September 21, 2014
Source: Daily Camera
Boulder's Liberty Puzzles piecing together Pearl Street location
The pieces are falling into place for the next phase of Liberty Puzzles' business.
The Boulder-based maker of wooden jigsaw puzzles is weeks away from opening a retail store on the Pearl Street Mall.
The shop, which would be the first brick-and-mortar locale in the company's 9-year history, could lay the foundation for the operation to shift away from a wholesale-focused business model, owner Chris Wirth said.
Liberty Puzzles is setting up shop at 1468 Pearl St., a 685-square-foot space that most recently served as a retail front for Kid Robot, a maker of pop art and street art toys and collectibles.
"It made sense for us to plant the flag on the historic bricks of the Pearl Street Mall and see if that model works for us," Wirth said.
Liberty Puzzles now sells about "several dozen thousand" puzzles a year through its website and via the wholesale route to about a 100 small stores across America.
The puzzles are made by machine and a 30-person workforce in an east Boulder facility that in recent years has turned into a bit of a tourist draw, Wirth said. About two years back, Liberty Puzzles opened a showroom at its 2526 49th St. headquarters and made an open offer for drop-in tours.
Visitors pop in Liberty Puzzles on a daily basis, he said. During the peak summer tourist season, Wirth's business has hosted more than 10 groups in a single day.
"We've sort of been overwhelmed," he said.
Stronger financial position
Liberty Puzzles' venture into retail came as a means of both helping to satisfy consumer demand and establishing a stronger financial position for the business, he said.
"Our product is made locally. It's very expensive to make," he said. "It's hand-crafted. Each one touches a dozen sets of hands here. When we sell wholesale, the margin is just not there to sustain us as the sole channel of sales."
Bolstering direct sales, he said, would help those efforts.
Wirth and his team started looking for retail space about a year ago, sometimes playing the waiting game for the right type of space to become available.
When they got a call about a potential Pearl Street Mall location, they pounced on the opportunity.
Nationally, the retail segment is lagging, and, locally, an address on the historic mall brings comes at a higher cost.
Wirth is aware the endeavor would not be risk-free, but it's a chance he's willing to take.
"To us, it feels a bit like jumping off a cliff, but it also feels like the early days of our venture where we didn't even know if we could make these things," he said. "It gets our entrepreneurial juices flowing. We consider it to be the next adventure in our series of adventures."
Since its founding in 2005, Liberty Puzzles has seen steady growth year-over-year, including during the recent recession, Wirth said, declining to provide specific financial information for the privately held firm.
"Our product is decidedly non-digital," he said. " ... It's not just a jigsaw puzzle, it's a social experience."
The games and puzzle industry recorded $1.86 billion in sales during 2013, a 3 percent gain from the year before, according to the Toy Industry Association. The growth outpaced that of the overall traditional toy industry, which garnered $22.09 billion last year, up slightly from the $22.03 billion posted in 2012, the association reported.
Officials for the association highlighted low-tech toys as one of its top trends for 2014, noting that those items have inter-generational appeal.
"These back-to-basics toys (mostly low-tech) are for when families want to 'switch off' from technology," officials for the Toy Industry Association noted in its 2014 trends report. "This trend reinforces the fact that classic play patterns remain the same, and just as popular, over time."
Also playing in Liberty Puzzles' favor is the company's unique approach — wooden puzzles — and that its puzzles are locally made and hand-crafted, Wirth said.
The company now has nearly 500 different styles of puzzles in its standard collection, ranging in price from $39 to $185. Liberty Puzzles also designs custom puzzles for fine art galleries, museums and hotels across the country.
The retail location, Wirth said, should fit nicely with the other elements of Liberty Puzzles' operation.
"Even if it ends up being a break-even proposition, it's still advantageous for us because it plants our flag downtown in a premier location," he said. "That in turn gives our brand visibility and helps us in so many ways."
Contact Camera Business Writer Alicia Wallace at 303-473-1332 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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