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BUFFALO GAMES SOLVES ITS PUZZLE <br> COMPANY EXPANDS, BUYS EQUIPMENT ONLY WHEN IT'S COSTLY NOT TO

The pieces of this business are forming a profitable picture.

In one year, Buffalo Games grew 50 percent. Next year, it was 40 percent. Sales at the puzzle and board game maker soared after landing a coveted contract with Disney to make its puzzles, getting the Simpsons license and launching a new board game,VisualEyes.

Buffalo Games just finished expanding its headquarters and manufacturing plant on James E. Casey Drive in Buffalo that gives it 75 percent more room.

Despite its growth, Buffalo Games grows cautiously a little at a time, which is why it's planning to expand a little more next year.

"You don't expand until you see it's costing you not to," said Eden Scott Dedrick, vice president and wife of the company's president, Paul.

The company is also cautious about investing in equipment. For years, someone else made the boxes for its puzzles and games. But it needs so many boxes now that it bought the equipment and makes it own.

Another company cuts and collates cards for its board games. If board game sales continue to increase, Buffalo Games may decide it's time to buy the equipment and do the job itself for less, Dedrick said.

"When our volume suggests it, we bring manufacturing in house," Dedrick said.

Buffalo Games is best known for its specialty puzzles, but the company didn't start out with that goal.

When the Dedricks launched the company in 1986, it was all board games and just one puzzle -- the aptly named "World's Most Difficult Puzzle." These puzzles have the same image on the front and back -- just rotated 90 degrees. The pices are double cut so you can't distinguish the top of the piece from the bottom. However, that one puzzle was a huge success.

Soon, the company made mainly specialty puzzles, such as 3-D puzzles of globes.

Then in 1998, Eden Scott Dedrick's brother was reading Wired magazine and saw a picture of an owl made up of tiny pictures -- a photomosaic.

"We thought what a perfect tool for a jigsaw puzzle," said Dedrick, who rarely puts together a puzzle for fun.

The company called the student at MIT's Media Lab who invented the software and bought the license to use it to make puzzles. Having the photomosaic license was one reason Disney chose Buffalo Games, Dedrick said.

Buffalo Games' puzzles sometimes cost a little more than its competitors. Its goal is to have the highest quality, not the lowest price.

"We aim to have no apologies for our quality," Dedrick said. "We want to be the benchmark for that quality standard of puzzles."

Some puzzles retail for as little as $8. Many cost around $15. And some specialty puzzles, such as the 3-D globe, can carry a price tag of $25.

Dedrick says she would rather not get a contract than compromise on quality.

"I'm not going to chase bad business," Dedrick said. "Sometimes it's very painful. Sometimes you have to leave business on the table."

The company is also careful about what images go on its puzzles. Not just any pretty picture will do. The image has to have longevity, nostalgia or recognition. "There are a lot of beautiful photos out there, but if it doesn't have some value added, we're not going to bring it to the consumer," Dedrick said. In addition to Disney and Simpsons puzzles, Buffalo Games has images from the Audubon Society of cardinals, and blue jays. The History Channel provided images to make puzzles of the famous photo of man walking on the moon and the flag raising at Iwo Jima. The Mona Lisa, Elvis and Norman Rockwell's art work are all puzzles.

Today, the company is working to increase its share of the board game market. The company makes a couple million puzzles each year and makes close to half a million board games of VisualEyes and Imaginiff.

Next year, Buffalo Games will debut two new board games. "Board games are an enormous market segment that we have yet to exploit," Dedrick said. "We still see lots and lots of growth opportunities."

e-mail: lhaarlander@buffnews.com

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