How Dan and Dave Buck Transformed a Passion for Card Games into their Business
Inspiration for entrepreneurs is all around, but the deep details about how a brand goes from an idea to a physical product or service are fuzzy. We’re breaking it down this week with Dan and Dave Buck, founders of Art of Play. In part 2 of a 4-part series, learn about how they got the idea for this playing card, puzzles, and amusements shop and how they turned into a full-fledged business.
Be sure to check out the first part to this series on Art of Play.
How did you get the initial idea to start Art of Play?
Art of Play: We collected playing cards. It was something we got into when we were younger and came from an interest in card tricks. We would buy decks to practice with, and ultimately this lead to collecting them.
Our interest in playing cards inspired us to print our own deck in 2008. We sold them on our website at dananddave.com, and they did really well. We printed more cards the following year and before we knew it, we had a playing card company. In 2012 when card collecting really starting to gain popularity, and more and more card producers were making luxury playing cards, we saw a need for a dedicated site, a resource for card collectors to shop a curated selection of high-end playing cards.
How did dananddave.com feed into Art of Play?
Art of Play: Prior to Art of Play, dananddave.com was our only company. The site was for magicians and offered instructional DVDs on magic tricks, magic books, accessories and apparatus for magicians, and playing cards. It was our playing card inventory from dananddave.com that the fed the launch of Art of Play.
Once you decided that this was something you wanted to pursue, what were your next steps? How did you take it from an idea to physical products people could buy?
Art of Play: Our next step involved coming up with a name and designing the identity for the brand. At the time, we read the blog, Art of Manliness, and that inspired the name Art of Play. Our spade logo was created almost a year before as a design experiment. It just seemed to fit, so we used it. From there, we built a website.
As for infrastructure, we again borrowed experience from operating dananddave.com. Our older brother had recently joined the team and it was perfect timing. We moved inventory from dananddave.com’s warehouse into his garage and set him up with fulfillment software, packing materials, and access to custom support emails. We basically gave him the keys to the operation. From there, our role with the company was mostly marketing.
How did you aim to make Art of Play stand out from other card brands?
Art of Play: We would offer a great service and promote the best cards—a lot of which came from those other card brands. We celebrated the other card brands and featured their decks front and center. We weren’t trying to stand out, and that stood out.
When you were just starting, what did your operation look like? How many people did you have helping you then, and how have you expanded?
Art of Play: If we go back to early dananddave.com days, it was the two of us doing everything from designing the website to shipping out orders. In fact, even before dananddave.com, when we were 14 years old we had a website with an address for people to send checks for an instructional booklet teaching card tricks that we wrote. Our parents would take us to the post office after school so we could ship out orders.
Our first employee is still with us 10 years later. Since then, we’ve moved from a fulfillment center to our own warehouse. There are currently seven of us.
What products did you offer in the beginning? What about now?
Art of Play: At first, we only sold playing cards. Now, in addition to playing cards, we offer a collection of unique puzzles, games, and home amusements that have a mysterious, yet playful quality to them. We curate products that inspire what we call an “epiphany,” that moment when you discover how something works and are completely and utterly surprised and delighted by it. It’s a magical experience for everyone.
How did you spread the word about Art of Play when you were just starting out?
Art of Play: Posting to Instagram and running regular contests was very helpful in building awareness. On Facebook, we partnered with a few popular pages related to playing cards to cross-promote. It wasn’t like we were starting from scratch though. We already had a good reputation and large following with dananddave.com and this definitely helped us grow.