches with no premium cost to the buyer. This was in contrast to large watch manufacturers who asked for a minimum of 10,000 watches. We accomplished our low minimum by working closely with a small Chinese factory, by using standardized parts, and by our willingness to break even on these orders. We knew the profit would come on the re-orders. Our low minimum allowed us to break into the world of Disney, selling to their retail stores, theme parks, and catalog division. All three wanted exclusive merchandise that could only be bought through them. Our small minimums allowed them to test all their ideas without paying a price for mistakes. We were rewarded with large quantity orders for the watches that tested well. We also rewarded small customers who supported our line with periodic exclusive designs. The result was loyalty and increased business.
  2. Quick turnaround. This was and is increasingly a key component for small business success and survival. It reduces your cash commitment to inventory and likewise for your customer. It also reduces risk. You need to give a lot of attention and thought on how to realize quick turnaround. We analyzed every component used in a watch and the delivery or manufacturing time of each. We discovered the bottleneck in time replenishment was the unique printed dial on each watch. Every other component was easily available and in stock from many suppliers in China. Fortunately for us, the printed dial was a very low cost component. So we took chances and built up inventories of dials on watches we projected would sell well. The dials cost $.05 each; but in our pricing, we figured it at a $ .20 cost. This gave us the cushion for discarding unused dials.

We shipped all our watches from China to a public warehouse in Long Island without boxes, which were printed in the U.S. Air freight is a widely competitive business, particularly between UPS and FedEx. Therefore, we eventually flew watches in for $.17 each. We also discovered that the processing of shipments through customs varied greatly by which city they entered. The net result was that we could get watch reorders within two weeks of the order while our competitors’ lead time was generally two months. This was a tremendous plus for us with our customers and reduced our cash needs.

Special Terms. Cash strapped businesses with high profit margins should seriously consider additional discounts for immediate or quick payment.

Toy manufacturers usually ship most of their products in the fall. To plan production, particularly with overseas manufacturing, they need orders early in the year. So they successfully offer a special early buy discount to their customers.

Many companies offer volume discounts or rebates. They spell out the discount earned at various volume levels. These discounts can be achieved as you reach the level or can be rebated at the end of the year. This encourages your customers to place more of their business with you rather than sharing with other suppliers.

Private Label. Many products lend themselves to be made under the

customer’s label rather than your brand. The disadvantage to you is you don’t build your brand, and margins are usually lower. The advantages are you don’t need to maintain back up inventory, your order lead times are better, and you should get your payments quicker.

Your entire business should always be customer oriented. Special offers are particularly effective in building your relationship with a customer and does not drain your cash.

 

This blog is an excerpt from my book, Bootstrapping 101.

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