Welcome to Curious Business

Every Friday, I post a small insight into running Curio City and/or Blue Hills Editorial Services. My most recent posts are directly below. You can also start with the first post, or use the subject labels to the right to home in on particular topics. Feel free to comment on anything that interests you.
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Friday, November 17, 2017

Burning Bridges...Too Soon?

Getting out of debt was the only thing on my mind for so long that I'm a little lost now that it's done. The next order of business is deciding whether or not to stay in business. Christmas sales will play a role in that decision.

Christmas might go one of two ways: Either I'll enjoy the usual spike in overall traffic and people will snap up boxes full of bargain-priced merchandise; or few shoppers will find me, and those who do will pass up buying leftovers. The first scenario frees up some space in the cellar and parks some bucks in the bank, giving me options and encouragement. The second scenario leaves me broke and sitting on piles of picked-over stuff, changing nothing.

So far, it looks like a bust. Today I'm starting on my first email newsletter since last January -- I don't think there's any point in sending it out until the hoopla of Black Friday is over. The last thing I paid my developer to do was implement a newsletter signup dialog to replace a plugin that Turnkey dropped from Sunshop. Over the past 10 months, only 10 people subscribed via the conventional method (ticking a box on the checkout page) while a whopping 39 (plus one obvious spambot) used my new custom dialog. That's impressive. I stopped writing newsletters when I stopped ordering new products, but it will be valuable if I decide to start again.  

Meanwhile, Turnkey wants $125 to renew my Sunshop license. Failure to do so cuts me off from updates and support. My software will still work just fine, but it will be frozen in time, two versions behind the present. If I do revive Curio City next year, updating my shopping cart will be a high priority. So I can spend $125 now, just in case, or I can spend $250 on a new license when I'm sure that I'll need support.   

I am inclined to save the cash now, especially since it looks like Christmas is not going to bring a windfall. I have until the 29th to decide, and I can download the current version before then. I wish I had another month.

On a brighter note, I found out that I can renew my UPS box for six months. Doing that is more expensive than the yearly rate, but it would bump a point-of-no-return decision from spring to fall. Changing Kraken Enterprises' address after 13 years would be a very big deal, and forfeiting the mail drop will also sacrifice my ability to receive shipments. Vendors won't ship to residences.  

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Blue Hills Editorial Services is the keystone. Will it ever provide a regular paycheck, or enough irregular paychecks to bridge the gaps between them? 

A web publisher has been teasing me about a regular copy editing gig for a year now. It would be 15 reliable hours per week, plus occasional "overtime" on weekends. While that income would make closing Curio City an easy decision, I have some misgivings about the job itself. First, the volume of copy that this guy wants to push through in three hours each day is sweatshop-level work: 10,000 words in three hours is more than twice as fast as the 1,500 words per hour that most editors consider reasonable, and I'm not sure that I can do it at all, much less want to do it. Second, I don't like the idea of being "on call" every weekend. Third, after having controlled my own schedule for the past 13 years, the idea of working fixed hours for somebody else chafes. I don't mind working 15 hours a week if I can pick the hours and work at a realistic pace. Asking advance permission to take a day off? That feels like going back to elementary school. Fourth, it would compromise my ability to take on other large projects. I only had two of those last year, but they were both quite lucrative, and they both monopolized my time for a couple of weeks.

It would be a lot of money -- at least double what I made in Curio City's best year -- and that's tempting. And I'd regain the hours per day that Curio City sucks down even in its worst doldrums. 

The point is probably moot: the publisher hasn't responded since I told him that I can't start until after the first of the year. But he does have a habit of long silences between contacts, so he could still come back. I need to be ready with a decision if he does. If I were pressed to decide right now, I'd give it a try. But first let's see how Christmas treats Curio City.

Friday, November 10, 2017

Another Non-Christmas Isn't Starting

November is being weird. Last week I issued a $300 refund (explained in my previous post) that turned a break-even week into a big loser. Yesterday the vendor's credit for that dropship return came through and set off a bit of a Quickbooks crisis. I had already received the merchandise into inventory, which created a charge. Jackite never processed that charge -- their internal credit merely canceled out their invoice as if it had never happened. But Quickbooks never forgets. I tried to explain that the merchandise was never received and the bill didn't exist. There is no method to un-receive a purchase order; the internet advised me to simply delete it. Unfortunately, that didn't delete the bill or remove the phantom merchandise from inventory. I used what an accountant would consider brute force to accomplish that. It's all good now as far as I'm concerned, but I'm afraid my actuarial act of violence will give my poor CPA a fit. 

Yesterday I finally got that $934 payment from the vendor who bought back all of their merchandise, which flipped this week from a loser to a big winner. Only 15% of that money will find its way into my pocket; the rest goes to debt payment. It won't distort this month's Quickbooks report because the income was booked into Accounts Receivable last month, but it sure will make Excel happy. This month's payment might finally retire the $8,800 debt that I larded on one year ago to finance the Christmas That Wasn't. It will come close, at least.

I'll pause a moment to let that sink in. It took me a year, but I (tentatively) filled an $8,800 hole. December should actually build up enough cash, I hope, to pay my CPA and the Commonwealth, with a little left over to cover my personal taxes on Kraken Enterprises' profit. Ideally I'll cover all my costs and start the year clean.

Speaking of Christmas...sales should start to perk up next week. I'm only trying to match last year's Christmas That Wasn't, so the targets are quite modest by historical standards, but still daunting when you consider that I'm not going to waste any money advertising the new products that I didn't buy. I'll send out a newsletter to hawk my "clearance sale" and see how much of it I can liquidate. But I really don't know whether people will swoop in and obligingly clean out my cellar, or if Christmas will reward me with the same lack of effort that I'm giving it. Next week will be my first hint at how that's going to go.  

Friday, October 27, 2017

2,000 Steps Forward, 500 Steps Back



October was shaping up as another decent month, especially given that I've ceased all marketing efforts and cut advertising to the bone. And then stuff happened. The numbers (which include some Blue Hills income) look fine:

October

Total income: +82.3%
Payroll: +1,132%
Marketing: -69.4%
Net Income (Profit) vs LY: -1,889.1% (-$1,849)
Actual Profit/Loss: -$1,751

2017 YTD

Total income: +72.3%
Total COGS: +15.6%
Payroll: +267.6%
Marketing: -33.9%
Net Income (Profit) vs LY: +307.9% (+$6,897)
Actual Profit/Loss: +$4,656

Excel says that Curio City by itself beat LY by $34. Those big red numbers are there because I somehow screwed up my accounting. Blue Hills payroll is being reported differently than Curio City payroll. I pay my CPA the big bucks to fix stuff like that. 

Whenever I'm idly tempted to rethink my store closing plans, I remember that virtually everything that's selling now is steeply discounted, it's still a lot more work than it's worth, and I have to deal with the public:

A lady ordered $162 worth of Switchables and provided an invalid shipping address. Even though I could take a Google-informed guess at her correct address, I'm not going to ship $162 worth of stuff into the void, so I emailed her for clarification. Days passed, and I ultimately re-sent the email six times. Days became weeks, and now it's been a month...still nothing. She didn't leave a phone number.

Speaking as someone who only pockets about $300 in a good month, I find it hard to imagine spending $162 on something that one doesn't need, and even harder to imagine not missing the order when it doesn't show up. Even if this lady doesn't know how email works, she could leave me a voicemail (yes, this is one of those extremely rare instances where I would welcome a phone call).  

Her order is still boxed up and ready to ship. At some point I'll have to unpack it, return all the stuff to inventory, and refund her credit card, but I'm kind of morbidly curious to see how long this can go. I'll give her another month. Maybe she'll contact me when she sees the charge on her credit card statement, if she's still alive and mentally competent.

Then there's this other Switchables customer who leaves an angry voicemail because she can't figure out how to use the cover that she bought. Every single Switchables product page includes this text:

This is not a self-contained night light. Switchables stained glass night light covers are designed to be used with the Switchables Nightlight Fixture (sold separately). Switchables are "switchable" because you can easily swap any one of our covers onto the same simple fixture.

...and yet 25% of Switchables customers either don't read it or can't understand it, because they buy a cover or two and then come back to get a fixture separately later on. The lady in question returned her cover, so that's another $17 refund. I fully expect it to arrive in unsalable condition.

And then there's the guy who ordered two lighted caps without specifying which color he wants. A lot of my cap customers screw that up, and I have to email them. This particular fellow responded promptly with his choice, which is always nice; often it takes several attempts over a week or more. Then I discovered that he also gave me an invalid shipping address. I'm still waiting for him to fix that.

Come on, folks. The internet isn't that hard.

Then there's the guy who placed a $300 dropship order. After a week he emails to ask where it is. Tracking shows no activity. Turns out the vendor never shipped it; they apologize and send it out that day. The customer is silent until it reaches him a week later. Then he asks how he can return it because it arrived too late for his hunt. Three emails asking the vendor to issue a call tag are still unanswered after three days. Ultimately I'm going to have to refund the guy his $300 and then nag the vendor to refund my purchase.

$500 worth of refunds on $2,000 in sales remind me why I hate this job.   

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