Lake Norman & Mooresville

Woman builds national market for her etiquette game

Pop quiz: At an elegant dinner party, what do you do with your napkin when you are finished?

Is it acceptable to send a thank you note via email, or should it always be hand-written? When is it an appropriate time to send a text?

Many adults may struggle with matters of etiquette, but Davidson resident Aimee Symington is working hard to be sure that the younger generation has flawless manners.

As creator of the award-winning board game Blunders, Symington is ensuring that the wee set grow up with charm, grace, and lifelong social skills.

Symington realized the importance of etiquette when she began working in the corporate world upon her graduation from the University of Michigan.

During her six years in organizational development at Saturn in Toronto, she noticed that many associates lacked the business social skills that would help them get ahead. When she moved to Charlotte and began working in training at Sealand, she realized the issue was one that was worldwide when she began travelling across the globe.

Working with international protocol made her realize that social skills differ from country to country, and she worked hard to educate herself on the acceptable forms. Having a love for the work and so much experience, she became a certified etiquette facilitator, and became a project leader at Bank of America, helping to train associates in business etiquette.

Though she gave up the corporate world when she had her second child, Symington's new role as stay-at-home mom gave her insight into another population that needed etiquette - children. "Despite my background, I was struggling to teach my own children manners," she said.

When she looked for a medium to help teach the process, she was disappointed to find there was little out there to help, and what was available was hopelessly dated and old-fashioned.

She began to teach her own children's etiquette workshops, developing a program that was hands-on, interactive and developed confident social skills. The children dressed up as different characters, role played and interacted in a fun, positive setting.

"I wanted to show children that manners weren't just important when going to church or to someone else's home, but that it reflected who they were as people," Symington said. When a mother mentioned that she would love to have something to take home to continue the work, Symington had an idea: why not a board game? And Blunders was born.

Symington attended the 2007 Toy Fair in New York City, then spent the next year creating the game, all with the goal of being at the next year's show. In 11 months, she tackled every aspect, from the creation, design, packaging, development, marketing, website, finding investors, and the list went on.

Her hard work had great consequences. She presented the 300-question game at the 2008 show, where Symington was recognized as one of the top 10 new inventors and featured in a documentary. Blunders would go on to receive 10 national awards.

In 2009, she was featured in an Observer story.

Symington spent the next three years as a self-described "one-woman show" to get the game in the hands of consumers. Her 19-hour workdays paid off when Blunders began appearing in places like Toys-R-Us and Barnes & Noble.

In 2010, Symington appeared on the "Today" show as an etiquette expert, discussing the polite way to complain. She brought along the game and left it with the "Today" assistants, not sure if anything would come of it.

Then, the day after Christmas last year, host Kathie Lee Gifford started the show with her "favorite things," and one of them was Blunders.

Symington recently reached a deal with Patch Products, a family-owned game company that will take over the manufacturing and distribution of Blunders and her Manner Mats - interactive placemats filled with games, puzzles and activities - beginning Jan. 1.

Symington said she looks forward to having more time to do what she loves - creating new products and teaching children etiquette through her workshops.