Wednesday, December 31, 2008

I spent the weekend before Christmas shopping. I was in all types of stores from Wal Mart to small local antique shops. I was struck by the number of people in all these stores. But when you talked to the store employees, they all commented that people were spending less and just looking more. One employee had been working the same store for 8 years and thought that this was the quietest she had remembered. I think it is clear to everyone that our economy is hurting.

But I was also struck by what was selling. As you walked around the aisles, items that were priced under $12 were moving faster than higher priced goods. People still want to give gifts to friends, but they have less to spend.

When I started the Lafayette Puzzle Factory, I wanted to make sure that every product we sold was priced to be affordable. Puzzles are in many ways a recession buster. They give good value, offer a new challenge each time you put it together, and are easy to share among friends and family. In recent years, puzzles have gotten more and more expensive. The cost of paper and inks has definitely increased. And puzzles now offer more special effects than in the past (glitter, glow, foil stampings). A puzzle should offer many hours of play for much less money than other toys.

In the toys aisle you could see this very clearly a few days after Christmas. We subscribe to all sorts of market data that gives us details on puzzle sales at retail. But just walking around the different retailers puzzle aisles a few days after Christmas made it clear what was popular and what was not.

We are excited for the next couple of weeks. We have a busy schedule of appointments and based on what consumers seem to want and are willing to spend, our line of puzzles can help retailers offer their consumers outstanding value in these tough times.

I hope that 2009 is safe, happy and fruitful for everyone. Happy New Year.


Tuesday, December 23, 2008

The Christmas shopping is all done for this year. Our trip to Disney was our big family present this year. I am lucky that my kids are old enough to understand and accept this. The gifts for them get more expensive and smaller as they get older. No more big plastic kitchens with 10,000 pieces of plastic food, Big Wheels, or bikes. The living room is less crowded, but no less expensive. Now they want video games, Ipods, and (my daughter particularly) clothes from stores where the music is way too loud for me.

Then right after the holidays, I get on a plane and spend a couple of weeks in Hong Kong. The Lafayette Puzzle Factory will have a suite at the Grand Stanford hotel during the Hong Kong Toy Fair ( It is a huge show and we have a full plate of meetings. My family has gotten used to me vanishing for a few weeks after the holidays. This will be the 8th year in a row I have attended the show. I do enjoying going and catching up with friends from around the world. Plus the weather is warmer than Lafayette this time of year.

I hope everyone has a Merry Christmas and a Happy Hanukkah.


Thursday, December 18, 2008

I have not found many blogs about the toy industry on the web. Maybe this entry will prompt someone to e-mail me others. One of the few I have found and read quite often is Richard Gottlieb ( I met him in Dallas this last October. We actually spent a bit of time talking about the toy industry and puzzle companies specifically. Because he talks to so many different people in the industry he has a very deep understanding of trends. He also asks really good questions.

This blog entry by Richard Gottlieb ( is one of those good questions. KB Toys was a toy store that I grew up visiting at Northbrook Court in Illinois. It was a great toy store full of unique items. And Northbrook Court was a great mall with interesting stores (it still is). It is hard to believe that someone will not figure out a way to sell toys in malls again someday. I do not think the problem is that malls will not support a toy store. I think the problem is KB no longer had the right mix of toys for the mall.

In Hong Kong, I visited a large mall that had a store dedicated entirely to puzzles. Most of the puzzles were from Japan. Japan has a very active puzzle market. A lot of the puzzle trends you see in the US are adapted from Japan. Maybe that is what malls in the US need. Stores dedicated to specific niches within the toy industry. Starting with puzzles! I will write more about the puzzle store in the future.


Monday, December 15, 2008

Being the new guys on the block, we spend a lot of time letting people know we are out here. We attend trade shows, send articles and press releases to magazines, and finally call and e-mail buyers at all the different retailers. Recently, we called one retailer every 3 minutes for 90 minutes. We had their direct line and wanted to speak to a human, not voice mail. It worked. The buyer answered and we got our appointment.

Convincing people that our products and the way we are organized as a company is better than others is a lot of work. Buyers are busy and are constantly being approached by companies. But once we are able to get their attention for a few minutes, they see what we are talking about and how we can help improve their puzzle selection.

I guess the lesson for me is that having a good story to tell is only part of the equation. Getting someone to listen is just as important. And so far, we have been lucky that our efforts at attracting an audience are working.

And the lesson for a retail buyer reading this blog: give us a minute to tell you our story. We know you will like it and want to hear more.


Thursday, December 11, 2008

I had lunch with an old friend this week that is looking to start her own company doing consulting work. She is really excited about this new adventure and it was easy to get excited for her. She has done her homework and knows what she is getting into. The business plan is well written and looks not just at the upside potential, but acknowledges the challenges and how she will overcome them. I was impressed.

With the economy being so uncertain, many people might shy away from leaving a secure position and starting something new. But I think a changing economy is a good time to launch a new concern. The bigger firms are consumed by responding to banks, customer’s financial issues, vendor issues, and other non-productive topics. But if a start up is smart with its cash flows and takes into account how to work within the new uncertainty, there is room. A start up is ultimately more intimately involved with its true customers wants and needs. And should respond quicker to those wants and needs.

I know that every day at the Lafayette Puzzle Factory we think about how the economy is impacting those who would buy our goods. Puzzles are traditionally a good activity during tough times. People stay home more and are looking for activities they can do with family and friends. Puzzles are a very good value. For under $10 and entire family can spend multiple hours with each other. There is good conversation, laughter, and time to reconnect. There are very few other options available to families today for that type of return on their entertainment spending.

We have worked very hard to create puzzles that meet the financial needs of the retailers and our end consumers. We meet that financial need for both by pricing our puzzles correctly and making sure they offer outstanding value. Today, with more and more people looking for quality affordable entertainment, we work even harder to provide it.


Saturday, December 6, 2008

Just back from a week at Disney World. It is snowing in Lafayette today. Makes me miss the mid 70’s daytime temps and sweatshirt weather at night.

The weekend before Thanksgiving, I attended the 2008 Chicago Toy and Game Fair on Navy Pier. ( It was really neat event. One of the few toy industry fairs open to the public. I took my two sons with me. We had a nice time playing games from name brand companies (Hasbro) and brand new games from very small companies. In some cases, the actual inventor of the game was there to show you how to play. It is a fair we will attend again next year. And the idea of opening to the public is one that other fairs should explore.

One of the games we played was Yahtzee Free For All by Hasbro. My sons really enjoyed this new take on the classic game. It played fast and kept their attention the entire time.

So I decided to put this game on our list of presents for Christmas. The next day Meijer had it on special for the week at $10. But, of course, it was sold out. Target had the game for $18.99 (I think).

Here is the strange thing. When we were at Disney World we visited Downtown Disney. This is an area of restaurants and shops. One of the shops had the game (great packaging, I spotted it from across the store). The only problem is the price was $28.99! I understand everything is more expensive at Disney, but this seemed extreme. Why would they have it priced so high? Do they actually sell any at that price? Do they even want to sell any? Had it been priced at $18.99, I would have bought it (it rained the next day).

Anyway, it’s a good game and if you can find it in the stores, you should check it out. And keep an eye out for ads for it between now and Christmas.