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Rollors: A game for the green grass of home

Idea hatched during desert deployment

Jul. 12, 2014 - 06:00AM   |  
Lt. Col. Matt Butler and his wife, Nicole, play Rollors on a Chesapeake Bay beach.
Lt. Col. Matt Butler and his wife, Nicole, play Rollors on a Chesapeake Bay beach. (Courtesy photo)
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You can have fun without being plugged in, online or at the mercy of your cable provider. That’s the thought behind Lt. Col. Matt Butler’s creation, Rollors, an outdoor game he modeled after horseshoes and bocce and combined into one.

Almost 40,000 games have sold since debuting in 2010. And Rollors is getting good publicity: It’s been featured on the Today show, and was named one of “The Best New Spring Gear of 2014” items in Men’s Journal.

The goal of the game is to win points by rolling disks, or “rollors,” toward a goal post — one post for the player or team with three blue disks, another post for the player or team with three red disks. Points are based on how the rollor lands and how close it is to the goal. To win, a player or team must total 21 points or more, and must have two more points than the opponent. Can’t determine who’s closest? There’s a measuring device.

Butler, now in a staff-tour position with Air Combat Command at Langley Air Force Base, Virginia, got the idea for Rollors in 2009 when he was flying missions over Iraq and Afghanistan as an air battle manager with Joint STARS. He grew up in the Midwest, where he said it was popular to get together with friends and play board games, card games and outdoor games. During his deployment, he started thinking about “green grass and being at the lake with friends and family” and about what kinds of social outdoor games might be available today.

“I thought about how there have been these lawn games out there for decades, and there must be a new one out there — someone has to come up with something creative and fun,” Butler told Air Force Times.

“People always joke about that ‘ah-ha’ moment ... and that was kind of the moment where I thought I might be onto something,” he said.

Butler read business books and formulated a business plan. Then, he PCSed to Hurlburt Field, Florida, where he met people, former and retired military, in the woodworking business. He asked them to make some prototypes, which he brought to tailgating events, parties or church fairs and even sold a few.

Now the game has turned into a business for Butler, and his wife, Nicole, who work with manufacturers overseas and in the U.S.

The game sells for $39.95 primarily through his website, Rollors.com, but can also be found at his biggest retail source, Amazon. The game was sold out on both sites as of Friday, but Butler said he expects to have a new shipment soon. Some Midwest outdoor stores like Menards and nationwide stores REI and Camping World also carry the game.

In the Air Force 16 years, Butler said his “military training has always told me that nothing is perfect and so I’m always trying to fine tune everything.” After he comes home from work at Langley, his leisure time turns into “Rollors time.” That includes looking to donate some of his earnings to charities, giving games to Veterans Affairs Department locations and helping military members with their own business plans.

Butler got his master’s in information systems and management from the University of Phoenix in 2006, and was recently featured for his entrepreneurial feat in their alumni magazine. Emails started pouring in for advice.

It took him two months to respond to all the inquiries but he vowed to give a “little bit of encouragement, it’s really the key,” he said.

Rollors is sold nationwide and in Europe, and Butler is looking to expand throughout Canada and some South American and Asian countries. He’s working to create yellow and green disks for the game sets.

“It’s on a roll, pun intended,” Butler said.

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