Bananagrams' Rena Nathanson talks anniversary celebrations and the success of the company - ToyNews

Bananagrams' Rena Nathanson talks anniversary celebrations and the success of the company

Last month marked ten years since Rena Nathanson launched Bananagrams at London Toy Fair. Billy Langsworthy talks to Nathanson about the firm’s new games for this year, the roaring success that was last year’s Bananagrams Challenge and how the business has changed since its pouches first arrived in 2006.
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It’s a big anniversary year for you guys, so what’s in store for 2016?

It’s our tenth Bananaversary and we have some exciting plans in the pipeline.

At London Toy Fair, we unveiled two brand new games: the hilarious and energetic Bananagrams Party – which sees players undertaking challenges and forfeits for ‘Party Power’ tiles while trying to complete their word grids – and a new game for younger players called My First Bananagrams.

We created that one on the back of customer requests for a game using lower case letters. We’ve made the tiles colourful and more appealing to a younger eye, we’ve added some unique double-tiles of vowel pairs, word families and digraphs, plus the pouch is a less-ripened green colour.

Also at London Toy Fair, we celebrated our tenth Bananaversary by sponsoring The Bananagrams Lounge – it’s a really convenient and comfortable meeting point and visitors could also discover if their own name is actually a playable word in the game.

How has the industry changed since Bananagrams first arrived?

Well, there are certainly a lot more games in fabric pouches now. But seriously, I have mentioned in the past that with all the crowdfunding opportunities, the entire landscape for game and toy inventors has shifted dramatically.

Much more can be achieved independently, which is a really good thing. There’s also a definite move away from insular digital play – people want to engage again with actual human beings, so I’m grateful for events like Board Game Club which offer a fantastic interactive experience (and a chance to be just a bit naughty with friends). It’s a very exciting space.

How was 2015 for Bananagrams?

2015 was a very eventful year for Bananagrams. We witnessed our first ever Bananagrams Challenge – a primary school tournament in the UK, which was amazingly successful and saw more than 15,000 school children playing the game in classrooms across the UK.

We then went on to launch the same initiative in the USA and have doubled capacity for the 2016 Challenge here in the UK.

2015 also saw Bananagrams take on North American distribution for Linkee. This is the first time we’ve added an ‘external’ game to our retailer offering and it’s proving to be a great partnership.

On top of that, we launched the new Bananagrams WildTiles game in the UK as well as a refreshed and revamped Zip It, the small space word race.

Are there many differences in how business has been in the UK versus the US?

Proportionally, not really, in that globally our brand is doing really well.

The business structures in each territory are quite different, which in turn comes with different challenges and rewards. They compliment one another and 2015 was terrific for us.

We have partnered with unique organisations like BAFTA here in the UK, and The Screen Writers Guild East, New York Magazine and Vulture in the US. All are very diverse and offering lots of new and interesting opportunities to extend the reach of our brand and the games under the Bananagrams umbrella.

What are you most proud of from the last 12 months?

Without doubt, The Bananagrams Challenge.

It was always our dream to have schoolchildren engaging with the games in the classroom and the Challenge proved a tremendous success.

We achieved everything we hoped for and the feedback from teachers and children was overwhelmingly positive.

This is now an annual event for us and we’re on track to have around 30,000 UK primary school children participating at this year’s event.

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