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Puzzles for Sale: A True Story

A subscriber to the Unusual Ways Newsletter sent in the following story about how he made (by hand) puzzles for sale at a craft show. It is a great example of just getting out there and trying something to make money. It is also a great example of how you can start with almost nothing, as you'll see...

A Puzzling Way to Make Money

By M.S. Wardrip

When working my way through electronics school I didn't have much in the way of discretionary funds. In fact, there were no extra funds available at all. Rent, food and keeping a bicycle running were my expenses and often I didn't have enough money to pay those! How to get by remained a mystery to me until I solved the puzzle.

The solution to the puzzle? I remembered eating at a 'Country-Style' restaurant in the South which had little triangle-shaped wooden-peg puzzles on every table. To play it you take a peg, jump a peg and then remove it. You repeat this with the goal of winding up with only one peg left on the board. Depending on your skill, you might have 1, 2, 3, 4, or 5 pegs left on the board.

The puzzles were fun to play while you waited for your order to arrive. After your meal you could purchase a 'wooden-peg-puzzle' for yourself at the counter for around $5. I thought, in the back of my mind, "I could easily crank out some of those puzzles and sell them." "But where could I sell them?" I wondered. And then it hit me one day. I could sell these at a local crafts fair that was coming up shortly.

Ah, but where would I get the money to invest in materials, tools and entry fee? A school-mate had a wealthy parent and I thought to myself, "Why not just tell them my idea and ask for a short term loan?" I did so and to my surprise, they actually loaned me $100 to get started with the agreement I would pay them back immediately after the crafts fair. Now I had my investment money and still had a week to get ready.

Day One: I went to work on the phone and reserved an eight-foot table at the crafts fair. It costs me $25 entry fee for the day. Their rule: Must be handmade crafts. I assured them it was. I made a list of the things I would need. Next I did some price comparisons on the phone of my list. Then I ordered these supplies:

1 - 3,000 piece bag of 1 5/8" Multi-Colored Wooden Golf Tees at a local Golf Course Pro Shop @ $45 plus tax

4- 10' 3/4"X12" White Pine Boards @ $5 each - $20 plus tax

1 Bag of 200 Zip Lock Sandwich bags @ $2 plus tax

Total Invested: $100

Day Two: Back at home I dug out an old bench type drill press stand that held a portable electric drill and an 1/8" drill bit I already had. Also, I found some sand paper, some old wood stain, a paint brush and a rag. (You could borrow a drill press if you don't have one)

Day Three: My order came in. I picked up my golf tees and my boards. Now I was all set to go into production. I measured and marked the boards and sawed out 200 - 5 and 1/4" triangles that were 3/4" thick with a common circular saw (you could borrow one), then lightly sanded and stained the little blocks of wood.

Day Four: Next I made a little triangle template out of thin metal that slipped over the wooden blocks. It had 15 evenly spaced holes in it and served as a guide to vertically drill the holes in the blocks with the drill press. The bottom row has 5 holes, next row up has 4 holes, the next 3, next 2 and one hole at the top. This was the most time consuming part. I drilled 15 holes in each of the 200 blocks. Be sure to set the drill bit go most of the way through the block but not all the way through. This took all day! I rested well that night while visions of puzzle boards danced in my head.

Day Five: I put 14 golf tees in the drilled holes in each of the 200 puzzles. That comes out to 2800 pegs. This too, will take a while to do. I put each assembled puzzle in a sandwich bag, put in an extra loose peg as a spare for my customer, zipped the bags shut and placed them neatly in cardboard boxes. I slept well knowing I was ready for the crafts fair.

Day Six: I got up early, called my friend who I had arranged to drive and accompany me to the fair. I got out my plastic cash box, made some little price signs for my display table, grabbed a picnic lunch, water, three folding chairs and we were off to the crafts fair with my puzzles in tow.

Once there, we set the booth up with a chair out front for my customer and two behind the table. I spread out several unpackaged puzzles on the table as display models along with some little signs that read, "Handmade Wooden Puzzles - $5.00 Each"

The crafts fair started at 8 am. I was sold out by 12 noon. 200 puzzles sold! @$4.00 each!

I made a grand total of $800!, had a wonderful time, met some really friendly people and after paying back my investor, pocketed $700 which supported me through a good portion of school. I even bought my friend's gasoline and a nice dinner.

The highlight of my day was when a young boy about ten years old came up and said, "I've only got $5.00 to spend and if I can work one of these puzzles, I'll buy it." He sat down and tried working the puzzle until he got it right and then said, "I'll take it!" He was a very satisfied customer!

What would I do different next time? I would write down the solution to the puzzle on paper, make copies and put one in each bag. Also on the instructions I would include a warning:

"CAUTION: Contains Small Pieces - Keep Away From Small Children" and an order blank with my company name and address for future orders or correspondence.

That's what solved the puzzle of making money for me... puzzles.

©copyright 2012 - Mark S. Wardrip

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