How a game lover turned a popular collectible card game into a multi-million dollar retail business.
As we process applications for the 2010 Inc. 500 | 5000, we thought it would be worthwhile to shine a spotlight on some of the companies that are vying to appear on our ranking of the fastest-growing private companies in the U.S. One that caught our eye was Barbourville, Kentucky-based TrollandToad.com.
Jon Huston still remembers that day seventeen years ago when he noticed two young boys open a package of cards and cry out in excitement. He didn't know what they were so animated about, but as an avid gamer at heart, he knew that, whatever it was, he wanted to sell it.
It turns out the boys were opening up the popular collectible card game called Magic: The Gathering, which became the cornerstone of TrollandToad.com, his online collectible card game (CCG) retailing company that he started with his wife in 1994. The store brought in $8.6 million last year, growing almost 300 percent in just three years. It is now one of the largest retailers of Magic: The Gathering worldwide, with 25 percent of sales happening internationally.
"It was just something that grew exponentially," Huston says. "It's a rather niche market, and there wasn't anyone else really attacking it. I wanted to be the Amazon.com for hobby games. Such an entity didn't exist at the time."
The growth hasn't stopped yet. Last year, Magic: The Gathering saw one of its strongest years of sales yet in the midst of a recession. The company brought in 23 new hires last month alone, and now have 135 full-time employees.
"From what I gather, it seems that people are a little turned off by video games, and they're gravitating more towards games that involve social interaction," Huston says. "I think people probably feel they need companionship a little more now."
Although Huston focused almost entirely on selling Magic: The Gathering cards until 2002, today the game accounts for just 20 percent of his booming retail business. He says that the products with the fastest-growing sales are Yu Gi Oh! Cards and Heroclix miniatures.
Huston is no stranger to gaming. A child of missionary parents, he grew up in Africa and saved enough money to order two games each year to be sent overseas from the United States. "The most pleasurable experiences in my life were when I would get those games," he says. After getting his degree in systems analysis, he realized that he instead wanted to devote his life to buying and selling his passion.