Putting the 'play' in partyOctober 1st, 2009
Richard and Heather Pieczonka shared a simple dream to start up a modest home-based company that would let them stay home with the children they planned to have, but their party-game endeavor grew into a serious business too big to handle by themselves, let alone from home.
"Success brought us something different, but I've got no complaints," says Heather Pieczonka, the company president.
The Pieczonkas founded Creative Spark Media Inc., in Phoenix, Ariz., in 2001. When game sales took off, they realized four years ago that the company had to grow to keep up with customers' demands. To accommodate growth, escape the desert heat, and live where there's four seasons, they moved to Spokane Valley and leased 1,600 square feet of office space on the second floor of the Indiana Professional Building, at 15920 E. Indiana, and they plan to move the company into larger quarters. The business now employs nine people, including the owners and two longtime employees who telecommute from Phoenix, says Richard Pieczonka, the company CEO.
The Pieczonkas both have engineering backgrounds, with computer-science degrees from Arizona State University, where they met. When they finished college, Richard was an information-technology specialist, and Heather worked with databases.
Richard kept his day job, while Heather began to research and compile information full time for what then was intended to be an electronically published how-to book about throwing baby showers.
"Heather was always a party planner," Richard says. "She threw her first baby shower when she was 18."
She already had developed some games, and he helped her create online versions of them, he says.
At first, Creative Spark Media offered six downloadable games, including Baby Bingo, Baby Word Scramble, and Baby Word Find.
Customers wanted more, Heather says. "They asked for bridal-shower games and birthday games, then games for Christmas, Halloween, and all of the holidays," she says.
The company now operates seven Web sites that collectively offer 425 printable party games, and the company receives 250,000 orders a year.
Richard says, "We found a small niche on the Internet where there was little supply and a ton of demand."
Since they started the business, they've had two childrena girl, now in kindergarten, and a boy, now 4.
Instead of both staying home, as they originally had planned, the couple take turns going to the office.
"It's not just an owner perk," Heather says.
The company's office employees also can choose to work from home one day a week, and they do their work on laptop computers, so they're not tied to their desks, the owners say.
The couple decline to disclose the company's revenues, but say they've leveled off over the last year, which Heather attributes to the economy. The company aims to boost sales with an upcoming release of new products and a consolidated Web site, she says. It also plans to move into a 3,000-square-foot space, at 11907 E. Broadway, in December.
Creative Spark Media's games have colorful artwork and many are designed for easy customizing. For instance, the company has taken the classic game of bingo and replaced numbered squares with names of baby-related items. Players mark their squares based on clues announced by the designated bingo caller.
The company's card generator rearranges the squares for each printout, so the customer can supply hundreds of cards with none arranged exactly the same. With many games, including Baby Bingo, Creative Spark Media's online ordering system allows the customer to enter personal messages, among other individual options for the game cards.
Games are sold on a subscription basis, Heather says. A subscription to a single game typically costs $7, and allows a customer to print out an unlimited number of copies for 60 to 90 days from the date of purchase. A $20 subscription typically allows a customer access to all games relating to a particular occasion, such as a baby shower, and allows the customer to print out unlimited copies for a year.
Heather says Creative Spark Media's games are ideal for last-minute party planners.
"As long as you've got a computer (with Internet access) and a color printer, you're in business," she says. "There's no waiting, no shipping. It's all there."
Sales are all done electronically at any time of the day.
"It's nice to wake up to sales," she says.
Sometimes the company holds parties in the office. Heather and crew recently held a baby shower for a male employee.
"We asked his wife to come in for an office baby shower," she says. "We did several of our own games. It was fun because we made the guys join us. A lot of guys hadn't been to a baby shower before."
Some games, such as Guys and Dolls and Mighty Mascot Match, are designed to include male participants, but women develop most of the games, Richard says.
"Our customers are 98 percent women," he says. "Our lead designer does a lot of research and determines customer's interests."
Heather adds, "We're constantly updating. Sometimes the games need new ideas. Sometimes the games are still good, and the graphics need updating."
She says the company has its own Web designers and handles its own advertising, which also is mostly online.
"There's a lot to keep us busy," Heather says.
Sometime during the day, an artist or Web designer is likely to take party balloons around or putt golf balls through the middle of the office.
"It looks like they're goofing off, but that's how they get inspiration," Heather says. "We can't take ourselves too seriously. After all, we make games."