Q & A with… Sarah Watson from Wentworth Puzzles


Claire Hart, Associate Contributor, Direct Commerce Magazine
By Claire Hart, Associate Contributor, Direct Commerce Magazine

In a factory in the heart of rural Wiltshire, Wentworth Puzzles has been crafting its classic British Made wooden jigsaw puzzles for decades. I recently interviewed Sarah Watson, who has been involved in the business for 15 years and for the last 3 years as managing director. It is clear from talking to Sarah, that after a decade of continuous growth, culminating in a Queen’s Award for Enterprise this year, more ambitious growth plans are on the agenda.

Q: How did you get involved with Wentworth Puzzles.

A: I have a background in art and design, which I initially put to use working in a marketing agency before setting up my own agency. I later moved into retail marketing, then multi-channel, working at Clarks shoes as children’s brand marketing manager, then Cotswold Outdoor as marketing manager. After I had children, I initially took on a part-time role at Wentworth, before becoming sales and marketing director in 2010, then managing director in 2019. Not only could I see Wentworth was a brand with great untapped potential, but the factory was a 10-minute drive from my children’s school.

All the roles I’ve had were brand new and starting something from scratch, which fits the entrepreneur in me and desire for a challenge.

When I joined Wentworth my role was to develop and grow its B2C sales, which at the time were incredibly small, as 80 per cent of sales were B2B. Unbeknown to me it was make or break time for the company, which had never been profitable in its 15-year history, plus the credit crunch was just around the corner. The early years were quite challenging, there was no money to invest in growth, so the focus then had to be on retention and growth from a small number of customers. This strategy eventually paid off and in 2011 the company was profitable for the first time ever and we were able to invest in customer recruitment. Thanks to a fantastic product, the brainchild of founder Kevin Wentworth Preston, plus one shareholder who believed enough to keep the business alive in those early years, the foundations were strong enough to build on.

Q: What makes your product offering so popular?

A: I feel we have ignited the imagination of young and old alike with our unique brand of wooden puzzles, which are much more delightful and challenging than cardboard. New generations of puzzlers around the world are now enjoying this traditional pastime but when they discover our puzzles, they often find them addictive in the nicest possible way. Key to our success is listening to our customers, understanding their changing needs and developing new puzzles for them to enjoy.

Understanding all the key elements that help us to deliver exceptional customer experience and fiercely guarding our ability to control them, ensure we continue to delight our customers. We try to ensure our raw materials and processes are aligned to the natural sustainability of our products. Hence our wooden board comes from sustainably managed forests, our boxes are made in the UK using recycled material, and we do not use plastic in our packaging. Plus, our puzzles are made to last, so they can be enjoyed time and again, or passed on to someone else to enjoy.

We have a strong business model which is unique to us and a great team, some of whom have been with us for many years and some who have only recently joined us. This melting pot of old and new is perfect for our brand, which is all about transforming an old traditional pastime into something new and relevant for the way we live our lives today.

Q: How do you market your puzzles?

A: Today we sell most of our puzzles directly to consumers via different country websites; The USA and UK are our main markets, but we are trying to grow in other regions with obvious potential.

We use a range of on and offline media to drive traffic to our websites for customer retention and recruitment. We have a strong customer database of active buyers, some who have been buying directly from us for over 10 years, so direct marketing using catalogues and emails is key.

We use Klaviyo for email marketing and our customer data is managed by More 2, giving us access to a single customer view which informs much of our customer marketing. We also work with Unifida on media attribution which identifies customer behaviour prior to ordering, so very useful for understanding how effective different media is at creating awareness or closing the sale.

We use catalogues for customer recruitment and TV advertising works well for us in the UK. Organic SEO drives a lot of traffic as brand searches are high, particularly during peak trading periods but being in a relative niche we have not managed to generate significant volume from non-brand terms yet. There are some things we have never tried, as our challenge in recent years has been lack of production capacity to meet customer demand, particularly during peak season. We have recently invested a lot into our production facility, so now have more capacity and are trying things like paid social, inserts and off the page. Although we did try the latter many years ago with diminishing returns, consumer awareness and demand has changed so we think worth trying again.

Q: What advice would you give on customer retention and acquisition

A: Know your market and your customer (obvious I know) but never assume anything. Test and be data led but also trust your own knowledge-based instinct. Don’t write anything off as things can change over time, so re-test. Our customers used to be older, typically female, 60 plus, but now we are getting a much wider and younger range of ages. The pandemic accelerated puzzle popularity amongst the young, so social media is more important to us than it was three years ago.

Having come through from the era of direct marketing, into the era of digital, I’ve never subscribed to the idea that catalogues are dead. Each media has its place, and each brand has its ideal mix. For us emails work well for retention and create great short periods of demand, but catalogues are still hugely important to us. They get new collections in front of our customers in the most effective way but if mailing a specific customer segment is not profitable, then we won’t do it.

Q: What does winning the Queenís Award for Enterprise mean to you?

A: It was a surprise and an honour for us to win this award for 6 years of outstanding overseas growth, with no dips and in a market not experiencing growth during that period. For me it recognises the hard work of all my colleagues who have contributed to our great success story over the years. When you’re growing a business, you’re constantly looking ahead so it was nice to reflect on how much we’ve achieved and to be recognised through such a prestigious award. I represented the company at a Queens Award reception at Buckingham Place and was one of only a few winners to be invited to meet both HRH The Prince of Wales, as he was then, and The Princess Royal. We have a formal presentation planned later this year, when the actual award will be presented to us by a Royal representative who will visit to meet our employees.

Q: What do you like about the DCA?

A: For as long as I can remember, I‘ve always ensured the companies I work for have been DCA members. I have no doubt that being a member, taking advantage of events and workshops, etc has been hugely beneficial to all those companies. The DCA is great for learning from other businesses or specialists, sharing ideas, meeting key suppliers, etc. I could go on.

Q: What have you got planned for the future?

A:  We never rest on our laurels, so are constantly evolving and improving what we do and how we do it. We have ambitious growth plans, excellent capacity, newly established product and marketing teams in place, plus a move to larger premises is on the medium-term horizon.

Like many of my colleagues, I love being part of creating something which is enjoyed so much by others. I know every brand owner says that but when I read our customer letters and reviews, it is clear that a Wentworth Puzzling experience, really is ‘Bliss in a Box’.

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