Friday, December 16, 2011

Chilkat Valley News - Haines, Alaska

We look at more than 10,000 different photographs every year to find the 300 or so that we will put on our jigsaw puzzles. It is an exhaustive search. We want to make sure we are finding the best images possible for our puzzles.

When we are looking at these photos, we rarely concern ourselves with where the picture is from or even much about what the subject of the photo is. We are looking for photographs that are colorful, fun, sharp, clear, bright and busy. We look for certain themes like castles and hot air balloons, but we try not to limit ourselves too much. And we are willing to try subjects that meet our colorful, fun, sharp, clear, bright and busy criteria even if they are subjects most puzzle companies do not have in their collections. In someways, we like those images even better.

So it was pretty neat when the editor of the Chilkat Valley News in Alaska contacted me recently. He had seen a puzzle of ours that featured a building located on their main street. The puzzle was a panoramic puzzle that we had sold back in 2008 and 2009. The editor wanted to know why we had selected that particular picture. The town is located in Alaska between moutain and the ocean. It is a very scenic location. If one were to visit the town, the last thing they might notice is a rustic building on main street. But that is the image we picked.

The Editor and I traded e-mails and he wrote a small article about the puzzle and the building. Although, we traded e-mails, they missed his deadline, so the last line is technically correct, but I did respond.

Below, I reprint his article with his permission. I found it very interesting to know some of the history and detail behind an image we selected. I hope you will too.

Written by Tom Morphet - editor Chilkat Valley News. Originally printed in the Chilkat Valley New on December 8, 2011.

A popular flower garden on Main Street has been immortalized on a jigsaw puzzle sold nationwide.
Fuzzy von Stauffenberg’s arrangement of lobelias, pansies, salvia, alyssum and tiger lilies along a white, picket fence is part of a series of panoramic puzzles that includes ones of scenes in Venice, Italy, Trafalgar Square, London and St. Basil’s Cathedral, Moscow.
“I’m immortalized in a puzzle, or my flowers are,” Von Stauffenberg said this week.
The garden scene puzzle, including as backdrop, a weathered, one-room shack at 314 Main Street, is titled “American Home, Main Street, Haines, Alaska.” It was created by the LaFayette Puzzle Factory in LaFayette, Indiana.
Von Stauffenberg said the photo used for the puzzle appears to have been taken the early 1990s. There’s no telling who shot it, she said. “We always had people taking pictures of the garden with Cortez, my cat. Somebody who came through took a picture and sent it off to somebody.”
Although she’s been keeping a garden there since 1984, Von Stauffenberg said she recognized the arrangement featured on the puzzle. “That was probably the most beautiful of the flower boxes we ever did. Everything came together that summer for a perfect garden.”
The building featured in the photo hasn’t been a home for at least 30 years and may have been moved from near the Canada border, she said. It operated as a store selling trinkets and Native crafts before her family bought it in 1984 and started using it as a storage shed.
Von Stauffenberg said her late husband Eric von Stauffenberg, hung a small American flag in the window, and put a metal fuel jug, wicker basket and bicycle rack on the sill because he thought they were eye-catching. The couple operated a restaurant next door for several years.
Rod Hinson, who operates a variety store at Second and Main, has about 10 copies of the 350-piece puzzle for sale. He said he purchased 14 of them through an Ebay seller in California and his mom found and sent him another six.
“When tourists are coming through and they want something from Haines, it’s something we can offer them,” Hinson said. “It doesn’t really show anything about Haines. It’s just a neat backdrop with flowers, but it gets your attention.”
A co-worker brought Von Stauffenberg a copy of the puzzle last spring, but it’s still in the box, she said. “I may get around to doing it when I’m no longer doing flower gardens in my old age,” she said.
Calls and e-mail messages to LaFayette Puzzle Co. this week went unanswered.

Pretty neat! Do not be surprised if we go looking for images from Haines Alaska in the future!


Thursday, December 15, 2011


The e-mail that I was going to be on QVC's Great Gifts show during the early morning hours of black friday (the day after Thanksgiving) came on Friday Nov. 18 around 7pm. I had 24 hours to confirm I could be there. I confirmed within 20 minutes. And then I had a panic attack.

I had first met the QVC buyer more than 2 years ago. I had gone to on-air guest training 15 months ago. I passed the class and the forgot everything they told me. I had lost weight and put it back on thinking I would never go on the air. Suddenly the thing that I thought would never happen was happening. The panic attack continued.

I had a lot to do in less than 7 days. I had to get to Philadelphia. I was going to miss Thanksgiving. I had to lose some weight. I had to stop biting my nails. I had to start washing my face better so that I did not have a break out. I needed a haircut (but not too short of a haircut). I needed to make sure I scheduled time at the QVC salon for make up. And I needed to find those QVC on-air guest notes I took. I needed to think about what I was going to say.

But it all worked out. I found my notes. I got a great haircut. I made my appointment with the QVC salon. I stopped biting my nails (still good 4 weeks later!). I found a cheap airfare (Thanksgiving day is a great day to fly. They even have turkey in the airport). And it was easy to know what I wanted to say on air. The puzzle I was showing it one of my favorites.

QVC is a very professional organization. Incredibly accomodating and helpful to the on-air guest. My show was going to run from 1am - 4am eastern time. I was to arrive at 1opm. I arrived at 9:45. There was a nice waiting area with coffee, pop, snack foods, cupcakes and water. The seats were comfortable. There were a couple of dressing rooms the on-air guests shared. And everyone was friendly. I was the only rookie going on and the rest of the guests could not have been nicer. They all had encouraging words. They put me at ease.

I will admit to being nervous. But the most nervous I got was when I was checking in with the security guard at the front desk. I have no idea why, but I actually started hyperventilating a bit and had trouble telling him my name. It was so strange. It was the only time the whole evening that happened. Sure I was nervous, but the most physically nervous moment was at the security desk.

So I arrived at 9:45pm and after a few minutes of introductions and a quick tour, I was given a beeper so the producers could find me. Not that I was going anywhere, but everyone gets one. As I walked in the guest waiting area a funny thing happened. There was a woman sitting there that I knew. It was one of those moments where you see someone and your mind says you know them. They are a familiar face. And you just need a moment to place them. Then I realized I did know her. I had watched her almost every night on QVC talking about bed linens. I knew her, but she did not know me.

From 10pm to midnight I just sat around. I put together my puzzle and watched QVC. I watched the difference guests to get a feel for what words they used and how they acted on the air. At midnight things started to happen quickly. I went to make up at midnight. A very nice make up artist made me look not too shiny and not too pale. I was quite pleased. He even helped me fix my hair so it was not sticking up in back like it has done for the last 40 years Dennis the Menace style. Then I met with the host for my show, Amy. Amy and I spent about 10 minutes together talking about the puzzle, its key features, the type of person who might like the puzzle. She loved that it was my first time on the air and said she was going to mention it.

My time slot was 2:25am. I was going to be on the air for between 5 and 7 minutes. The final timing would depend on how the show was running and my success at generating phone calls and sales. I was on set by 1:45 getting set up. I was a bit nervous and I set up really early.

I can not tell you how talented the QVC hosts are. Amy was unbelievable. She never took a break. And she made it sound like she was just hanging out with friends who had brought in the most incredible items. It did not matter if it was a touch pad computer, a flashlight, or a tin of candy. She sounded knowledgable and convincing about each product. The QVC hosts are incredibly talented.

My segment started and the rest is a blur. I was nervous for the first few seconds and then I was off and talking. I think the host had a lot to do with making me relax. Our segment ended up being over 7 minutes long. It felt much shorter at the time. The sales were strong and I was really quite pleased. QVC was too.

I was done by 2:40. I was pretty hyper and did not leave the studio until 3:30. I returned to my hotel and took a shower. I watched my segment on a computer in the lobby, but there was no sound. I did not actually see and hear the segment until almost two days later. I took a 7:30am flight home and slept all the way on the airplane.

To watch my segment, visit the QVC website - Search Sphere puzzles. My puzzle is the Royce McClure puzzles.


Thursday, July 21, 2011

We had a good laugh in the office this week.

A puzzler had called this week because her puzzle was missing a piece. She was really upset that she could not complete her puzzle. Missing pieces are a rare occurrence, but they do happen. We put something like 5 billion puzzle pieces into boxes each year. One or two is bound to bounce out despite our best efforts.

By the way, no puzzle company likes to talk about missing pieces. But every puzzle company hears from consumers who have missing pieces. We usually ask the folks to try and complete the puzzle first. Often folks are convinced a piece is missing because they can not "find" it while assembling the puzzle. The piece is there. The colors or shape are just different than what they are expecting. As they get to the end of the puzzle they "find" the piece they were looking for.

Anyway, we spoke to the puzzler in the morning and reassured her we would help her out.

Later in the afternoon she called us back. She said she had told her husband about calling us and how happy she was with our customer service. Her husband was quiet for a few minutes and then said he said he needed to admit to something. He had vacuumed up the piece earlier in the week. He saw it go in and decided not to say anything. Our puzzler was calling to say she had gotten the vacuum cleaner and opened the bag. She found the piece (slightly bent, a little dusty, but still usable) and her puzzle was complete.

We all had a good laugh imagining the scene at this house. And we all agreed we too would have cut open the vacuum cleaner bag to retrieve the piece.

I was glad her husband came clean (pun intended) and she was able to finish the puzzle.


Tuesday, July 19, 2011

This place has become a dismal place of death like silence.

I just read that on another blog I like and follow. I do not want this place to be like that. So today I write.

A really neat thing happened in the last couple of months.

We have a new product being introduced this fall. It is a series of Origami titles. Now, origami kits have been around forever. I never really did them because I thought the activity was difficult and the instructions impossible to decifer. But we came up with some neat incremental innovations that really improved the experience of making the pieces.

Among other things:
We rewrote the instructions with the novice in mind.
We added little dash marks on the paper indicating where to fold and crease the paper.
We printed on the paper so that when you are finished, the flower (or dolphin, or horse, or fish or whatever) looks like the object.
We used paper that was meant to be folded and creased.
We included a background that stood up in front of your origami projects.

The item is really nice.

A few weeks before we went into our first printing, Cora in our office suggested we do video instructions too. I loved the idea, but worried about our ability to execute. In my head video instructions meant writing scripts, renting film studios, hiring actors, editing and more. We have over 20 different designs in our first run and that sounded like a lot of work. And expensive. Mostly I thought the idea sounded expensive. I made the executive decision not to include anything about video instructions on our packaging until the videos were done.

I did this assuming that it would take months and months to make the videos (if we ever got to doing them).

Then I forgot about video instructions.

Until a few weeks later when Cora and her team e-mail me some links to videos on YouTube.

The videos were up. And they were really good. I mean REALLY REALLY good.

The joke is that they were filmed in our conference room. And they were filmed using a cell phone camera. The script was Cora or Vivian or Sujata just making the piece. They had written the instructions and had made the items a ton of times, so they knew exactly what they were doing. They knew the confusing parts and how to explain them clearly.

Take a look at this link to the LPF YouTube channel:

What I really love about this project is that Cora and the team knew how good these would be and went ahead and did it. The cost was mimimal. All our other projects are moving along right on schedule. I worried about costs and execution. They worried about just making a great video. And it worked.

I am mad at myself that I did not make a bigger deal about the video instructions on our first packaging. I should have trusted the team when they said the instructions would be easy and cheap. I have learned my lesson. We are redoing the packaging right now to catch our next manufacturing run.

And here is a little insiders tip. Check out the Horse Origami video. Around the 6:25 mark there is a neat little trick you can do with the horse.


Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Our family has been putting together puzzles alot lately. The last two were from our Colorluxe 500pc and 750pc Panoramic lines. These puzzles are on sale at Target, but their quantities are limited. We put together a really fun image of Hawaiian Sarongs on sale at a shack in Hawaii. This puzzle was pretty easy, but a lot of fun. There are a ton of different colors and patterns making lots of different zones to complete. There are very few "dead" areas in the puzzle (almost no blue sky, just some shadows scattered about). It took us less than 2 hours to put together. I am sure others can complete them faster, but we try not to make it a race. I like puzzle time to be about talking and working together. Next we tackled an image of two adorable cats. I had lower expectations for this puzzle, but I loved the cats. I am a cat person and this is why this image made the cut. I was worried the background would be difficult since there was a lot of green. But I discovered (happily), that the background greens are made up of many different shades of green. And there are a variety of textures in the leaves and plants. This made the background challenging, but not impossible. I am not the type of puzzler that likes the super duper difficult puzzles that are all one color. I want to do puzzles that are challenging and fun. Not unfinishable. Doing our puzzles makes me really proud. I am pround at how nicely the pieces fit together. I was able to put areas together and then move the section of puzzle into the area is belongs without the puzzle pieces coming apart. I had to be gentle, but they basically stayed together. More and more, I find that other puzzles I buy from competitors do not hold together well enough for me to move sections around like that. I like that ours do hold together. I am always curious if other consumer goods companies presidents use and work with their products like I do. I like that I can discuss with a puzzler a puzzle LPF produced and we both have assembled. I did that today and it prompted me to write this entry. If you have not tried a Colorluxe puzzle, get yourself over to Target and find one. I think you will be pleasantly surprised. JP

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

I am up late tonight. I am working on quote sheets, samples and presentation materials.

It is getting late in the selling cycle to get our products on shelf for this coming 4th quarter. By now, most retailers have made their decisions on what they will carry for the the holiday seasons. In a few weeks, we will actually begin shipping for the Fall retail selling season.

But this week, we received a request to meet with someone who had seen our puzzles in other retailers. They liked what they saw and they want to see if we fit into their puzzle set.

This is very exciting. And very rushed. The retailer thought they had made all their decisions. But seeing our Spring line in stores has made them curious. The funny part is we have been trying to meet with them for months.

Being the new guy on the block, we will jump at any opportunity. So I am up late putting together a presentation for them. I have been in their stores a lot this winter and I was back today to make sure I had not missed anything. I can tell from visiting the store so many times what sells well and what does not. When you go look at the puzzle aisle of a retailer every week for months, you can see what is new on the shelf and what is gathering dust. I will use this investigation to make recommendations.

But first I am taking a break to write a blog post. I am going to try and write one blog post a week from now until the end of the year. It did not seem so hard when I decided to commit to writing more frequently. But now that week three is dawning, I am feeling a little pressure to keep up. I do have a back up plan if I can not think of anything to write. I might just post pictures of cute babies I see. Other blogs do this and it is very effective. Everyone likes to look at cute babies.

My next post might be about the puzzle our family put together this weekend. It was one of our Colorluxe 500 piece puzzles on sale at Target right now ($3.99 for a limited time!). It was really fun and I am not just saying that. The colors were great. I rarely tell you to go buy one of our puzzles, but you really should check out our Colorluxe puzzles at Target. I am so proud of them.

Keep on puzzling!


Tuesday, March 15, 2011

It was my turn to answer the phone. We are still small enough the president has to answer the phone when it rings.

"Hello" I said warmly. "Thank you for calling the Lafayette Puzzle Factory. How may I help you?"

"There is a pea in my puzzle"

Uh-oh. My mind raced. I have answered the phone for 3 years. I have talked to hundreds of puzzlers. I thought I had heard it all.

I said the first thing I could think of "Huh?"

"There is a pea in my puzzle and I want to know why".

My mind was in full swoon. A pea. In the the puzzle? How did a pea get in her puzzle. We do not allow food near the puzzles. No drinks, no food allowed in the production area. A pea.

"The pea is bright green and it stands out against the puzzle. And I want to know why."

Bright green? A pea in the puzzle? I have never heard of such a thing.

I asked "What puzzle are you trying to assemble and are you sure the pea was in the box?"

The caller answered "The pea is in the upper right hand corner."

Upper right hand corner? What does that mean? Why is she telling me what corner the pea is in. Wait. Wait. Does she mean that pea is in the picture.

Gathering my composure "Do you mean the pea is in the picture? In the image?"

"Yes!" she exclaimed. "Why is it there?"

"What puzzle are you assemblying?"

At this point the caller explained that she was assemblying a picture of licorice candy we have in the line this winter. The licorice is basically pink, white, and brown. It is a neat puzzle and I remember looking at proofs of the candy. But I did not remember any peas in the picture.

The caller went on to describe her theory for why the pea was in the image. While she described her theory, I went scrambling to find the image on our servers.

"The Cherokee Indians (jp note: it might have been another tribe, but I know how to spell Cherokee, so Cherokee it is. If you know what tribe was described, let me know and I will correct this sentence) had a belief that you can never have all of a like thing together. When they wove a blanket of wool, they would be sure to include one thread of straw so that the blanket was not all wool. Did you add the pea so that the image would not be all candy? Like the Cherokees"

I love this theory. And I found the image. There is a green pea in the upper right hand corner. How it got there? I have no idea. But I like the theory. We put the pea in the upper right hand corner so that the image would not be all of one like thing. What a great idea. Maybe we should hide a pea in every image we do. It would sort of go with my name, JP. It might be the hook we have been looking for.

But that is not why the pea is there. As a matter of fact, until this phone call, not a single person had noticed the pea in the image. Now, we all notice it. Our eyes are drawn to it. Its all we can see when we look at the image.

It was a fun phone call and we talked for quite some time about puzzles and the types of images the caller liked. She was an expert when it came to puzzles and I enjoyed listening.

Here is the image:

Do you see the pea? I do.

Keep on puzzling!