August 11th, 2010

Business Profile: FJ Fantasy Sports

Wednesday, August 11th, 2010

Company: FJ Fantasy Sports
Launch date: May 2002
Became full-time operation: 2004

Even if you weren’t aware of FJ Fantasy Sports, you’ve probably seen their products. Those big cardboard displays with the multi-colored player stickers standing at the center at events such as the WCOFF and FSTA conferences? You’re looking at FJ. Co-founder Jeff Peters, who left a career in corrugated cardboard for another in decorating it with player names, took some time recently to share his company’s story with

1. Let’s start at an obvious point: What does FJ stand for?

FJ is pig Latin for Jeff. When I was a kid, my best friend and I talked in pig Latin so his mother couldn’t figure out what kind of devious plans we were hatching. He was Ike-May and I was Eff-Jay. When it came time to choose a business name, Mike and I were sitting around trying to figure out a name, and this memory came back to us. It instantly became the business name.

2. Your site says that the boards came about when Mrs. Peters was charged with creating a grid for a baseball draft in 2002. What inspired her to create the board that launched the business, and what did the league like about it?

I knew she was a good artist, so I asked her to make me a grid for our upcoming baseball draft. The previous year we used an easel, but it was too small for anyone to see. So I asked her to make me a large grid, about 5 feet by 5 feet. I brought this piece of white corrugated home from work, and she decorated it beautifully with our league name and all the team names. We still have this “original” draft board.

3. You’ve been playing fantasy sports since 1990. What were those leagues doing for their drafts those first 12 years before requesting the board?

Back in 1990, during my first football draft, we used two gigantic pieces of brown corrugated. They were about 10 feet wide by 8 feet high. We had index cards with all the player names on them. All the cards were posted on one board (with push pins), and the grid was on the other. You’ve got to remember, we all worked at a corrugated box plant, so getting our “draft board” was easy!

4. How quickly did you envision a business sprouting from this board?

My wife, Pam, first brought the idea up. We had no idea if anything like this existed. We started checking ads in fantasy magazines and looking online to see if anyone made these. We found a few companies that did paper sheets. We knew that we had the resources to make a standup corrugated display that would not require any wall space. So we designed a draft board for 14 teams and 23 rounds, took a chance and invested some of our own money into the business and started with a small production run.

5. Describe the background in corrugated cardboard and the artistic skills that combined to make this happen. What has each meant to the creation (and sustainability) of FJ Fantasy Sports?

My background in selling corrugated for 30 years gave me the knowledge of what was possible to design and make out of corrugated. The company I worked for had some of the top designers in the industry, so I tapped their skill and knowledge, gave them the parameters of what I was trying to do and let them come up with the design. Everything was designed around UPS size limitations for shipping packages. Pam drew the design for the first FJ draft board grid, and we have stayed with it. It is a unique grid that allows us to use four different-sized labels on the same draft board.

6. How did you go about getting the business rolling back in 2002? How did you find that first round of customers (or how did they find you)?

When we started in May of 2002, it was already too late to buy any magazine ads for that football season. So we concentrated on trying to get our website recognized on the Internet. This is a tricky process when starting out, and we made a lot of mistakes. But we eventually got placement on Google, and that’s basically the only search engine you need to be on, since most others are fed by Google. In 2003, we bought some ads in fantasy magazines, and the business started to take off. But the biggest and best thing that happened to us was being found by Lenny Pappano, an original co-founder of the World Championship of Fantasy Football. Lenny needed a free-standing draft board for his Las Vegas tournament in 2003, and we had the makings of what he needed. He prodded us to develop the “Jumbo” board, and we ended up getting great exposure through his tournament.

7. What steps did you take to grow the business from there, and how quickly did growth come about?

Growth came quickly the first few years. We tried to introduce new products and features every year, such as adding 10-, 12-, and 16-team draft boards to our menu. We also added “Stands,” which turn the draft boards into 30-rounders. In addition, we added four more label sizes to the one that we started out with. So we now have a draft board for almost any size and type of draft.

8. The Internet had already made fantasy gaming so much easier by the time FJ was launched. What do you think still made your product so appealing to this marketplace? How has business changed in recent years with the array of fantasy-targeted products constantly widening?

The appeal of the FJ draft boards is that you don’t need a big wall to hang a paper sheet on. You can use our board anywhere in a room, and we have a label size that can be read from up to 35 feet away. This was ideal for the WCOFF tournament, and all the other tournaments picked up on it. Soon, all their customers wanted a draft board like they used at their high-stakes tournaments, and we were the only ones doing this. Because we do all the tournaments, our player label lists are the most extensive in the industry by far. We do not want to be embarrassed at a high-stakes tournament by having a lot of write-ins. The final “slice” of our success pie is customer service. Hundreds of our customers know us personally, and thousands more know us from talking on the phone. And they know they can trust us to do things quickly and correctly.

9. How have your products and your catalog changed to fit demand over the life of the business?

As mentioned (earlier), we added different sizes of draft boards, which would accommodate almost any league sizes. We started with a 14-team, 23-round board. Now we can handle any number of teams 10 or beyond, and up to 32 rounds. And most can be had in 5 different label sizes. So there is something for every league. We have added ancillary products such as draft clocks and Personal Draftlogs, tools to help in conducting a fantasy draft. We also branched out from the original football-baseball idea to now include hockey and basketball.

10. Any new directions that you plan to go or envision coming into play in the near future?

We constantly look for new ideas and ways to make things better for our customers, but we feel that we are in sort of a “mature” stage of our business evolution. We have kicked around the NASCAR idea for years but just can’t seem to get a handle on what to do with it.