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Noticing Neighbors Kansas City Puzzle Company



If you’re looking for a way to relax and unwind, Kansas City Puzzle Company invites you to share time together around the table. The company was started by Stefanie and Tim, who use puzzles to spend quality time as a family. After launching the first puzzle drop in 2020, they started viewing local artwork with an eye for what makes a good puzzle. Each puzzle features an artist’s original work, with their bio shared on the box celebrating the collaboration. I got the chance to sit down with the couple and learn the story behind this family-owned company.


Hayley: For our readers that might not know, can you introduce yourselves and share what your company is about? Tim:

Sure, go ahead. I'm Tim.

Stefanie:

I'm Stefanie.


Tim:

And we own and run and do everything behind the Kansas City Puzzle Company.


Hayley:

Wow. So what does that process look like for you? Are you selecting the puzzles yourselves? What’s that back end process that we don't see?


Tim:

Yeah, it's a lot of us hunting for artwork where we are just like: oh man, I would love to do that as a puzzle! Let's talk to the artist and see if we can make that happen. Or finding an artist where we just like their body of work, and we think that if they're into it, collaborating with them to make a cool puzzle would work out.


Hayley:

How do you find the artists?


Stefanie:

Oh, my gosh.


Tim:

Well, at first when we started, which was actually two and a half years ago, January of 2020, we knew that we were going to start with four original puzzles and they were going to be Kansas City oriented. So we scoured the Internet because we couldn't go anywhere. COVID kind of shut everything down, so we spent time looking for the best Kansas City images we could find that would work as a puzzle, but also be beautiful and fun. Instagram is a great tool. It's a lot of just hunting. I don't know. I wish that there was, like, a scientific method to it, but it's just…


Hayley:

Kind of keeping your eyes open? And I'm guessing, following artists so that you are seeing suggested posts.

How do you know when you look at an image that it would make a fun puzzle? Do you know what I'm saying?


Tim:

Yeah, totally.


Stefanie:

We have definitely both shown each other pictures of things where we’re like: this is so cool! Then one of us will say, “It's beautiful, but would that be fun to puzzle?” Sometimes what you're drawn to is just because it's cool or gorgeous, but then you have to think: it's a puzzle. Do you want to see it in 1000 pieces? So there's definitely a difference between a good puzzle image and just a cool image. We're slowly learning from doing all of our puzzles, and also from doing plenty of other people's puzzles.

Now as we puzzle, we’re thinking about what is making this fun, what's not making this fun, and then trying to keep that in mind while looking for new images that will speak to people on the box. Because sometimes images that we found are really fun to puzzle, apparently aren't necessarily an attention grabber on the box. Hayley:

Prior to January 2020, were you doing puzzles together? How did that get started?


Stefanie:

I've always loved puzzles, especially when we would go on vacations. Tim's family has a cabin by a lake, and I always stress that we sit and do a puzzle on those weekends. Because we have the time! When moving to Kansas City, we had a three year old daughter and a newborn little boy. She was loving puzzling, and so we were puzzling constantly. Our little one was in a bouncer by the table. Besides that, we liked to go to Union Station and let her run down that big hall to see the trains. It’s the stuff you do with little kids that's free and entertaining. So then we were like, it'd be so fun to do Kansas City puzzles with her. She was wanting to puzzle something that she had seen in the city. So we thought: oh, we could do that! We originally were going to make it a zine puzzle company and do a run of 100 puzzles to see if they sold. But apparently, buying puzzle equipment is not a small thing.


Tim:

We were like, how hard could it really be?


Stefanie:

Yeah.


Hayley:

It was an investment then. So you adjusted to the idea of doing more with it?


Stefanie:

Yeah. It snowballed from us both being like, ‘we could do it in the basement’ to very quickly knowing we were going to take out a loan against our house and get a bunch of money to make a 4000 puzzle order. We had them all delivered to our garage in the basement and stacked 4000 puzzles in there!


Tim:

After the puzzles were delivered, we just looked at them like: now what do we do? We don't know anybody. We don't have a background in any of this. So we figured, I guess you just email people!


Stefanie:

That's it. Yeah.


Hayley:

Okay, so the joy behind it is there. You've got the puzzles.


Stefanie:

Yes.


Hayley:

How did you start reaching out? Were you cold emailing people?


Tim:

I was a mailman at the time, so I was listening to a ton of podcasts. Squarespace constantly advertises so I was like, well, you get a Squarespace website, that's what you do! We did that and then yeah, just sending cold emails to people in the area. Stefanie: Kansas City was so supportive and excited, a lot of businesses got back to us and were willing to give us a shot.


Tim:

Yeah, like Brookside Toy and Science and Bunker were our first two. Brookside Toy just saw an Instagram post that we did, when we didn't even know how to advertise on Instagram. We had been off of Instagram for a few years, so we had no idea how it worked anymore.


Hayley:

It changes a lot.


Tim:

It’s so crazy. But they saw a post and they hit us up! They were the first ones. Then Bunker emailed us back really quick and picked us up, so we were super stoked on that too. We started thinking that maybe this wasn't the worst idea in the whole world.


Stefanie:

Our first four puzzles were all Kansas City images, and it was really exciting to contact an artist and tell them: we're starting a puzzle company. There's nothing for you to see. You're our first one! We don't have a website, we have no experience. Would you like us to license your image and turn it into a puzzle that we're going to try to sell? Everyone was like, oh yeah, let's go. Which was so fun. There were definitely a lot of moments where we'd look at each other and be amazed that we were doing this. It just kept going!


Hayley:

So you're licensing their image, which means you're kind of both invested in it. When someone gets a box with the puzzle, do they see who the artist is?


Stefanie:

Yes.


Tim:

We have like a little bio blurb on the top of the box and then we try to share as much as we can. On any sort of promotion or Instagram post, we always tag the product and it says who the artist is.


Stefanie:

Hopefully they can also get more people following them and seeing their beautiful work out of partnering with us.


Tim:

Giving credit where credit was due was like a big was really important to us, it’s their hard work and their beautiful image.


Hayley:

It's a fun way to interact with artwork because you're looking at it more closely. Like appreciating each color, how to interact with different parts of the piece. What do you find are the benefits of doing puzzles together? Why do you enjoy it?


Stefanie:

I mean, it is an intentional time together where you get to enjoy the conversation. It obviously starts about the puzzle, but then you are having an uninterrupted conversation with your loved one or whoever it is you're puzzling with. Even with our three year old, you're giggling, you're talking about that puzzle and even doing adult puzzles. I have so many memories of doing a holiday puzzle at Thanksgiving time with my family, and it's open in the room, and anybody who comes over is puzzling and chatting, and then you can move on. I just think it's such a nice way to spend time with someone and get to chat. You're not only sitting and having a conversation, you know what I mean? There's something to do, something to engage. It's a really nice way to spend time with other people, or to not feel guilty watching TV during time with yourself. You're just puzzling and relaxing, and it’s a nice way to unwind and do something different.


Tim:

Plus it exists, it's tangible. It's an actual interaction. It’s in an age where it's the natural thing to be on your phone. We all do it, and I'm sure we all kind of feel weird about it. That is what we all do. So it's kind of nice to have something tangible in your hand that you have to think about, and you have to process, but you still get to zone out. When you zone out, you can process other things in your life.


Hayley:

Yeah, it's still relaxing, but your hands are busy and you're not on your phone.


Stefanie:

Yeah.


Hayley:

During this time, how have you seen goodness and been positively impacted by opening your shop?

Stefanie:

Okay. I feel like there's so many ways to go with this.


Tim:

I know, I know.


Stefanie:

On a personal level, Tim's at home with us now, which is amazing. He's been able to quit the post office and spend time together. He's with us in the mornings before the kids are ready for school. I'm, like, crying. Ah! I'm not going to, but that's been such a big deal. A as a postman, he was working Saturdays and now there's just a lot more together time. But we talk a lot about how exciting it is to have our children watch us come up with a dream, work hard for it, and grow something.

Tim:

Sometimes they’re like: ugh, so many puzzles! (all laugh)


Stefanie:

But I also think it's cool when they come to help us move boxes and go on deliveries. We get to point out: Look! Here are our puzzles in this store. Then out in the community, we have met so many wonderful people. Like buyers at stores who are just so kind, and friendly people out doing pop up markets. We are meeting other small business owners who then introduce us to other markets.


Tim:

It's a super cool community.


Stefanie:

People write us such sweet stories about the puzzles that they were gifted. The other day, someone emailed us to say they were missing the piece, and so we sent it to them.


But anyway, her and her boyfriend had finished the Cheers puzzle, which is a beer puzzle filled with Kansas City local breweries. They wanted to frame it and add it to their gallery wall, since it was like a puzzle they did together as a couple. Even that's just so sweet, you know what I mean? It's crazy to think that this thing we did is now hanging on people’s walls as a memory. It’s weird, it's nice, I kind of can’t believe it. Tim:

We go to the Nelson and see our puzzles in the gift shop, and we know that was just in our storage unit!


Hayley:

And now it's going to someone’s home, where they’re going to enjoy it.


Stefanie:

We love it. They can spend time with their family sitting around the puzzle table.



Check out the latest puzzles through their website and keep up with Kansas City Puzzle Company on Instagram.


All media originally published by Kansas City Puzzle Company via their online platforms.

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