Wednesday, March 31, 2010

I have been waiting for awhile for this post. I love when we get our first order from a new retailer. It is so exciting. So much work goes into meeting and working with a retailer that when that order finally comes in and we ship out our puzzles, we really celebrate. It does not matter how big or small the order we get is. It just feels good to add to our constantly expanding distribution.

This week Toys R Us is our newest retail partner. They are carrying our Crayola Chalkboard Floor puzzle line. We have 3 titles in the series and Toys R Us is carrying all 3 (Playground Fun, Space Race, and USA Map).

The puzzles are great. Each comes with Crayola Sidewalk chalk. The chalk can be used on the puzzle and wipes off mess free like a real chalkboard. The Space Race and Playground Fun images are great for kids to use their imagination and join the fun in the picture. Kids can draw on the USA Map anything they desire. It is the perfect free form puzzle. And since kids can draw on the puzzle, the puzzle never gets boring.

Anyway, we are all really excited to have our Crayola puzzle at Toys R Us. I do not see it on their web site yet and it is not at my store here in Lafayette (due next week the manager tells me). But I have gotten reports of the puzzle on shelf in California and Illinois.

So keep your eyes open and let me know if you see it in your local store.

Everything always seems to take longer than I expect. I was hoping by now to be bragging about our new website and our new on-line puzzle stores. But, we have been slammed with new orders. Getting these orders organized and into production has taken up tons of time. Most of the orders are for our new items. We have been working on these lines for months, but the first order means that we have to make final decisions on packaging and artwork. And with over 60 new pieces of art in one of the orders, there are a lot of final decisions.

I do not think most people realize how much work goes into making a puzzle. Actually, making a puzzle is not difficult. They will tell you technically it is simple. Take a picture, put it on some cardboard and cut it into a predetermined number of pieces. But making a nice quality puzzle and then repeating that over and over it not easy. The difference between a really good image and a just ok image is subtle. We look at 10,000 or more images every year just to find the few hundred we make into puzzles. We reject some really great pictures that just are not great puzzles. And then we have to do all over again the next year.

The images on the puzzles we are putting into production right now were found a year ago. Last April I bought a lot of the images. They will not be in stores for another 6 - 8 weeks. Over 1 year from the first time we saw the image until it is in a store. And since then, I have looked at thousands of additional images.

I think one of the qualifications for picking images is that the person needs experience putting together puzzles. Only by putting together a puzzle do you realize the small things within a puzzle that are important. The importance of colors and shapes. The importance of the feel of the puzzle pieces. The importance of the label on the box that you use to help put together the pieces. These are all important. Not to mention having the right picture.

At the Lafayette Puzzle Factory we have that experience. We have put together puzzles. We have bought bad images in the past. We have used cheap materials and seen the results (not pretty). These experiences are what make our puzzles different from other companies. It is why after only being in business for a little over a year we have growing reputation as a company that knows puzzlers. And whose puzzles sell to a consumer who knows puzzles.

Anyway, all this has kept us busy and for that we are thankful. Keep an eye out. New puzzles will be in stores in the next few weeks and months. I can not wait to hear how we did.


Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Spring is finally starting to show itself. Yesterday was a day that we have needed for quite some time. The sun was out in full force. It was a day to drive around with the windows down in the car (and the heat on inside the car just a bit). The kids had their first practices outside. Baseball for my sons and soccer for my daughter. Everyone was in a good mood as the day came to an end.

Spring also means the Lafayette Puzzle Factory is making its first shipments of our new items. Seems like I have been getting a lot of feedback that folks are looking for puzzles. A lot of retailers cut back on their puzzle sections in the Spring and Summer. The industry collectively believes that puzzles are a winter activity. There is no doubt that sales are the highest in the fall and winter. But retailers that keep a fresh selection of puzzles year round tell me they see good sales even in the "off" months.

If you are a person who loves puzzles year round, do not be afraid to tell the manager in your local store that you shop for puzzles year round and find their selection less than you would like. Also, if you like our LPF puzzles, let the store know (politely, of course). Or send an e-mail to their headquarters on their website. They do listen to feedback. And feel free to tell them how much you like LPF puzzles.

Happy St. Patricks Day!


Thursday, March 11, 2010

Folks contact the Lafayette Puzzle Factory every imaginable way. E-mails, notes on our website, phone calls, and letters. It is the letters that fascinate me. They are usually formal letters on stationary. The writer uses cursive. I admit, I sometimes have a hard time reading cursive. Even though the cursive in the letters is neat and formal. I just do not read or write in cursive very much (ever).

The letters are pleasant with terrific penmanship and grammer. I always write back. Two of these folks have become pen pals. It seems they do not really have access to computers. I am not sure why, but they do not. So we write to each other. They tell me what puzzles they have bought and assembled lately. Often, they have suggestions for me on images or piece counts. They also tell me about competitors puzzles. Sometimes they complain about the prices of puzzles (usually not ours) or the poor quality (again, not ours). Frustratingly, they often are frustrated that they can not find every puzzle we make at their local puzzle store.

I assume the letter writers are older than me. I think folks in my age group (I am 42) use e-mail much more often than pen and paper. Its quicker and easier. I coached a basketball team this winter. One of the assistants was 20 years old (he is an older brother of one of the team members). E-mail seemed old fashion to him. He rarely checked his. He communicated via Facebook and texts on his phone.

I have enjoyed my new found pen pals. I do not handwrite my letters back. I type them on the computer and print them out. I use nice paper (I went and bought some just for my pen pals) and I sign my name as neatly as possible. I do not want my pen pals to think I am completely uncultured.


Sunday, March 7, 2010

This is the first week since Jan 1 that I am not scheduled to travel anywhere either by plane or car. When you are the new guys on the block you go where ever someone will listen to you pitch your product line. We had a great first year in 2009 and are looking to build on that foundation this year with more retailers in new parts of the country.

The one thing I never did in the puzzle industry was selling. I never met a buyer face to face until I started the Lafayette Puzzle Factory. I had never sat in on a puzzle presentation or taken part in any of the direct selling until my first appointment last year. I am still not sure I am doing it right or like other people do it. So I over compensate. I bring everything I can think of to every appointment. I bring in samples, spreadsheets, bound presentations, computer powerpoint presentations, movie posters, popular best selling books, samples from other countries, and glued together puzzles. We have a line of cupcake puzzles and to a few meetings I brought cupcakes with me! I had to buy a cart to haul everything I bring with me to the meetings. I feel ridiculous sometimes walking into a building with my cart of goods. I never see anyone else with carts like me.

I bring all this stuff with me. And then when the meeting starts, I barely use any of it. Although each meeting I pull out something different. Maybe one meeting feels like a powerpoint presentation would work. The next just the excel spreadsheet tells the story. The cupcakes were a hit! It all depends on the buyer and the prop I think I need to make the case for our puzzles.

I will tell you that in every meeting I use samples of our puzzles. And ultimately, they are my best prop. They clearly show why our puzzles are superior. They show the bright, clear, colorful pictures. They show the quality of the puzzle board and the box. They show the small things we do with our packaging that makes the product that much nicer for the consumer.

My samples are my most important prop. But I still bring everything. I bring them because as we are talking I think of additional information I can share. And then I know I have that information with me. Sometimes it is information about the puzzle catagory at a macro level. Other times, it is a question specific to the types of puzzles the particular retailer is carrying. I like knowing I have that information close by.

I still am not very good at selling. I have collected a few horror stories that I will share when the wounds are not so raw. But I am really good at explaining why my puzzles are better than everyone elses. And at the end of the day, I think that is all anyone cares about.