Skip to main content
// //

Panda Game Manufacturing's Richard Lee, left, and Michael Lee

COURTESY OF MICHAEL LEE

THE CHALLENGE

Vancouver-based businessman Michael Lee started Panda Game Manufacturing in 2008 after noticing a major resurgence in the popularity of board games.

When he was exploring how to enter the board game market, Mr. Lee discovered that many independent game publishers were facing challenges getting their games manufactured.

Story continues below advertisement

Their choice for production centres was limited to Germany – which offered high quality at a high cost – and China – which was cheaper, but often unreliable in terms of quality and timing.

"Small-size and startup board game publishing companies were having a hard time finding a balance between quality and price," the 32-year-old Mr. Lee says.

Mr. Lee set out to provide a manufacturing solution in China for the smaller players that would offer both competitive pricing and quality assurance.

THE BACKGROUND

"I was always interested in entrepreneurship," says Mr. Lee, who graduated from the Sauder School of Business at the University of British Columbia in 2002 and also founded the UBC Enterprize Entrepreneurship Conference. "I knew I wanted to start my own company, and one of my interests was board games."

He decided to jump into the industry after the major success of Settlers of Catan – a game created by an independent designer that has sold a staggering 20 million copies worldwide.

"This one game sparked a huge trend," says Mr. Lee, who noticed that, soon after, some of the most exciting board game titles coming onto the market were being created by smaller publishers.

Story continues below advertisement

But he also realized that many of these small publishers were stumbling when it came to getting their games produced. The costs in Germany were prohibitive and quality control issues made China problematic.

There can be a lot of detail involved in creating quality board-game components that many factories in China aren't familiar with, Mr. Lee says. Designers would send electronic files and specification to a manufacturer for their games, unsure if the final results would be professional enough for retail.

Mr. Lee decided to make the challenge of small game publishers the central challenge of his business. He set off to establish a manufacturing operation in China that could assure good-quality products at good prices.

THE SOLUTION

Raised in a Chinese household, the entrepreneur speaks fluent Mandarin. Armed with this linguistic asset and his training in business, Mr. Lee went to China in 2007 to explore alliances with printers and factories.

Following a test run of a few small projects that year, he found a select few manufacturers that were reliable and set up exclusive agreements with them.

Story continues below advertisement

In 2008, after producing games for a handful of clients, Mr. Lee incorporated Panda Games Manufacturing and brought on his brother, Richard, as a partner. Together, they established a dedicated production facility in Shenzhen, China, which they could directly oversee.

With this accomplished, Mr. Lee could guarantee a quality that rivalled German producers at more competitive prices.

He started hitting trade shows around the world, showcasing his products and prices, and building brand recognition.

"That was a key to why we were able to succeed so quickly in the first couple of years," Mr. Lee. says "Being able to bring a physical product to a face-to-face meeting was critical in gaining the trust of new clients."

THE RESULT

After expanding its roster of clients and bringing a number of high-quality games to market in 2008, Panda started to build a name as a go-to manufacturer in China.

Story continues below advertisement

Last year, it managed more than 100 projects, manufacturing more than 300,000 units for 30 different publishers in more than 20 countries.

Over the past four years, Panda has doubled its revenue annually and built its administrative team to include eight employees. In 2011, Panda generated $2-million in revenue, representing about a 1-per-cent market share in the board game manufacturing industry.

In 2012, the company aims to take a bigger bite, with a goal to surpass $3-million in revenue.

Some of the high-profile games it has manufactured include The Walking Dead Board Game, based upon the hit TV show, as well as Pandemic, a co-operative game where players must work together to save the world from a killer virus.

"We've definitely created a brand for ourselves," Mr. Lee says. "In 2008, essentially no one knew who we were. Now, probably every single company in the industry knows about Panda Game Manufacturing."

Last year, one of Panda's products, the board game Confusion, was voted by MTV as the best board game of 2011.

Story continues below advertisement

MTV had this to say: "There are plenty of great games to choose from this year, so what makes a game No. 1? For Confusion, it was the production value."

"Admittedly, we are fans of our own work," Mr. Lee says. "Being part of such a fun industry makes business feel like we are playing a game."

Special to The Globe and Mail

Jeff Kroeker is a lecturer in the accounting division at the Sauder School of Business at the University of British Columbia.

This is the latest in a regular series of case studies by a rotating group of business professors from across the country. They appear every Friday on the Report on Small Business website.

Join The Globe's Small Business LinkedIn group to network with other entrepreneurs and to discuss topical issues: http://linkd.in/jWWdzT

Report an error Editorial code of conduct
Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to feedback@globeandmail.com. If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to letters@globeandmail.com.

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff.

We aim to create a safe and valuable space for discussion and debate. That means:

  • Treat others as you wish to be treated
  • Criticize ideas, not people
  • Stay on topic
  • Avoid the use of toxic and offensive language
  • Flag bad behaviour

Comments that violate our community guidelines will be removed.

Read our community guidelines here

Discussion loading ...

To view this site properly, enable cookies in your browser. Read our privacy policy to learn more.
How to enable cookies