I hope you enjoy reading about me and the History of my wooden jigsaw puzzle company.
This story tells you a little about me and the story of how I got involved in creating and succeeding with my custom wooden jigsaw puzzle company. Happy reading.
Hello, My name is Mark Gaetano Cappitella. I am a resident of a small South Central Connecticut town, named East Haddam. My family (wife and two children) and I moved here from Elmer, New Jersey (near Philadelphia) in January 1999 where we had lived since 1995. The town of East Haddam is located on the Connecticut River, just 15 miles north of Old Lyme and Essex, CT, and Interstate Highway I-95.
I grew up in Upper Saddle River, NJ (Bergen County) about 20 miles North West of New York City. I am a frequent visitor of the Catskill Mountains in South Eastern New York state, with Lake Minnewaska and Windham being two of my favorite places to visit. I am a graduate of Northern Highlands Regional High School in Allendale, New Jersey, class of '84, as well as Mesa College of San Diego, class of '93. I proudly served 4 years in the U.S. Marine Corps, from 1985 to 1989 at the rank of Corporal in the 9th Communications Battalion, Camp Pendleton, California. I served two, six month tours overseas, visiting a total of 12 pacific rim countries, several of them, as many as 8 different times.
It has always been a dream of mine to work for myself, doing something that I really enjoy. At the age of 29, I had finally done it. Now at just 33 years of age, I have become established with my very own quite unique puzzle business, catering to "Wooden" jigsaw puzzle enthusiasts in the USA and around the world! I am very pleased with the success of my puzzle venture as it steadily grows. I have made many wonderful friends, both among my fellow puzzle cutters as well as the hundreds of customers who have ordered from me. As of October 5, 2000 I have hand crafted 721 wooden jigsaw puzzles ranging in size from 50 to upwards of 2,000 pieces.
My first experience with puzzles was as a young child, where I can remember my mother giving my sisters (Tina & Nicole) and me cardboard puzzles to assemble on cold gray rainy days. Generally these were 100, 250 and 500 piece puzzles which we bought at either Woolworth's or Grand Way in Closter New Jersey, or at the Ben Franklin 5 & 10 in Tappan, New York. (The Grand way is now a Kmart) My sisters and I had a lot of fun putting these puzzles together and enjoyed the satisfaction of fitting in that LAST piece! As I got older, I unfortunately did jigsaw puzzles less frequently, and do not remember solving or even looking at a single jigsaw puzzle from 1984 to 1995.
My passion for puzzles rekindled in June of 1995 when I was laid off (Downsized is actually the proper term) from my job in Northern New Jersey where I worked as a Purchasing Agent for a regional industrial motion and filtration distributor. While I was looking for new employment, I began to spend some of my free time doing woodworking, a hobby of mine for many years, that started at the young age of six. I can remember being jealous of my childhood friend Richard Link, who's Father had a wonderful woodworking shop in the garage of their home located in Norwood, NJ. Mr. Link was a professional furniture craftsman, and Richard and I used to bang small nails into the wood scraps that he left on the shop floor. Ever since then, I guess you can say that I have had an appreciation for fine woodworking.
It was on a weekday afternoon in June of 1995, when I finished building a gazebo style bird house for the backyard of my house, that I began to toy with a few scrap pieces of ply-wood that I had left over from the project. I simply decided to very whimsically feed a plywood scrap through my scroll saw's blade, spinning and turning it as I went along, with no objective of cutting anything specific. At the end of the cut, I looked at my creation and realized that I had just cut something that resembled a jigsaw puzzle, as the 2 pieces of wood I now had in my hands locked together. I then took the 2 pieces of wood and made some more very similar cuts. I thought WOW! I can make wooden jigsaw puzzles with this cutting technique. It was just minutes before I had cut the scrap piece of wood into about a 25 piece jigsaw puzzle. I was so proud, as I thought I had invented the concept of making wooden jigsaw puzzles! At this time I had never seen or heard of a jigsaw puzzle that was not made from cardboard. (how naive I was back then. )
I quickly realized that I could easily make a nice basic 25 to 40 piece jigsaw puzzle. I started taking some 8" x 10" color photo copy pictures and using carpenters glue I mounted them to pieces of construction grade ply-wood. (Quite a primitive technique compared to how I make them now, regarding both the glue and the wood.) I made several of these first puzzles as gifts for a few military buddies of mine, as I had a few fun photos of us from our days together in the Marine Corps.
In the basement of the home pictured to the right is where MGC puzzles was born in late June of 1995.
As time continued, I really became even more fascinated with making larger puzzles with higher piece counts. I also found that I was able to make more intricate cuts with each progressing puzzle, as I slowly developed a love for cutting them.
Christmas of 1995 approached and I still did not have a job, as the two job offers that were presented to me in the past 5 months were simply put, an embarrassment. I declined both without much thought. Since as I had no personal income at all, and less than $200 to my name in the bank, I made the only choice I could... I would have to MAKE my Christmas gifts that year. In November I began to select some photos, and make puzzles from them as holiday gifts to my family and friends. Each was carefully selected and cut into 70 to 150 piece puzzles.
I was pleasantly surprised, as I received very appreciative compliments, and support from everyone I gave my puzzles to. This further motivated me into expanding my puzzles in size, quality and difficulty. It was not too long before I made my first 250 piece puzzle, as a birthday gift for my mother (2 days after Christmas, 1995).
It was in January of 1996 when my girlfriends mother (now my Mother-in-law) showed me a story in People Magazine about a small puzzle company. (I think the magazine was dated a few months earlier). As I began to read the article, I can remember being in a semi state of shock to see that there was actually a market for "my" wooden jigsaw puzzles (which if you remember, I thought I had invented, only to learn that a man named John Spilsbury invented them 231 years earlier, in 1764). I was completely flabbergasted to also learn that there were people willing to pay many hundreds and even thousands of dollars for a single well cut large "wooden" jigsaw puzzle. It was precisely at this moment when I realized that I was really going to pursue a future in trying to market my puzzles to this very small nitch in the puzzle world.
Since I literally had NO MONEY, I could not afford to market my puzzles in the traditional way. Since I could not afford to take out ads in the Smithsonian and Town and Country magazines for over $2,000 per ad per month, I decided I had to develop a different marketing approach.
I owned a very basic 60 MHZ Macintosh Power PC computer, (6116CD) and had online service with America On Line back then (which I actually still maintain. What I would give to have had the foresight to have purchased some of their stock back then!). It was in July of 1996 that I decided that I would teach myself how to create a web site, and try to use this new medium called the Internet, to market myself and my puzzles to people all over the world.
My motivation and desire to succeed at this goal was quickly stifled when my attempts to understand web designing had completely evaded me. I got as far as creating a VERY RAW looking single web page, but for the life of me, I could not figure out how to get the web page up onto the Internet so that people could look at it. Completely frustrated and defeated, I threw in the towel on this Internet marketing idea.
I do not remember exactly what happened to give new life to my Internet motivations, but in early September of 1996 I had rekindled my interest in tackling the idea of creating an Internet web site for my puzzles. This time when I attempted to upload my page to the Internet...it worked! I began to learn how to create new web pages, and how to link them to one another. I was incredibly excited when I invested in a new color scanner which I bought with some money from family and friends, so that I could upload some of my puzzle images to my web site.
My first web page was born on September 9th of 1996. Just 7 weeks later, on November 1st, I received my very first puzzle order. It was from a corporation in Salt Lake City, Utah. The order was for a very simple and small 25 piece puzzle made from an 8"x10" logo image. Between that first order, and the end of the year, I made a total of 8 puzzles. I was somewhat pleased with this, and optimistic that with the growth of the Internet, more and more people would gain access to my site's pages, and thus knowledge of my unique puzzles.
Nine Months later in May of 1997, I had reached the point where my puzzles began to almost be equal in quality of some of the best puzzle cutting companies in the business. When I first started selling my puzzles, I was charging $0.45 per puzzle piece. By May of 1997 I increased my prices to $0.60 per piece. I was on the roll, as more orders began to steadily trickle in.
One month later, in June of 1997, I found a very nice wood to use in the making of my puzzles. I was finding my earlier choice of wood to be VERY hard to cut, and I became disappointed with the numerous voids (holes) that I was experiencing in the internal layers of the plywood. The new wood has a beautiful 5 ply cross section appearance. It is very durable, and is not quite as hard and I did not break as many scroll saw blades.
In addition to my quality new wood, my jigsaw puzzles acquire their comfortable snug fit and shinny edges, due to the two different blades that I use to cut them. The tiny blades are only as thick as horse hair, measuring just 8, and 9 thousandths of an inch, with kerfs of just 15 and 22 thousandths of an inch, respectively. These fine blades allow me to make very sharp turns as I hand craft all my wooden puzzles.
In May of 1998 I finally reached the point where my puzzle cutting talent was nearing peek performance. As far as I was concerned, my talent for making puzzles was equal to, and possibly better, than that of most of my competitors. A long 2 years and 4 months after I seriously began to pursue making puzzles for a living. I was now cutting very consistent styles, sizes and knew many different ways to trick my customers with detailed movements of my saw's fine blade. Repeat orders and referrals were on the increase. My puzzle making business was succeeding!
The Holiday Season of 1998 was an eye opening experience! For the first time ever I had more orders for my puzzles than I knew what to do with. I can't tell you how this felt, as it was truly a two sided feeling. The one side was exhilaration. For the first time in over 3 years, I made slightly more money in a month (Gross sales) as I did when I had my last job in 1995. The bad side of this success was STRESS, as I was doing everything myself. 1) I designed, created and maintained my Internet web site entirely by myself, which is a mammoth job in itself 2) I answered all Phone call questions, and took all of the orders 3) I personally responded to all my daily e-mail messages 4) I marketed my puzzles aggressively 5) I purchased the supplies and artwork 6) I mounted the images onto the wood 7) I stocked and tissue paper lined the puzzle boxes as well as designed and custom printed each label for the puzzle boxes 8) I hand made the wooden puzzles individually 9) I sanded the finished puzzle backs 10) I counted each puzzle piece before boxing them 11) I hand wrote every box label, which was then adhered to the box with permanent glue 12) I entered the Invoices and customer information into the computer 13) I filled out the shipping labels and then 14) I boxed the finished puzzle to finally be sent safely on it's way to it's happy new owner! This is A LOT OF WORK, not to mention the fact that I was a full time Mr. Mom with two small children. I loved making the puzzles, but the stress I had, to complete all of my puzzle orders in time for Christmas was actually horrible. When I went to bed at night, I actually was dreaming puzzle pieces! I can't tell you how wonderful it felt to finally send out that last holiday puzzle in the afternoon of December 23rd, and to be able to sit back for a couple of hours of relaxation and then jump into my car, to go to the local shopping mall to begin my Christmas gift Shopping for my family!
JANUARY 1999 - "The start of a new beginning" Allison (my wife) and I had decided back in the summer of 1998 that we wanted to relocate our family to New England. I knew that all I primarily needed were two telephone lines and a UPS truck (I now only use FedEx) in order to run my business from home. Because of this advantage, we needed to relocate to a place where Allison could find work. Allison is a graduate of Yale university where she received her Masters Degree in Nursing. She had been working for "South Jersey Hospital System" as a PNP (Pediatric Nurse Practitioner) since 1994. It was time for us to move on.
To make a long story short, in September 1998, Allison interviewed for a PNP position at a private pediatric medical practice in Essex, Connecticut, and in short accord (October) she was offered the PNP position, which she accepted. January 13th 1999... Moving Day! After our first truly hectic holiday season for my puzzle business, we had just 2 weeks to pack our things and move some 260 miles north east into Southern New England. We decided to first rent a house in Chester Connecticut. Chester is an absolutely charming small New England Town, located just off of the Connecticut River about 10 miles up river from the Long Island Sound.
In Mid February, I walked into downtown Chester, and introduced myself to several of the local merchants. When asked what I did for a living, I simply replied I was a wooden puzzle maker. I think that most people were just a little confused until I explained in more detail, just what it is that I do. It was upon my meeting two people in specific that I became directly involved with the town itself. They are Leslie Strauss (Owner of the local Century 21 Real Estate office) and Leif Nilsson (An amazing artist of Impressionistic paintings). They both invited me to take part in the Chester Merchants group, and to participate in their periodic open house events and local attractions. I have ever since, been an active participant with the town and it's many annual festivities. In excess of a thousand people have now personally watched me cut my puzzles during my public presentations and demonstrations at these highlight events in the town's center.
In May of 1999, I was invited as a guest speaker to talk to the Rotary Club of Essex Connecticut. This was a big honor for me as I have great respect for this fine community serving organization, not to mention that my father (Mauro J. Cappitella) has been a Rotarian in New jersey since 1990. The Essex Rotary Club has about 70 members of which about 55 were present the evening that I spoke. Upon the completion of my presentation, I was asked to join to join the club. I accepted, and was installed as an active member of the club about three months later in August. It is a privilege to be a part of such a fine group of community serving people.
Allison steps up to the plate! - My wife Allison was seeing how overwhelmed I was with ALL of the different aspects of running my business, and after a little pressure from me, she began to one by one take over the responsibilities of certain aspects of my business. First it was just lining my puzzle boxes with attractive tissue paper. Next it was helping me package the puzzles for shipping. Before she knew it, she was also breaking down the finished puzzles and carefully counting the pieces and boxing them, writing the box labels, doing the customer invoicing and paperwork filing as well as maintaining other business responsibilities. Her contribution has been very significant, and has allowed me to nearly double my time and productivity in both puzzle making and web site design, management and growth. During the past Christmas season of 1999, she was working 40 and 50 hour weeks just helping me out, not to mention handling her regular full time PNP profession.
I now have a very well established puzzle business. My company is well known in the local community and among a number of more serious wooden puzzle collectors nationally and around the world. I have made more than 720 hand carved wooden jigsaw puzzles since June of 1995 with customers in every state of the USA, and in 18 countries. (IN Early 2009, that number is now over 4,200 puzzles, and 36 countries)
Current demand for my puzzles has the price range set from $1.75 to $2.75+ per puzzle piece depending on puzzle size and cutting style. These prices are still a bargain compared to some other names in the wooden jigsaw puzzle business, who's prices start between $2.50 and $4.00 per puzzle piece, and can go even higher from there.
I suspect that with time, my prices will still increase, as does the demand for them, as more and more collectors are buying my puzzles. Some purchase two, three or more puzzles at one time. Even though some people think that spending $200 to $500 or even $1,000+ on a single wooden jigsaw puzzle is crazy. What they really are missing out on is something quite special. My explanation to them is that they just need to try one "Wooden Puzzle" someday. Even a small yet challenging puzzle like Clowning Around, which is just 55 to 60 pieces, and costs about $115, or the Maple Leaf Puzzle which has 25-45 pieces and sells for $65 to $85. They make a great addition to anyone's home puzzle collection, and it won't break the piggy bank.
In making my puzzles, I find that my customers sometimes send me personal (enlarged) photos or personally purchased fine art prints. (easily obtained at your local shopping mall, at stores like "Deck the Walls", or online at web sited like art.com In some cases I have even cut old maps and corporate logos as well as colorful picture postcards, smaller wall posters and even wall calendar pictures. This versatility to be able to use just about any printed image in virtually any size or shape, makes my puzzles very special to my customers and to the person to whom they are giving them, since they are often bought as gifts for others.
I put MANY hours of work into creating a single puzzle, which I find quite relaxing to cut. Small puzzles may only take a couple of hours to cut, but the larger 2,000+ piece puzzles can take fifteen hours or more to cut, as each and every interlocking piece is carefully hand crafted.
Learning on my own (from scratch) about how to write this puzzle web site has also been an interesting (sometimes frustrating) experience. I am happy to present his site to you as you are currently seeing it. Over 5 years in the making so far. I believe in constant improvement, so I am always making changes ( big or small ) on a weekly (sometimes daily) basis, including the occasional addition of new pages and sections.
It has been very rewarding to get to know all the wonderful people that have ordered from me, or sent me e-mail with fun short stories about themselves and their passion for puzzles. As time progresses I hope to continue to reach new people in new places, and to make them aware of the fine art of the "Hand Crafted Wooden Jigsaw Puzzle."
Please visit this web site from time to time, to say hello, and to see my latest additions. If you have friends and family members who also share our passion for puzzles, please tell them about me and my puzzle web site. To find out about the latest scoop here at MGC puzzles, visit my newsletter page.
Thank you for taking this time to read about me and my special personalized jigsaw puzzles. I invite you to call me if you have any additional questions or comments. 1-888-604-7654
If you happen to be a writer or anchor for a magazine or television show, (or happen to know someone who is) who may be interested in doing a news article or human interest story on me and the story of my very unique business, I am more than happy to talk with you. I have already been written up Nationally in: Investors Business Daily, Gateway Magazine, Hispanic Business News (even though am not Hispanic), as well as several regional newspapers in the New York, New Jersey and Connecticut area. I feel that my home made success story is a very motivating human interest story that would capture the attention of many people.
There are a lot of people out there in the world with their own unique hidden talents, that like me, either were downsized from their corporate jobs, or maybe they have a current job that they hate. If they have the American dream of going into business for them self someday, my success story could be a catalyst to a few of these people, and hopefully motivate them just enough to pursue their dream now, instead of taking it to their grave. A morbid statement? Yes, but too often, true!
Life is short... Play Hard, Play Fair, and most of all... HAVE FUN!!!
|Jo-Jo and Oreo, (respectively) are my two cats that keep me company in my puzzle workshop. Jo-Jo is fourteen, and Oreo is thirteen years old (Spring 2005) . Both are San Diego California Natives from the time that I lived near Mission Bay and Sea World after my tour of duty in the US Marine Corps. During the time that I acquired my cats, I was working at Cousin's Electronic Photo and Appliance Warehouse, on Hancock Street near Downtown San Diego. Working at Cousins Warehouse was a great retail sales, management, marketing & retail finance experience for me. Much of my knowledge comes from my 5 years with this great establishment. Unfortunately 2 years after I moved back to the East Coast, the company folded, and went out of business. Imagine a 10,000 square foot sales floor doing over 40 million dollars per year in sales. What great memories!||
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who proudly served in the 1st Marine Division
9th Communications Battalion, 13th MAU and
15th MEU Camp Pendleton, California
1985 to 1989
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