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Piecing Together a Business

eBay seller finds a profitable niche in jigsaw puzzles.

Kim Patton never knew puzzles could be so addictive, but they proved to be a fun pastime when the seller was recovering from back surgery—and they proved to be a sound business investment when she couldn’t go back to work after the surgery.

“It just kind of took off,” muses Patton, the owner of Patton Puzzle Pleasures on eBay. “Now it’s grown so much, I can barely keep up.”

The Top-rated seller recently hired someone to help her pull items from storage and pack and receive products. Chronic back pain and recent injuries have made it difficult to work while on her feet, but Patton’s always busy looking for new inventory, keeping up on trends and researching new vendors. When Auctiva EDU spoke with her, Patton was preparing for the holiday frenzy.

“I’ve ordered a bunch of puzzles for the holidays,” she says. “My garage is a warehouse. I can no longer park a vehicle in there, but it’s all very organized.”

How packed is that garage? The seller estimates she’s sitting on about 4,000 new puzzles from brands like Ceaco, MEGA Brands, SunsOut and MasterPieces. She might order more, she laughs.

My garage is a warehouse. I can no longer park a vehicle in there, but it’s all very organized

A puzzle solved

Patton began selling on eBay in 2007. After back surgery, she was unable to go back to work and needed a job that would allow her the flexibility to work at her own pace and wouldn’t require her to go into an office every day. Back then, one of her aunts sold items on eBay, periodically, which inspired Patton to give the marketplace a shot.

Initially, Patton sold items she no longer needed, having recently moved. That included several used puzzles she had completed while she recovered from surgery, she remembers. To her surprise, the activities were a hot commodity on eBay.

“Those sold so well, I had to look for more,” Patton recalls. “I said, ‘If used puzzles sell so well, I should look for new ones to sell.’ They sold like crazy!”

Popular pastime

This motivated Patton to get a reseller’s license and look for distributors to source new puzzles and make eBay selling her full-time gig. The business venture would allow her to be her own boss, work when she felt well and relax on the days when she didn’t.

The popularity of puzzles makes sense now, the merchant notes. Puzzles are both fun and therapeutic. Many of her buyers enjoy the artwork, and some use puzzles to keep their minds active. In fact, Patton notes she sells a lot of jigsaws to older folks and donates some to care homes.

But when Patton initially started selling, the puzzles’ popularity was surprising, she admits. “My whole family was shocked,” she says. “(They asked), ‘How can you sell so much with puzzles?'”

The tough economic times might have contributed to the appeal. Puzzles provide buyers with lots of entertainment at a low cost. For instance, Patton says, families can get hours of fun from one puzzle that costs $20. Going to the movies would cost a family a lot more, and only provide a few hours of enjoyment.

Another appeal: “Some puzzles are done by the artist himself,” she notes. And, while fans of a particular artist might not be able to afford an original art piece, “they can (afford) the puzzle.”

It’s all in the details

Regardless of what it is that draws buyers to puzzles, Patton always aims to give buyers the treatment and products she would want, she says.

“I try to do everything I can to make customers happy. I try to treat them the way I would want to be treated, and I’m pretty picky,” the seller laughs.

Patton mostly sells new, unopened puzzles, but she adds that if one of her jigsaws is used, she offers it at a discounted rate and lets shoppers know right away that the item is pre-owned. She also shows shoppers any damage a piece may have in detailed, clear and supersized photos, which cost her nothing extra with Auctiva’s image hosting service. The seller notes that good photos are essential to any listing to let buyers know exactly what they’re buying.

“Some people just put photos out there,” she adds, “but you can’t do that, especially when you’re dealing with puzzles. People want to see (the puzzles) up close. You can’t do that with thumbnail images.”

People want to see (the puzzles) up close. You can’t do that with thumbnail images

Building relationships with buyers

Patton provides her customer with a personal touch to give them plenty of reasons to come back. The seller notes that she always contacts buyers and thanks them for their payments. She also includes a business card with every shipment she sends off so buyers will think of her the next time they need a puzzle.

She even helps shoppers locate the puzzles they want, even if they don’t buy from her. She extends this courteously to both domestic and international shoppers. In fact, though Patton initially stuck to selling to U.S. buyers, wary of what shipping internationally could mean to her shipping DSRs, with eBay’s encouragement, Patton decided to broaden her customer base. That only enabled her business to grow even more.

In a typical month, she sends out 300 or more items a month. But November and December have been particularly busy months for the seller. From Nov. 15 to Nov. 30 she shipped 300 puzzles. So far this month, Patton’s shipped 150 puzzles, putting her target of number of items shipped up to 600 for the month of December.

“I ship to countries I’d never even heard of,” she notes.

Knowing her customers

Patton has been successful by knowing her customers, she says. She knows which artists and designs the puzzle lovers who visit her store want. She takes note when shoppers show an interest in particular design or artist, and she keeps up on trends. Recently, she noticed that Josephine Wall puzzles were becoming popular and was able to locate a supplier. She expects these puzzles to be “a big hit,” she says, as they’re the new Josephine Wall Glitter and Gold Series, which are very difficult to get.

The puzzle business keeps her busy, but Patton wouldn’t have it any other way.

“I always wanted to own my own business,” she says. “I didn’t plan it would happen like this, but it’s funny how things work out.”

Selling is a “joy,” she adds.

Visit Patton Puzzle Pleasures on eBay.

About the author

Olga Munoz
Olga Munoz is editor of TheOnlineSeller.com. In addition to writing news and feature articles about e-commerce, selling trends, online marketing and other topics of interest to online sellers, Olga manages the site's social media efforts. A journalism graduate of Chico State, Olga says her favorite part of being a journalist is learning interesting facts that help put stories into perspective, attending industry events and meeting interesting people "that leave you smiling, even in tough situations." Opinions expressed here may not be shared by The Online Seller and/or its principals.



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