October 16, 2021

How to get to 6-figure Shopify store in the Pandemic - Donna Brown - The Missing Piece Puzzle

By Veronica Jeans, Ecommerce Queen
How to get to 6-figure Shopify store in the Pandemic - Donna Brown - The Missing Piece Puzzle | Veronica Jeans


I'm talking to Donna Brown and she has the Missing Piece Puzzle Company, which is a personalized puzzle company that when you upload your picture and she makes a puzzle for you - it is amazing. Donna and I have known each other for a long time, since about 2011 when she started the business. So Donna, why did you start the Puzzle Company?

Donna Brown (01:54):

Well, my son is autistic and he was having trouble with his tutor and John came home and he said: "Hey, I could send this picture away. We could have a puzzle made of it. It will go to China and come back in six weeks. And it costs like a billion dollars". And I said: "Well, I think we could do that better". So I opened up a Puzzle Company so that we could do it 'Made in America' with better materials and that the puzzle would come out better.

Veronica Jeans

The quality was bad, right?

Donna Brown

It was awful. And I just thought, gives people the wrong impression and if we make it in America, we can make a right.

Veronica Jeans (02:35):

Exactly, So how did you start? Did you have to buy a printer - how did you start?

Donna Brown (02:49):

Starting was an adventure. So I have this idea and I didn't know how to make puzzles. So I just researched and I started calling people and nobody helped me. Nobody would help me at all. So I just ordered a machine. I talked to photographers. Found out what the best printers were. I found out what type of paper - it's a specialized paper that you have to buy and it's specialized cardboard that you have to buy. I found out that it's very expensive, but it was for my child. So I thought it would be a hobby at first because I was a full-time teacher and now I worked seven days a week making calls.

Veronica Jeans (03:34):

One of the highlights that since I've known you, was that your puzzle went into space. Tell us about that adventure. That was amazing, right? You really got irritated with the guy because he was like emailing you and contacting you. And it was on and on and on. .

Donna Brown (03:56):

The panel was asking me every question that, that I could ever answer and I really thought he was trying to open his own puzzle company at one point because he was asking me, how much does it weigh and how thick are the pieces and how big are they? Can you use a micrometer and after about 40 or 50 emails, I'm like: "Hey,the puzzle costs $20. This is all I could help you with". Well, it turns out that he was from Germany, he was an astronaut and he was to lead a space mission up at the International Space Station and wanted to make a round puzzle with his logo on it. So I don't think officially we were ever allowed to announce it. But it was the coolest thing because he was up in space for six months and he ended up leading this mission and it was really neat. Really neat.

Veronica Jeans (04:50):

I thought that was better than you being on TV. So you start a business and you get excited and you think I want to be on TV. I want to explode. I want to have a thousand orders a day. It's no problem. Tell us about your experience with not being prepared.

Donna Brown (05:13):

Well, we were on the Today Show. The first time we had a lot of orders and we had people working here, but the second time was recent and it was after the pandemic hit and I had let my girl go because New Jersey was one of the first States that was really hit with this pandemic. And we were supposed to close for two weeks. So I let her go because her husband was working in a high risk prison. Her daughter was still in school. I said to her, well, come back in two weeks. Within that time Yahoo had contacted the Today Show. And the Today Show said: "We want to do a puzzle company. So they found me. I was not prepared and this could have really ruined my business. I didn't have helpers here. I didn't have a backup plan.

I think that's really, really important for any business to have. You hear it that you need one, but you really don't understand. If I had had a backup plan, I wouldn't have had to refund a lot of money. And my business looked bad when I had to refund money. I was apologizing to customers because I couldn't get the product to them in time. It was bad. It was a bad business decision. It was a pandemic. None of us knew. But if I had thought about like a catastrophic plan, I could have avoided it. I have one. Now I have a plan. If we ever go back and shut down, or if ever there's a hurricane or whatever, I know what to do, but I didn't know then. And it could really hurt our brand.

Veronica Jeans (06:51):

So what is your backup plan?

Donna Brown (06:54):

Well, I've trained a bunch of people. Some people come from afar in summer, very close to the company. They all have a different code to get into the building. So we changed the lock system. They can come in whenever they want. So they can come in at 12 o'clock at night. They can come at two in the morning. It's all logged. We have a camera system here. I can work from my living room from home because I changed all of my programs so that I could work remotely. So now I don't physically need to be here. I need someone here physically, but it doesn't necessarily have to be me. You know, if the roads are closed or, or whatever, I'm a half an hour away.

Veronica Jeans (07:37):

You're really doing well. Now Christmas is coming up. The pandemic, I think has changed so many businesses because normally you're doing really well with weddings.

Oh yes! and so you got an idea and everybody's on the same idea now, but you got this idea to use your bits and pieces that you don't use for puzzles as wedding puzzle guest books

Donna Brown (08:05):

So what happens is most people who are getting married, they take all these beautiful, engagement photos, and they have it professionally made. And then they like sit in the closet. Do you know what I mean? So their guests book sits in a closet. So what we do is we print their engagement photos and we make them into puzzles so people can sign the back or the front of them, if they want the memories, and they can actually hang this puzzle up as a picture. They are 20 X 30 and it is a guest book that you use forever. We used to have a lot of white paper left. So the white paper that we printed on the printer paper, it would be leftover and it was wasted. Like there were about 10 feet of the role that are wasted and the rolls are extremely expensive. So we started making white puzzles, just out of the whim and sold them as guest books. And now that 10 foot could work. So you find a way to use every bit of your material or to find some other company that, instead of putting your waste out there, maybe it will work for them. I mean, we worked with a lot of different companies now and we give away our boxes. They need to pack their stuff for eBay sales or whatever --we source them to other people.

Veronica Jeans (09:36):

So what would you do if you ever had to start again? What would you do differently?

Donna Brown (09:53):

Well, I would listened to you a little more, Veronica, because in the time when I first met you, I had this, you know, I'm going to be on the internet. I'm going to make a million sales. And I didn't know anything about marketing. I didn't know about SEO. And I surely didn't know about the social sites. So, early on you told me that I should get into blogging and I should get into Pinterest and I should get into Facebook. And I just kind of rolled my eyes and I did it, but I didn't do as much as I should have. So fortunately I have a foothold in Pinterest because early on we were at the very beginning of Pinterest. But I wish if I could do it all again, I would have really done more marketing than I did now, because I think, you know, even though we crawled our way to the top of the heap, we had a lot of competition. And I think that we wouldn't have as much competition because we would've been more of an authority.

Veronica Jeans (10:58):

Yeah. I think you have to keep an eye on all these coming out and maybe taking advantage of them, but you can't always do everything because customers aren't everywhere. So you need to also know exactly where your customers are. But talking about Pinterest, I remember you did a competition on Pinterest when it started out, which was great, but then you stopped doing Pinterest, but you are still getting some orders from Pinterest. That's absolutely amazing, right?

Donna Brown (11:31):

Yes. It's amazing. I get a lot of people who view my website because of early on when we did all of our stuff on Pinterest, those pins are still there. They're there forever. So if I could just make a suggestion to everyone, don't put your price on your picture because I have pictures out there where the price was less than half of what we charge now. If you're going to put something out on the internet, it's there forever. So don't, push yourself into a corner because prices change. Don't date your photos. Don't brand yourself with - this costs $20 or this cost $25, when you'll never know the prices So, remember everything out there is forever.

Veronica Jeans (12:22):

I know, right? Every picture out there is forever. And then also when we were looking at your pricing, you have a band of where you can sell your products and you can't really price yourself out of the market. That's probably with every product out there. So what we did extra, we actually have a rush order that you charge for on your website that we just put it on. And you said, well, let's see if it works. And people are actually buying and paying the extra $5 or $10 for the order.

Donna Brown (13:02):

It's $5. So what it'll do is it'll take the order from the back of the queue and it'll move it up to the front of my queue and they'll get it faster. Especially with the pandemic, it's really important to do something like that because you're going to get a lot of orders. This is the time for online sales. People are not going out and people are learning and it's very comfortable. Even when they return to work, people are going to do a lot more online shopping. So do it now. Don't think that it's not happening. It's happening every day. If you look at different situations, Walmart's taken a run for Amazon now - their commercials. So get on every single sales channel.

Veronica Jeans (13:49):

Exactly. We saw a surge in e-commerce when, you started. That surge was there and I think we're on another surge. I mean, e-commerce has grown so much in the last six months compared to the last 10 years. And this is the time to get your stuff online and to get selling something. Even if you don't have something to sell, just make a decision, get on mine and start practicing because you can only learn as you, are selling.

Anyway, thank you so much for popping in. I am so happy that you agreed to be with us because you have got so much experience. And I hope if anybody has a question, put it in the comments below and we will answer and I will have all Donna's information in the comments as well. But we also have it on the website on the virtual summit page and it will stay there and it will also be in the group. Thank thank you, Donna, for popping In with me. I really appreciate you helping us out and being here

Donna Brown

Always great to talk with you, Veronica. You, are the reason that my business was found online and I am thankful to you forever.

Thank you..

Donna Brown (Shopify Owner) - The Missing Piece Puzzle

We are a Personalized Jigsaw Puzzle Company specializing in turning your most cherished photo memories into personalized photo jigsaw puzzles.


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