Utah puzzle company experiences an explosion of sales

Apr 5, 2020, 10:15 PM | Updated: Feb 5, 2024, 8:13 am

LINDON — Life is often about finding that missing piece. For Eric Dowdle, everything came together when he turned his love of painting into a puzzle company that’s finding success beyond any piece of art he’s created.

“I love doing it,” Dowdle said while holding a paintbrush in his Utah County studio. “Every day, I’d draw pictures in church. I’d draw pictures of my brothers. It wasn’t until later that I discovered folk art, and folk art’s a great storytelling type of art.”

Dowdle’s constantly either hopping on or hopping off a plane, traveling the world in search of those stories to tell. Along with his party of painters, he illustrates his adventures.

“Folk art, to me, is the interaction between people and their environment,” he said. “Cities, or events, sporting events, the Kentucky Derby, the circus — anything where people get together and interact because what they’re looking at is really cool.”

Eric Dowdle explains the subjects he likes to paint while working in his Lindon studio.

Dowdle’s travels often center around finding those places and those events to bring to life in his art — but turning his love into a livelihood required some creativity.

“Nobody’s sitting in art school going ‘Puzzles. That’s where it’s at,'” he said.

His company, Dowdle Folk Art, has carved out a chunk of a crowded market.

“We’re a new puzzle company,” Dowdle said. “There’s some big ones that have been around for 75 or a hundred years.”

Dowdle never seems to sit still — he jokes that he’s been accused of “never shutting up” — but current circumstances have compelled him to stay put.

“This is the longest I’ve been at home,” he said. “My wife’s starting to look at me like ‘Don’t you need to go somewhere?'”

Travel is off the table, leaving Dowdle uneasy.

“I start to analyze the business and the company,” he said.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic hitting cities around the globe, companies are confronting complications — meaning his business could easily be filled with the stereotypical starving artists.

“You can feel like tomorrow’s the last day of your life, or the beginning of the rest of your life, I don’t know,” he said.

But in a world turned upside down, the world is turning to Dowdle.

“The shippers called first of all because they come in in the morning. They look online (and) they’re like, ‘Well, that’s got to be wrong,'” he said.

The company actually had to investigate to see if their orders were legitimate.

“Christmas is the big time,” Dowdle said. “And usually in January, it tapers off.”

Every order was real. Dowdle’s company beat their sales from November and December of last year in just three days — and on a random Sunday in March, online sales weren’t double or
triple their normal amount, but 42 times more.

Puzzle sales beat everything from November and December of last year in just three days.

“We’re just holding on for dear life,” he said. “We may run out of puzzles, who knows? We don’t even have to do sales. People are just like ‘Give me a puzzle. Now.'”

The company’s added a whole new shift of employees just to keep up. They keep around 250,000 puzzles on hand in their warehouse, but sales are causing them to burn through their supply. The factory that manufactures their puzzles is located in Indiana and is currently shut down. Once they reopen, Dowdle and his employees are hoping to work with them to ramp up production, just to keep ahead of the constant demand.

“Costco’s always calling us,” said Dowdle. “Walmart has been going crazy with the sales of puzzles. They’re going, ‘We could not have predicted this, just like anybody else, and please send us a pallet of puzzles now.”

The reason is clear: with many stuck inside, they’re turning to what’s familiar.

“Nobody buys emergency artwork, but the puzzle is three hours of engagement,” Dowdle said. “There’s only so many hours to play video games, and it’s just another piece of diversity in your day.”

And with travel in a holding pattern, Dowdle thinks his puzzles offer an opportunity to reflect on past trips and look ahead to new ones.

“We’re reintroducing some of the memories that they’ve made throughout their lives,” he said. “The kids aren’t in school, so they’re taking the kids to Barcelona, to Rome — they’re doing these puzzles, and they’re talking.”

Someday, the world will return to what it was, and Dowdle will hop on a plane and head to his next city. But he hopes these days push people to remember what’s important in life and to realize that missing piece may have been sitting right in front of us all along.

“We don’t always have to be out and doing something amazing,” Dowdle said. “We can just listen to our children, play a game in the backyard. This is a time when everybody’s going to recalibrate their lives.”

Florence, Italy, is just one of the many cities Dowdle’s puzzles depict.

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Utah puzzle company experiences an explosion of sales