Saturday, January 31, 2009

Friday night, my family and I went to the local high school basketball game. My daughter was dancing at half time of the varsity game (she did great). It was a heck of a game. Harrison High School has been struggling all season. In this game they looked good and had the lead the whole game. But Westfield kept it close and in the 4th quarter mounted a comeback and actually took the lead with about a minute to go. Things looked grim. The feel in the gym was that Harrison, despite a good game, was going to let one slip away.

Then two things happened.

1) Westfield missed the front end of 3, 1 and 1 free throw attempts in the last 2 minutes.

2) Harrison had possession of the ball with less than 7 seconds to go, dribbled the length of the court and scored a lay up at the buzzer to win by 1 point!

As we walked to the car, I couldn't help but think about how the game encapsulated 2 key lessons in life. Those keys are: Its the little things that make the difference and never give up.

We started the Lafayette Puzzle Factory less than a year ago. In that time, we have had to do a lot of little things. The big things are easy to identify. I have a good friend who does real estate development. The difference between himself and people who think they can do real estate development is his ability to handle the millions of little details involved in developing a piece of land. Anyone can look at an empty corner lot at a busy intersection and know that it would be good location for a real estate development. What separates those who do their profession well is someone like my friend knows how to plow through the million of obstacles to actually making that piece of real estate work.

The same is true with my company. We work on the little stuff far more than the big stuff everyday. Bringing a product to market involves making our free throws more than three pointers and half court shots. And what I am finding is that the more we focus on the little stuff the better the product or initiative we are introducing turns out to be.

And we do not give up. Being he new guy on the block, we have lots of opportunity to just give up. Its hard to get appointments sometimes with licensors or retailers. I have written before how we spend a lot of time introducing ourselves to buyers. Buyers at retailers are constantly inundated with companies wanting to sell them stuff. There are not enough hours in the day to meet with everyone who wants a meeting. We understand this. But they do meet with some new potential vendors. And we are happy that they meet with us. And they meet with us, I think, because we try not to waste their time or be annoying. We just simply keep telling our story in as brief and direct an approach as possible. We are respectful of their time.

The bottom line:whether it is school, business, or sports, you need to work on the small things and not let obstacles get in your way Take care of the small stuff and the big stuff (winning, grades, sales) will follow.


Tuesday, January 27, 2009

As promised, here is a list that was in the lobby of the hotel during the Hong Kong Toy Fair. I would say we were in pretty good company!

Monday, January 26, 2009

Happy new year! Kung hei fat choy!

Its New Years in China. The year of the Ox. US industry is so reliant on China that this holiday has an impact on everyone. For the past few months US companies have been asking their China counterparts, "when will you be closing and reopening for New Year's?" Companies need to make sure they avoid supply chain problems by getting their orders in and shipped ahead of the holidays.

Our manufacturing will be closed for a week or so and our office in HK will be closed for a day or two (although, people will be taking individual vacations around this time). In some ways, this time is not much different than the time in the US between Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Years. Anyone who works in a big company knows the bosses all take vacations during that time of year. Plus, the overall workload slows down (unless you work in retail) because the people you need are on vacation too. Things get done, but slower and with a bit less urgency.

These same feelings and culture are found in China. All offices close for the official holiday days. But around thoses days workers take extra time to ski (I hear skiing in Japan is incredible. Can anyone comment?) or head to the warmth of Bali. Factories extend their shut down to allow their workers to make the long trip home to see family.

One of these days I will make sure I am in China for the New Years and take part in the various festivities. Any holiday involving fireworks, dragons, and food, sounds like a good time to me.


Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Happy Birthday Mom!

And congratulations to President Obama.

My father died a little over a year ago. He was the son of a single mother and I think he would have related to President Obama's journey.

Written January 14, 2009 - Hong Kong)

I have one more day in Hong Kong. It has been a good trip for me and the company. We had a lot of appointments with retailers in the US and around the world. The fact that our products have a chance in other countries is not one that I expected to happen so soon.

In the next few weeks, retailers will be making decisions on what products they will put in the stores next fall. I, along with everyone at the Lafayette Puzzle Factory, will be eagerly awaiting these decisions. We feel very good that our products will make it to shelf, but you never know and I spend a lot of sleepless nights thinking about what I can do to keep spreading the word about our line of puzzles.

There are two more big international shows for the toy industry. One is in Germany and the other is in New York City. I am not be attending the one in Germany. The focus of that show is mostly for Europe and we do not have any plans to distribute in Europe (yet). The other is in NYC. I will attend that show, but will not have a booth at the Javitz Center. We instead have set up a few private meetings.

It will be good to get home and recharge my batteries before New York in February.


Sunday, January 18, 2009

(Written January 8, 2009 - Hong Kong)

Walking around a trade show can be daunting. This is especially true of a huge show like the one in Hong Kong. There are thousands of booth, tens of thousands of attendees and very narrow aisles between the booths. Narrow aisles are a good way to squeeze in more paying exhibitors).

This is the 8th year in a row I have attended this show. From attending this show and others I have learned:

A good pair of shoes is critical.

I like to carry my satchel with me to hold brochures and business cards. I try to remember to make sure it is light and empty when I start the day. It is amazing how heavy catalogs and PR material can get on your shoulder.

Shows should ban rolling briefcases and suitcases from the show floor. Attendees who have these take up too much room walking in the aisles. I cannot tell you how many I trip over or that roll over my feet when I am walking a show.

Shows should be required to have aisles that are at least 5 grown men wide. And they should have traffic enforcement officers to move along those who stop in the aisles to talk. Get out of the way!

I only take catalogs when I am really interested in a company or a product. I am not trying to be rude, but it is impossible to bring back all the catalogs people give you on a plane. They are just too heavy.

I do not mind giving out my card and having someone follow up with quote or an inquiry if I need more info.

But I always seem to run out of business cards. I wish the shows would print a bar code on my badge that the booth could scan. It would save paper and cost for the attendees. And the booth could enter notes about you right away.

Pack a lot of business cards. When you think you have enough, pack more.


Saturday, January 17, 2009

(Written January 8, 2009 - Hong Kong)

I attended a safety seminar today at the Hong Kong Exhibition center. The US Congress has enacted new and very strict safety rules for toys. Everyone is trying to make sure they are in compliance with the new rules.

Puzzles are generally a safe product. Being made of paper, there is very little risk for injury from a puzzle. But I still attend the seminars to make sure we meet or exceed any rules. I am a parent and the last thing I want is to see anyone harmed by my products.

2007 was a bad year for toy safety. I hope people realize that as an industry, the toy industry cares deeply about safety. Even though the new rules are very strict and will definitely increase costs to toy companies, no one is complaining about the rules. Everyone I talk to thinks the new rules are the best thing for the industry. The only issue I have heard discussed is the timing of the implementation. Companies that already have product in warehouses or on store shelves may have to destroy those products if they do not meet the new standards being enacted. As a new company, this is one worry we do not have. From the start we have made sure we understand the new rules and are in compliance.


Friday, January 16, 2009

(Written January 6, 2009 - Hong Kong)

Arrived in Hong Kong on Sunday night around 7pm. The flight from Chicago to Hong Kong is over 15 hours! It is a long time to sit still. Just as the plane doors closed, a passenger fell ill. The paramedics had to come on board to help. It looked to me like the passenger had overindulged on alcohol and had passed out. When the paramedics tried to revive him, he became belligerent and somewhat violent (he was small compared to the fireman). Anyway, the whole scene took more than an hour to resolve. Two good lessons, 1) never drink before a 15 hour flight (no matter how much you think you need a drink to make it through a flight like that) and 2) it is possible to make up a delay of over an hour when the flight is 15 hours. We landed only about 20 minutes late. Not bad. At one time we were traveling over 600mph!

Our showroom is in the Grand Stanford hotel. We have a two room suite. The front room has all our products displayed. I sleep in the other room. Its a nice hotel and a nice room. The director of marketing and a few others from our office did a great job setting up the room. Everything is displayed perfectly. And our new catalog is printed and looks amazing. I am so proud.

There are at least 20 other companies using the hotel for meetings and showrooms. Some of them are companies you know including K’nex, Ohio Art, and Leapfrog. It is fun to see our name among these well known brands.

We have had a busy first two days. Early Monday morning the meetings started and they continued all day. By day, we have presentations and meetings. Then at night, the team and I fill out quote sheets and prepare samples.

I think the buyers are starting to really understand our company. We are providing innovative puzzle ideas and manufacturing them to a new standard. No one is very optimistic about the economy in 2009, so our combination of innovation, high quality and outstanding value helps us stand out.

If I ever figure out how to upload a picture to this blog, I will upload a picture of our showroom.

More as the week goes on.

I was having trouble updating the blog while in Hong Kong. The entire web site was in chinese characters and I could not figure out which link was for signing in. Hope you didn't give up (you must not have if you are reading this) on new updates. I wrote several entries during my trip and will upload them over the next couple of days.

I did get some feedback on the blog while in Hong Kong (a quick shout out to our friends who follow in Asia!). One asked if I ever bought Yahtzee Free For All and what I paid for it. I am happy to report I did buy the game and we played it on Christmas day in the afternoon. I ended up buying it at Toys R Us for $18.99 the weekend before Christmas. It was sold out everywhere else I looked.


Thursday, January 1, 2009

How did you spend New Year’s Eve? We took our kids bowling with a large group of friends late in the afternoon and then went to dinner with a small group of adults. But before we left for dinner, we opened a puzzle. The kids spent the evening putting it together. Even today we are still working on it as a family.

Putting together a puzzle on New Year’s Eve and Day is something my family has done since I was a young child. It is something I have continued with my kids.

Puzzles are a great family activity. And to further my point about the enduring value of puzzles, the puzzle we are doing is from Springbok and was made in 1979. I know we should be doing a Lafayette Puzzle Factory puzzle, but we have been putting LPF puzzles together for the last few months. The kids decided they wanted to pick an old puzzle from our toy closet in the basement.

Are there any traditions you have for New Years? Tell me about them.