Marbles: Into Mind Games

Aug 13, 2010

By Tom Ryan

Marbles: The Brain Store, a newer concept that focuses on games
that improve memory and reasoning skills, is finding much wider appeal than
originally expected.

The first store opened in Chicago in October 2008 and now
there are four in the area. It recently opened a location at the Mall of America
in Minneapolis. Its sixth will open on August 17 at Woodfield Mall in Schaumburg,

Marbles offers more than 250 products devoted to one of five areas of cognition:
memory, coordination, critical thinking, visual perception and word skills.
While reviewed for effectiveness by the neurology department at the University
of Chicago, a big focus is also on delivering games that are fun. Beyond
large-print puzzles and crosswords, items include: Smart Mouth, in which players
get two letters and have to use them at the beginning and end of a word; Hive,
a strategy game comparable to chess;  AstroJaxm, described as a cross between
“juggling and yo-yoing” to improve coordination; and Insight, a video game
aimed at increasing a user’s field of vision.

The concept was originally geared
toward Baby Boomers looking for ways to keep their minds sharp.

“My parents are nearing 70 and dementia and Alzheimer’s are things
they worry about,” Lindsay
Gaskins, co-owner of Marbles: the Brain Store, said in a company statement.
“I discovered that there are products out there that can help, but there wasn’t
a place that brought these products together. I
also learned that brain games were not only important for my parents but for
me, too.”

Indeed, she soon found the concept appealed to parents looking
for learning tools for kids as well as a broad age range seeking crosswords,
Sudoku and others brainteasers.

“We found the people who are the most interested are probably in the
30-to-50 age range. They are buying for their whole families — kids and
teenagers as well as themselves and their parents,” Ms. Gaskins told Brain
World Magazine.

interaction has helped turn the concept into a toy store for adults.

“The stores thrive on the Starbucks model, allowing customers to stay
as long as they want, increasing the likelihood that sales would follow,” wrote
Kim Walker from Silver Group, in a review of the concept on “In
addition to having staff members well-versed and able to instruct store visitors
in each game, Marbles often hosts game nights that have drawn dozens of participants.”

Discussion Questions:  What do you think of the Marble’s concept and the
overall market demand for mind-stimulating games?

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12 Comments on "Marbles: Into Mind Games"

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David Biernbaum
11 years 9 months ago

Marbles: The Brain Store is doing a fantastic job in a very niche market to improve memory and reasoning skills, and I’m not surprised that it’s doing so well. Marketers have provided products for almost every part of the human anatomy except for the brain! Well…the stores in Chicago are impressive and interesting to say the least and if the company continues to choose the right locations throughout the country they will capture a profit-driven business in this new space for the mind!

Paula Rosenblum
11 years 9 months ago

What were we talking about? Oh right…stores that sell tools to help improve memory skills.

I’m not surprised too much by the demographic mix. Short-term memory seems to start blanking out in our mid-forties, and it’s not just Boomers who are working hard to stay sharp.

Is it a growth industry? No question about it. Nintendo got in the “game” early, but any opportunity to hone memory or visual skills will be winners for years to come.

Ryan Mathews
11 years 9 months ago

Depends of course on how fast they try to scale it, but, with an aging population who likely will be working way past traditional retirement age, there should be plenty of demand for services that improve cognition and memory.

Kevin Graff
11 years 9 months ago

Brilliant! The awareness (and following worry) of the various forms of age related dementias has never been higher, thanks to the aging population of Boomers. This ‘wins’ on so many levels:

– it’s not about buying more ‘stuff’ … it’s about investing in yourself and your well being
– it’s about an experience and personal payoff … not the product
– it’s differentiated merely because no one else is doing it.
– shopping there sounds fun … not another boring shopping trip

Time for me to catch a flight to Chicago and check this store out … hope I can remember what I went there for when I arrive!

Ralph Jacobson
11 years 9 months ago

It is great to see that games other than video games have a market in the US. I can’t remember (LOL) the last time I played a game like this with friends or family. Long live non-video games!

John Karolefski
11 years 9 months ago

This concept has potential with an aging population that yearns to postpone the inevitable decline of mental faculties while remaining forever young. It’s a bonus if these games pull Boomers away from the boob tube and engage them with some mental gymnastics. Add healthy food and regular exercise, and suddenly 60 is the new 40.

Ian Percy
11 years 9 months ago
One of the failings of the education system, at least the one that produced most of us reading this, is that zero effort was given to teaching us how to think. The human brain has 100 terabytes of memory and is capable of 10,000 trillion operations per second and we barely know how to turn it on. In my view it’s never too late and these games and tools will help! As Bucky Fuller said: “School is where we de-genius people.” Now what the Marbles folks have to watch out for is having their identity and products linked to pathology like Alzheimer’s. You can see that already happening even in this discussion. They have to stay on the positive healthy side of the ledger. I made that mistake years ago when I launched a family communication game. The media positioned it as ‘therapy’ for troubled families and my biggest customers were group homes and family psychologists. It was almost impossible to get my game back to being fun for parents and kids and letting the… Read more »
Ed Rosenbaum
11 years 9 months ago

Marbles is an excellent concept that will be grasped by every age group. The more mature will enjoy keeping the mind and brain sharp. The younger set will enjoy the competitiveness it offers. Those in the middle age bracket will like it to attempt to prevent the inevitable memory loss. Besides, look at the fun of simply playing and competing. I can visualize young teens playing and staying off the streets at night.

I have a 98 year young mother who has done crossword puzzles for years. She has added poker, mahjongg and sudoku to her repertoire. And by the way, football season is her favorite time of year. Obviously she is a Brett Favre fan. She wants him to retire. Thinks he is too old.

Dan Berthiaume
Dan Berthiaume
11 years 9 months ago

Marbles appears to have tapped into a need successfully and success breeds imitation, so undoubtedly there will be imitators sooner rather than later. However, I don’t think the memory game market is vast enough to support many competitors, especially as the social trend is now to act young into your 60s and 70s (I can’t picture Boomer icons Mick Jagger or Jack Nicholson strolling into their local Marbles outlet). This vertical would probably support e-commerce competition more than store-based competition.

Camille P. Schuster, Ph.D.
11 years 9 months ago

Great idea. Finding a non-video or non high-tech alternative for brain games is a great idea. If they promote people getting together or more family interaction, that is even better for more brain stimulation and social interaction.

Bob Houk
Bob Houk
11 years 9 months ago

I love games of that type, and will definitely be checking out one of their stores here in Chicago (matter of fact, as soon as I finish this comment, I’ll be heading to their website to hit the store locator).

That said, I doubt this will grow into anything real big. It’s definitely very much a niche market.

John Boccuzzi, Jr.
John Boccuzzi, Jr.
11 years 9 months ago

The Marbles store is interesting, but more of a novelty concept similar to the Discovery store and Spencers. They do well at the holidays, but struggle the rest of the year. A mall location or high traffic store like the Miracle Mile in Chicago is important since this type of store is not a destination location, but a novelty or afterthought.

One idea for this store is to create a mobile version that visits retirement homes and villages or a store within a store concept that could be part of the facilities gift shop. The residence and their families would have easy access to the stores and since they are the target consumer why not go to them.


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