03 Mar Meet A Tenant: How The Happy Puzzle Company Are Spreading Lockdown Joy
The Happy Puzzle Company say they aim to create happiness, one puzzle at a time. We chatted with Managing Director Gavin Ucko about how they’re achieving their mission in a year of lockdowns and restrictions.
With so many diverse companies within our walls, it’s always fascinating to catch up with our tenants.
The Happy Puzzle Company has a unique story, successfully navigating the turbulent waters of 2020, to come out the other side with doubled turnover and a base of loyal customers.
However, it’s not been a straightforward journey……
How has The Happy Puzzle Company evolved over the years?
Well, I founded the Happy Puzzle Company in November 1992, so we’ve been going for nearly 29 years now. We started by doing puzzle birthday parties! Well, when I say we, it was actually just me running it part time to earn some extra pocket money. Over the years the business evolved and in 1999 we started our first mail order catalogue.
Then, about 10 years ago, we started manufacturing our own puzzles and games across the world, launching them in different countries. Today, our products are available in 33 countries worldwide, including America where we’ve made enormous strides. America really is a golden opportunity.
We hear you’ve won several awards too! What makes The Happy Puzzle Company stand out?
I think we have an absolutely amazing range of puzzles and games. We’re also a people-focused company, our customers can talk to us or even just send us an email to say hello. When we ship an order, every customer gets a little note with my email address so I get 100 to 150 emails a week like that!
Tell us more about your puzzles and games
Everything is designed to help families develop their thinking skills and absolutely nothing we do involves batteries or electronics.
It’s all about getting people thinking with their heads and using their hands. When you do a puzzle, you can actually do it together as a family and look each other in the eye.
How important is that at the moment?
It’s never been more important. The Happy Puzzle Company’s social purpose is based on creating happiness. We live in an age where people’s mental health is really suffering.
It’s an instant gratification society where you have to reply to WhatsApp messages within seconds, where being pulled apart from your device is terrible, where kids get fidgety if their phone buzzes and they can’t look at it immediately.
So, we’re all here to help people’s mental health through puzzles. We say we’re “creating happiness one puzzle at a time”, because Rome wasn’t built in a day.
I recently published a paper about how the jigsaw puzzle could save humanity in the long run. Because, people are so bored in lockdown that they’ve turned back to jigsaw puzzles and they realise they actually love doing them. We now sit down and spend time doing a puzzle together, which is a beautiful thing.
Tell us about business during the pandemic
At the start of March 2020 we didn’t produce our usual spring catalogue. There was just so much uncertainty. But as we went into lockdown I noticed that sales were going in completely the opposite direction to what we would’ve expected. Usually people spend their money on puzzles and games in October, November, and December, not in spring. But there was a steep upward line on the sales graph.
The problem was, how could you work out what sales would do next? If people start to lose their jobs they won’t have money to spend, so should we invest more and risk being left with lots of stock during a recession? The answer is nobody knows. So, we stopped trying to predict what would happen.
How easy has it been to keep up with such a high volume of orders?
Our turnover has more than doubled in the last year. We actually could’ve done far more but we were simply restricted by the amount we could produce. You can re-organise lots of aspects of business in light of the pandemic, but you can’t change everything.
Jigsaws, for example, became complicated. We make our own jigsaws but the equipment that’s used in the manufacturing process is big, serious equipment which is nailed to the floor. When you need to socially distance, there are suddenly less people involved in the process which dramatically reduces the number of puzzles you can produce.
Shipping was really problematic at times too. We even had vessels dock only to be refused and sent away halfway through unloading. It was chaos!
What do you think will happen post pandemic? What’s next for The Happy Puzzle Company?
We need to make sure that people don’t slip back into old habits when we come out of this horrible situation. It’s going to be really challenging, but that’s why we’re here and that’s what we’re trying to do.
We have some things in production that I’m really excited about at the moment. Some of these we’ve never done before, like physical handheld wooden brainteasers. They’re fantastic and I’m itching to see what we can do with them.
Tell us more!
Well, our highly successful genius collection currently has a new challenge under development, plus we have also launched the worlds very first to create your own optical illusion set . It’s just brilliant and we can’t wait for people to try it.
How has The Brentano Suite helped you thrive as a business?
The Brentano Suite is the polar opposite of what we came from. Before, we were in a cluttered 4000 ft.² warehouse, and only really using about 500 ft.². It was cold and expensive.
Now, we’re in a prime location and our office is a sea of natural light. People are happier coming to work where they can walk in and know they’re being looked after. Everything looks beautiful, there’s lots of smiling faces, and Greg is on patrol making sure everything goes smoothly.
It’s also great to know you’ve got the suites just downstairs for your meetings and a kitchenette to grab a coffee. Sometimes, it’s just nice to have a little change of scenery.
It’s a really friendly environment. I think everyone feels like they’re part of a something together here, it’s lovely.