What Happened When a Small Local Company Got Into Oprah’s Gift Guide

DC's family-run puzzle company Puzzle Huddle is one of Oprah Winfrey's favorite things for 2020.

Photo by Michael Edwards, courtesy of Matthew Goins

An idea that came to Matthew Goins as a new parent has now grown into a full-time careereven landing a spot in one of the most famous annual holiday gift roundups, Oprah’s Favorite Things. Jigsaw-puzzle company Puzzle Huddle was created by two Howard University alums, Matthew and his wife Marnel, after they felt there was a the lack of diverse representation of children in toys—particularly puzzles.

Photo by Matthew Goins

“Puzzles are a fairly timeless educational tool and almost every child plays with one,” says Matthew. He says that when they bought their own kids their first puzzle, they were disappointed in the diversity in the choices. “I could not find what I thought was a good representation of what should be reflected towards my children.” So Matthew, who already had a passion for arts and crafts and had studied pottery, began making puzzles for his own children, using cardboard, printed high-res images, glue, and scissors. 

He soon realized that his supplies weren’t giving him the quality he wanted, so he found a manufacturer who could produce commercial-quality cardboard. After his wife took a job that allowed them to move back to the Washington area, Matthew took a leap of faith and decided to make his hobby into a living. “I knew I was onto something,” he says. “My product, at that time, was purchased by a lot mothers and they were so supportive online.” Matthew also says that his mom followers even encouraged him to attend DC’s annual “momference” put on by District Motherhued a premier organization for millennial moms of color. “That hub of women have always supported me [and my products] and gave me the acceleration I needed.” 

Photo by Michael Edwards, courtesy of Matthew Goins

Now, almost three years later, the company, which is still based in his basement, is featured in one of the most lauded gift roundups for the holidays. “I don’t quite know how we gained an interest with Oprah,” Matthew says, “but I do put a lot energy and effort into social media, where I passionately talk about our products. We are actively on Facebook, Instagram, and LinkedIn, so someone must have seen something and referred it to [Oprah’s] team.” When asked what his reaction was when he found out his product was going to be featured, all Matthew could say was “Wow.” 

Oprah’s Favorite Things for 2020 debuted in mid-November and includes 72 different gift ideas to purchase on Amazon. One being Puzzle Huddle. However, Matthew says he was not yet selling on Amazon and it was a new experience for the company: “Oprah partnered with Amazon for [the gift guide] and it gave me an opportunity to merchandise [Puzzle Huddle] on the platform. I had a dedicated account rep, which helped shorten the learning curve for me and was a great segue to selling on Amazon.” Before Oprah’s gift guide, Matthew was only getting sales through his website, which he says he prefers. “I can get my arms around you differently on our website,” he says. “I can achieve a lifetime engagement with a client a little differently than just click ‘add to cart.’ Which is great, but not as warm.”

Photo by Michael Edwards, courtesy of Matthew Goins

Even before Oprah’s surprise pick, 2020 had been surprisingly profitable for Puzzle Huddle, Matthew says. “Our sales have doubled from last year based on a number of factors.” In March they saw a boost in sales, he says, because parents were at home with children who had moved to remote learning. He also says that in June sales increased again, due to the Black Lives Matter Movement, adding that there was a wave of support from the DC area.

Now that the holidays are near, are the puzzles still in stock? Matthew says he has sold out of a lot of products, due not just to demand but also the challenges the pandemic has caused with factory cleanings and other obstacles. But Matthew says they are still selling what they have in inventory, including the Future Artist Puzzle. “We are a home-based business, so to keep up with orders, we’ve had to rely on family and friends to come help with packaging,” he says. “Right now, we’re running two days behind on shipping.” For a family-run business, that’s not too bad for the holidays. Especially in 2020.


Assistant Editor, Washingtonian Weddings

Jacqueline comes to Washingtonian with close to five years of digital content experience and SEO best practices. She previously was a senior editorial associate at WeddingWire, specializing in wedding fashion, and before that, an assistant at Vow Bride. Originally from Norfolk, Virginia, she now lives in Columbia Heights.