Puzzles are are thriving despite coronavirus

jigsaw puzzles have emerged as a popular quarantine pastime, leaving puzzle makers scrambling to ship their wares.

When states started issuing shelter-in-place orders, White Mountain Puzzles had to shut down both its factories and a warehouse. Since then, White Mountain has opened two new warehouses—something the company had already been considering—and tried to keep up with orders by shipping puzzles to the new facilities. “That’s really been a godsend,” co-owner Sean Minton says. “Although we’re still backed up by 10-14 days, we’re able to get out thousands more orders than we normally would.” Still, with White Mountain’s factories temporarily closed, manufacturing all but came to a standstill. “Our factories are just opening up,” says Minton. “So inventory has run very low. All of our best sellers are out of stock. The demand doesn’t seem to be letting up.”

“Last year, we sold over two million puzzles. This year, I expect we’re going to do significantly more.”

White Mountain usually sells more to retailers or wholesale partners, many of which are struggling or have had to shut their doors. (Grocery stores and retailers such as Target are an exception.) But over the last two months, White Mountain’s direct-to-consumer business has been so overwhelmed with orders that Minton had to shut down the site temporarily. “The day we opened up our site, we did significantly more sales in 12 hours than we did all of last April,” he says.

In the puzzle business, November and December are the biggest months for sales, as people spend more time at home and are with their families over the holidays. White Mountain’s sales during this lockdown, however, have already outpaced its holiday sales. “Last year, we sold over two million puzzles,” Minton says. “This year, I expect we’re going to do significantly more. But I have no idea how long this will last and what’s going to happen with brick and mortar, which is the majority of our business.”

Minton is optimistic that White Mountain will catch up to demand eventually. But puzzle making is not exactly a speedy business, which means scaling production is more complex than it might seem. Even in nonpandemic times, the production cycle for a White Mountain puzzle is a couple of weeks, Minton says.

Kaylin Marcotte, the founder and CEO of Jiggy, allocates about two months to create a puzzle from beginning to end. Jiggy, which just launched in November, licenses the work of emerging female artists for its puzzles. Its presentation also differs from the usual puzzle: Marcotte opted for a reusable glass jar and upright box, rather than the traditional packaging, and the company includes glue so that each puzzle can function as an art piece once it’s completed. But that leaves Marcotte reliant on even more vendors.

“Our supply chain is all fully operational, but we have seven different vendors,” she says. “So there are multiple components, and it just takes one of them to be delayed.” And then there are the shipping costs: The day we spoke, Marcotte had been quoted a whopping $200,000 to air-freight Jiggy’s next shipment.

Jiggy launched with just six puzzles and is almost fully sold out at the moment. Later this month, Jiggy will restock two best sellers and debut a new collection of six puzzles; in the meantime, it has rolled out a new campaign to help artists who’ve lost income during this time.

“We have this product that there is demand for,” Marcotte says. “Artists don’t have a lot of options right now. So what we were able to get manufactured fairly quickly was blank puzzles: They come already assembled and there’s no image on the front. We’re tapping our grassroots community of artists, distributing these blank puzzles and having them hand draw and hand paint directly to create super one-of-a-kind, limited-edition puzzles.” Jiggy will sell the puzzles and split proceeds with the artists involved, donating part of its own share to relief funds.

Minton isn’t sure what the future holds, particularly when it comes to brick-and-mortar sales. But puzzles were “on the upswing” even before this pandemic, he points out. “I think there’s going to be a whole new generation of puzzle enthusiasts out there,” he says.

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