Anaheim couple’s MicroPuzzles go big amid pandemic restrictions

As the COVID-19 pandemic wears on, millions of Americans are spending more time at  home.

Many are working remotely, while others are unemployed or working far less because their hours have been reduced. Regardless of their situation, they all have one thing in common — more time on their hands. What to do?

Enter MicroPuzzles.

So what are MicroPuzzles? Think puzzles, but smaller. Much smaller. The tubes they come in are just six inches long and an inch and a half wide, but the 150 tiny pieces inside each container pack an hour or more of fun. And you won’t need to clear away your dining room table to put them together. When completed, each jigsaw puzzle is just four by six inches.

MicroPuzzles offers nearly 30 puzzle designs. The company can also create customized puzzles. (Photo courtesy of MicroPuzzles)

The miniature brain teasers are the creation of Michael Sturba and Rachel Duguay. The Anaheim couple launched their company in 2018, but business has gone through the roof this year as game-hungry Americans search for anything to take their minds off of COVID-19.

“We’ve sold close to 20,000 puzzles — and that’s just online,” Sturba said. “We do the work out of our apartment, so we had to move from a one-bedroom apartment to a two-bedroom apartment.”

Finer details

The production process involves a lot of work and several key people.

The couple hired Jen Cameron, a retired schoolteacher from Canada, as their “crayon evangelist and chief doodler” to create some of the company’s most popular designs. Photographer Steve Marshall, who lives in Japan, and San Diego artist Gregg “Viz” Vizintainer were enlisted to create more puzzles.

“We hired an off-site company to print the puzzle designs and then we glue them onto a cardboard core,” Duguay explained. “Some senior parents who live close by help break up the hundreds of puzzle pieces and they also help with packaging. They volunteer their time because they just love having something to do.”

The puzzles were primarily sold to brick-and-mortar retailers before things took off this year.

“We initially just had four or five puzzle designs,” said Sturba, who has worked in product development, merchandising and operations with major theme park companies since 2015. “We did a little bit of work for wholesale customers, like the Magic Castle in Hollywood. And Ron Jon Surf Shops in Florida also sells them.”

An e-commerce education

It looked like the puzzles were destined primarily for brick-and-mortar retailers and gift shops. But that changed when the couple began attending marketing classes through Shopify, an e-commerce platform that helps budding entrepreneurs build their own online businesses.

“We’ve probably taken 15 to 20 classes over the last year,” Sturba said. “The classes are like $55, but they are amazing! One class we took set us up with an AdWords account. That normally would have taken hundreds of dollars.”

MicroPuzzles offers nearly 30 puzzle designs which are all priced at $7.99. The designs include Surfin’ Safari, Winter Wonderland, Gone Fishing, Stained Glass Tree, Las Vegas, Funny Fruit, and Road Trip – California, among others.

“We also do customized puzzles,” Duguay said. “That could be something like a graduation picture or a picture of a bride and her bridesmaids. Most of the puzzles take one to two hours to do, but others are super quick.”

The couple have tapped into a lucrative market. The U.S. toy industry experienced double-digit monthly growth from March through June, despite lock-down restrictions, according to The NPD Group. The games and puzzles category displayed the strongest growth with a gain of 37%, NPD reported.