Selling in a mall

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Forum topic by SteveMI posted 05-04-2012 02:12 AM 1828 views 0 times favorited 15 replies Add to Favorites Watch
View SteveMI's profile


1124 posts in 3496 days

05-04-2012 02:12 AM

I cut puzzles that stand up on a scroll saw. My wood is 1” Basswood (Linden) that I buy at 5/4 and plane down. The finish is simply mineral oil. Then I shrink wrap them.

These are pictures of my products and the display I made at a store in the mall. This store is where you pay by the month plus commision and volunteer a day per month. I think the rent is a great deal for the level of mall it is in. I designed the display to have the shelve at a 10 degree angle slanting back. The slanted shelves allow me to stock them 4 deep and they don’t fall off.

I break even or less than $100 for January thru September and then starting in October it ramps to 10 fold in December. For my product and price point(~$30), it isn’t anything you could rely on as part of a living. Other people in the store have many items for over $100 and make real money. There are other products that sell much better.

I did a lot of outdoor shows and venues in 2009, 2010 and 2011. They had highier return per weekend by far. I’m going to start shows again in the next month or so with the puzzles.

My biggest lesson learned is that you need to figure out your earnings expectation before choosing a product. I need to sell more than 20 puzzles to make $500. Although I can make 40+ a week, the market to sell that many in a week isn’t there.

Another thing I have observed at shows is to not show up with a product that was in a magazine or online the prior months. More than a couple times I have seen four different vendors trying to sell the same gizmo, which causes nobody to sell enough or cut throat price drops happen to hurt all of them.


15 replies so far

View WIwoodworker's profile


65 posts in 3900 days

#1 posted 05-04-2012 03:08 AM

The presentation is clean and easy to shop and looks professional. Thanks for sharing your experience.

A couple of thoughts that may be helpful. Basswood is easy to work and very plain as a material. With a lot of it in one spot some of the products tend to blend together instead of standing out on their own. Arranging products to take advantage of human habits can help. For instance, in your 1st and 2nd pictures even if you try to look at the puzzles your eyes will be drawn to the chair. It’s not because the chair is a better item, it’s just because it stands out compared to the basswood puzzles.

In the 3rd picture you can try not to look at the multi-colored puzzles on the top shelf but you have to try. Your eyes will naturally drift to them. That doesn’t mean you should color all of your puzzles. Just be conscious of it in your merchandising.

Also, you’ve done a good job of providing more information for your customers. Consider including pictures of your products being used and enjoyed by children. Advertising that includes a person in the same image as the product outsell ones that just feature the product or just text.

Additionally, you can make more money by extending the line of what you sell. If you’re selling puzzles then you’ll sell to people who are interested in or fascinated by puzzles. If you sell children’s educational toys then you open up a whole line of educational products you can make which can result in larger sales to one person or repeat customers when their kid masters or get’s bored with the first one.

Great post. Thanks for sharing.

-- Allen, Milwaukee, WI

View BilltheDiver's profile


260 posts in 3087 days

#2 posted 05-04-2012 03:47 AM

I think you have done an impressive job with your work and display. I like scrolling stand up puzzles also. My personal opinion is that wood with more color might draw more attention, but you have done far better and more than I have!

-- "Measure twice, cut once, count fingers"

View David Craig's profile

David Craig

2137 posts in 3310 days

#3 posted 05-04-2012 04:19 AM


You are correct about color and the way it attracts the eyes. I do believe Steve avoids color because of the federal regulations regarding finishes for children’s toys. Not sure if you are familiar with complaints about ambiguous guidelines on this, but on products for children, finishes are required to be tested for lead content. This has been a major pain for anyone trying to make wooden toys that appeals to kids.

-- There is little that is simple when it comes to making a simple box.

View Howie's profile


2656 posts in 3125 days

#4 posted 05-04-2012 11:30 AM

Very informative. Good post and good luck.

-- Life is good.

View SteveMI's profile


1124 posts in 3496 days

#5 posted 05-04-2012 12:29 PM

Allen – What David mentioned is a big part of my product. The large majority of the puzzles are for 8 and younger where the parents are concerned about any potential health issues. The ones with bright colors are labeled for teens and older. I use the table and chair as tools to draw the customers over to the display. I am working on some other types of puzzles to expand my products.

View BillyJ's profile


622 posts in 3405 days

#6 posted 05-04-2012 12:46 PM

Steve – very nice setup. Have you thought about eBay as a way to supplement your brick & mortar sales? I hope this really takes off for you.

David – I believe food dye was given the thumbs up by the EPA, but success with it is sketchy at best. I agree – the nebulous criteria set forth by the State make it difficulty for the entrepreneur.

-- I've never seen a tree that I wouldn't like to repurpose into a project. I love the smell of wood in the morning - it smells like victory.

View SteveMI's profile


1124 posts in 3496 days

#7 posted 05-04-2012 01:11 PM

Regular water based food dye is all right, but the colors are not as bright after drying when used on wood. They brighten up a bit after the mineral oil.

I am playing with the candy/chocolate dyes which mix with the mineral oil. They end up brighter, but you can wipe off some of the color to get in clothes or mouths afterward. Non-toxic, but a drawback. I’ve tried mix of candy dye, mineral oil and beeswax, but some of the pieces have nooks and crannies that are too hard to get to.

Experiments continue.


View Brandon's profile


4152 posts in 3153 days

#8 posted 05-04-2012 01:18 PM

Great work, I think the shape of the display case really works well. My one suggestion, which you can take with a grain of salt, is to make smaller labels on the front because the big labels seem to osbscure the shapes and details of the puzzles. You can always put more information on the back side.

-- "hold fast to that which is good"

View ducky911's profile


237 posts in 2991 days

#9 posted 05-05-2012 12:52 AM

Have you tryed ebay?

View WIwoodworker's profile


65 posts in 3900 days

#10 posted 05-05-2012 02:04 AM

Hi Steve. You have a great product. The mention of color had to do with the merchandising and not necessarily the need to color your products. Have you considered testing the use of some figured wood like curly maple?

One of my customers who makes cutting boards told me that he was selling his products at craft fairs and did OK but when he added one strip of curly maple or birdseye maple in the cutting board he sold more and the ones with the figured woods sold first every time. His cutting boards were simple designs with walnut, cherry and maple strips.

Make a few tigers out of curly maple. A couple of bears out of walnut and a fox or two out of cherry. Who knows?

What’s the retail price point of your products?

-- Allen, Milwaukee, WI

View a1Jim's profile


117328 posts in 3779 days

#11 posted 05-05-2012 02:17 AM

A super looking display Steve and interesting marketing ideas.

-- wood crafting & woodworking classes

View SteveMI's profile


1124 posts in 3496 days

#12 posted 05-05-2012 02:20 AM

Brandon – I face some with the label toward the display, but those were the printable labels I had.

BillyJ/Ducky911 – No Ebay yet, I tried selling on Etsy with no real success. Might give it a shot. Problem is that a lot of people do similar puzzles in 3/4” pallet wood pine and no finish. Online it is hard to really point out that I have some other value. Size and weight actually make shipping cost a turn off to customers.

Allen – My displays for outdoor markets are painted in primary colors so the puzzles stand out more. Being in the store this type of display fits well. I am going to cut some of my fantasy puzzles; Saber Tooth Tiger and Griffin from darker figured wood next time. I also have a giraffe for adults that is going to be done in walnut. Puzzles range from $25 to $40 depending on complexity. Median price of inventory and sales is $27.

View Puzzleman's profile


417 posts in 3146 days

#13 posted 05-14-2012 07:47 PM

Hello Steve. Concerning the color on your puzzles. I make many different children’s products and use water based paint and water based lacquer for the finish. I sell to many different stores as well as sell direct myself. I have quite a bit of experience with the CPSIA process.

The latest on the rules says that for companies under $1 million in sales, you do not have to test your products for lead if you can prove that the products that you use do not contain lead. You can do this by asking the manufacturer of the products for their lead testing information. Once you have this information, put it into a small form that you design. That is now your certification that there is no lead in the finishes. You must keep the information from the finish manufacturers on file and bring it out when anyone asks to see the originals.

If need more info, contact me at

-- Jim Beachler, Chief Puzzler,

View helluvawreck's profile


32087 posts in 3068 days

#14 posted 05-14-2012 08:18 PM

You have a nice neat display and seem to keep everything in order so I’m sure that helps.


-- helluvawreck aka Charles,

View Spofeo's profile


105 posts in 2400 days

#15 posted 05-20-2012 09:41 AM

Hi there Steve :)
Painting the puzzles is a good idea, or making them in different woods. The thing with paint for childrens toys can be a problem, but the right products exists. im making wooden toys myself, and i have found a couple of paints that are designed for toys. here is a link to a french manufactor of the paint ive ended up using.
the one i use is called hobbylack here in Denmark, and has lack in the paint so i dont have to worry about aplying that afterwards. im working on selling my toys in a store myself, so thanks for the experiences you have made!

-- Spofeo/Kristian

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