Board games rarely give us much insight into the real world -- they're meant to distract us from our everyday lives and provide us entertainment as we attempt to outsmart our opponents. But read on and you may begin to think differently...
Perhaps the most well-known of all board games is Hasbro's (NASDAQ:HAS) Monopoly, an icon among the board game industry for eight decades. Hasbro, wanting to keep up with the times, recently noted its interest in eliminating one of its eight game pieces in favor of a new game piece, and allowed its fans to vote on which piece to eliminate and which new piece to select.
The results were announced yesterday, and for those of you who previously dominated St. James Place with the iron, you may want to turn away now. Hasbro announced that, as of mid-2013, it would be eliminating the iron and replacing it with the cat (the piece which actually garnered the most votes overall).
Pandering or priceless truth?
On one hand, this seemed like shameless pandering as Hasbro attempts to do what it can to keep its board game franchise fresh. For those sectors represented by a piece on the precipice of elimination (the iron, the wheelbarrow, and the shoe), it gave those industries added publicity and a chance to increase awareness of their products via social media avenues like Facebook and Twitter as the public closely watched the final tally.
But beyond that superficial layer of shameless plugging, there were quite a few real-world trends worth taking note of.
To begin with, note the introduction of the cat into the board game. At no point did the dog icon face the threat of elimination, and the cat actually garnered more votes than any other piece. This is merely a representation of what I've been trying to browbeat into readers over the past few months: that pets are transcending beyond just companions and are becoming part of the American family. Zoetis (NYSE:ZTS), the recent spinoff from Pfizer, sold $4.2 billion in pet medications and vaccines last year -- almost all of which comes directly out of patients' pockets because they rarely buy insurance for their pets. People will pay whatever is necessary to ensure the health of their family pet and that often results in hefty margins for Zoetis.
We're also seeing this trend in brick-and-mortar stores like PetSmart (UNKNOWN:PETM.DL). In almost every retail sector we've witnessed a shift from in-store shopping to the convenience of online shopping. Pet-centric stores are one of the few exceptions to the rule as PetSmart reported a 6.5% increase in same-store sales in November while online meds provider PetMed Express has witnessed sales stagnate. Pet owners still prefer that one-on-one interaction for their pet rather than an informal online purchase.
An era of reform
The removal of the iron, and the near-removal of the wheelbarrow, are also significant and can be spun a few different ways.
The iron and wheelbarrow both come with the inference of housework and farm work, two generally unappetizing activities to the majority of people. To me it appears as if people are seeking fun pieces to reflect their personality and trying to dissociate their game piece from their home life; or they could be trying to escape their homes altogether. This can be seen in two different connotations: Either people are expressing their interest in travel, or they're expressing interest in working outside of their home.
When I think of the iron, and its introduction in 1935, I am reminded of the mother who stayed at home and cooked and cleaned for her family. Nowadays, women are proving just as successful, if not more successful, than men in certain high-profile jobs, and we've seen a trend of more and more women working outside the household. Internet search giant Google (NASDAQ:GOOGL), which I've profiled before as having a great CEO in Larry Page, has made a concerted effort to hire more women within the company in order to bring different viewpoints into Google's growth strategy.
It could be a bit of a reach, but the lack of enthusiasm for the iron and wheelbarrow also reminds me that people love vacations, not work (which is what these two game pieces remind me of). The vacation industry and online booking sites like priceline.com (NASDAQ:BKNG) continue to thrive even as growth in Europe and the U.S. have stalled. No matter how bad things get, people still need a break from their lives, and Priceline's discount rates to standard booking, and its expansion overseas, is making that possible.
You may now pass go
I know what you're thinking: "Did he just analyze a board game?" To answer: You bet your behind I did! A very large vote by the American public gave us better information on where to put our money than most Censuses do! Clearly, consumers love their pets, they want to work outside their house, and they love vacations. Companies that deal in pet products, focus on hiring women, and deal in the travel industry could, therefore, be extremely smart investments.
Fool contributor Sean Williams has no material interest in any companies mentioned in this article. You can follow him on CAPS under the screen name TMFUltraLong, track every pick he makes under the screen name TrackUltraLong, and check him out on Twitter, where he goes by the handle @TMFUltraLong.
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