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All hail the Puzzle Queen.
That’s Donna Marth-Brown’s title (her employees are Puzzle Princes and Princesses). Her company, The Missing Piece Puzzle Company, based in Richland, New Jersey, started taking orders in 2010. They turn photos into puzzles, and have both a physical store, which makes photo puzzles while customers wait, and an online store.
Marth-Brown, a former teacher, started the company in honor of her son, who is autistic. At the time he struggled with focusing on his schoolwork, so she ordered a puzzle with his photo on it. While it helped him, the quality, she says, was subpar.
“I had paid a small fortune to receive something manufactured abroad that had a very short lifespan,” she says. She decided she could do better. A puzzle company was born.
As a small- business owner and mom to an awesome child with autism, learning how to juggle the role of being the “Mom” of customer service rep, marketing, production, accounting, shipping and every other aspect of the business has proven to be puzzling. —Donna Marth-Brown, owner, The Missing Piece Puzzle Company
Her son still remains at the core of her business.
“My son is still my ‘inspector 13’,” she says. “If he can rip through it, we don't use it.”
1. What hurdles have you overcome in running your business?
In the beginning, I thought that selling just 10 puzzles a month would be amazing. Little did I know that some health issues would force me into an early retirement and that my hobby was going to become our sole source of support.
As a small business owner and mom to an awesome child with autism, learning how to juggle the role of being the “mom” of customer service rep, marketing, production, accounting, shipping and every other aspect of the business has proven to be puzzling. While the rapid growth of the business is fantastic, the sacrifices that come with it can become overwhelming. There never seem to be enough hours in the day to fully complete all of the tasks.
2. When did you first realize your company was successful?
Four years ago at Christmas, there was in influx of orders, as can be expected during the holiday, but we received one in particular that opened my eyes. It was a photo of a glacier that was breathtaking, and it was from North Pole, Alaska. When Santa finds you, you know you are successful.
3. What has been your most memorable moment as a business owner?
We made a proposal puzzle for a young gentleman who was asking his lovely lady to marry him via a puzzle. There were many discussions with him and I learned so much about the couple that I almost felt like family. When the day came I couldn’t wait to hear if she said, yes, so I called him. He sent me the most amazing photos of the proposal, as he had a photographer hiding in the bushes. I still smile when I think about them.
And yes, we did their wedding guest book puzzle for their big day.
4. What are three things you couldn’t live without?
The three things that I could never live without include my laptop, my online support group, and Post-it Notes. Currently, my laptop is covered in different colored Post-iIt Notes that remind me of daily, weekly, and hourly tasks. Without these I would be in a heap of trouble. My online support people are my rock and I cannot say enough about how wonderful it is to have the group I call my “backup singers.”
5. What are some keys to creating a good puzzle?
Using a thick puzzle board that is intended for puzzles is key. There are so many manufacturers who cut corners and use thin materials that are not intended for puzzles and will curl and bend. The next is to use the proper printers and media for the product, which is costly, but necessary.
Finished size: I believe that if you are looking for a good quality puzzle that you first have to look at the size of the finished puzzle. Many companies advertise that the puzzle will be 500 pieces but it may only measure 4x6 inches. Piece counts can be very misleading and confusing to consumers, but a good manufacturer will not hide the finished size of the puzzle.
Quality of the board: A thick puzzle board is key to success, but also has to be intended specifically for the jigsaw puzzle business. The board should not curl or warp and has to have other aspects in it to be perfect for a jigsaw puzzle. We use a 100 percent recycled board that fits all of the criteria and also helps the environment.