Jeff Caruso’s timing wasn’t ideal from an economic perspective when he bought the board game manufacturer Crisloid in 2008. Having weathered two storms in recent decades — an outsourcing trend that curtailed manufacturing and the rise of the Internet that hurt sales at trade shows — the company faced an even bigger threat in the Great Recession.
Caruso decided drastic action was warranted. He halted volume manufacturing and wholesale distribution of backgammon, cribbage, dominoes and Crisloid’s other classic board games. Then he deployed digital tools to remake the company as a direct-to-consumer Internet seller. “Without those tools, we don’t exist,” he said.
Caruso has a family connection to the brand — his uncles founded the company in 1948 — but it had gone through multiple owners by the time he joined the sales department in 1998. The company built its first website about that time but didn’t focus on the retail market until the transformation Caruso initiated in 2011.
He found local suppliers and focused on making high-quality products, embracing social media as a way to tell the company story. Crisloid showcases its brand personality on Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, Pinterest, Twitter, and YouTube. Crisloid also drives traffic to the company website through Google My Business and Google Ads.
Other digital products that support the company include PayPal and WooCommerce to process transactions, WeTransfer to share game design files, Google Analytics, G Suite and MailChimp. “Big ideas start with the small companies,” Caruso said. “We’ve been part of that. We’re driving change in the board game industry.”
Eighty-five percent of sales occur online, with the rest of the orders coming from local contracts. Most buyers are from the United States, but 3 percent of the market is international. Caruso sees the potential to expand that with technology.
He is concerned that talk on Capitol Hill about regulating big tech companies could interfere with such growth plans. “For a small business to navigate our changing economy,” Caruso said, “we have to be agile. It’s hard enough to adapt without legislative problems and challenges. … We don’t need another roadblock.”