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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Saturday, June 23, 2018

Pay As You Go

This week brought a $117 bill for another year of web hosting. Since I don’t intend to keep Curio City going past December, I switched to monthly $11.50 bills instead. I can keep paying that to keep the site up indefinitely, if I want to, but now I have another incentive to shut ‘er down in December.

I wouldn’t have thought twice about buying another year of hosting if I were enjoying a robust kite season (see my last two posts). But I’m not. Jackite never got their dove kites back in stock, and now they’re out of poles (blame China). However, my other merchandise is clearing out more successfully than I had expected, so sales are still high enough (and costs are negligible when I don’t have to buy kites) to justify going on. I don’t have any more big annual expenses between now and December. 

Recovering some of the dollars locked up in dead stock isn’t profitable, but it’s happening, and 25% of those dollars find their way into my pocket. I’m going to miss that money when it goes away:

  •        Blue Hills Editorial has stalled. The two big jobs that provided most of my income last year (and which I had thought would become annual gigs) didn’t recur this year, and I’m not getting enough piecework to make up for it – especially over the summer. Blue Hills has paid me $3,400 so far this year, versus just $1,860 from Curio City, and more BH work can come along at any time…but $3,000 of that BH salary came from one job.
  •        Curio City contributes $110 for internet and phone access to our household budget every month. That will be hard to replace.
  •        Curio City got much less annoying after I removed my phone number from my website and omitted Curio from my voicemail message. Customers have to use email to irritate me now.
  •        The workload and brainpower required are minimal since I stopped seeking out new products and reordering old ones.

I still haven’t done anything that would preclude rebooting my store with all-new merchandise next year. Not that I want or expect to, but I could.

OTOH, I could still decide to shut it down before December if the bargain hunters stop finding things to buy; I do run out of another item or three every week, and the cellar is starting to look positively roomy. But I still have a fair number of Christmas decorations to sell, and of course there are way, way too many Metal Earth models (which only sell during Christmastime). That stuff should start to move just about when kites die.

The Supreme Court’s decision that states can collect sales tax from all retailers was the death knell for all mom-and-pop online shops. The legal and accounting details will be crippling. I hope that it will take months, at least, for states to codify their extortion schemes, so I’ll probably be gone before that happens. But if laws come together sooner than expected, and if there aren’t any carve-outs for microscopic businesses like mine, that will put an abrupt end to that. 

And don't even mention that EU cookie reporting requirement. I have no idea what to do about that. I just hope that I'm too small to attract anyone's attention, and that I'll be gone before it can matter.

Friday, May 11, 2018

After the Gold Rush

Curio City needs a successful kite season (per my last post) to cover its monthly operating expenses. If it can’t pay its bills, it has no reason to exist. How much money is that?

Less than you might think. Arithmetic tells me that $1,000 a month will do it. CC has made that much every month this year – even in February, when I closed for a week after my computer died. If you remove kites from the equation, the bar falls closer to $750 because I’m not replacing any other inventory. 

Quickbooks says that there's still $15,300 worth of stuff in the cellar, and that it would be worth $32,100 at full retail. Quickbooks can’t see markdowns until an item sells, so it can’t tell me what it’s worth at the prices currently marked…I’d guess that's around $20,000. Selling $1,000 worth of stuff every month gets more remarkable as my stock dwindles. If I can keep reducing inventory by $500 a month, I could shave it to as little as $11,000 by the end of the year. After 13 years of acquiring things, that would mean that I ended up with less than $1,000 worth of dead stuff per year. Is that good? It seems good to me. 

It’s been a long time since Curio City actually required me to put in a full workday, but this week Mothers Day and Pentecost apparently combined to drive a whopping nine orders yesterday alone, and I've been in the saddle for five hours so far today. With expenses cut to the bone, CC’s checking account is finishing each month comfortably in the black, even after buying me a new laptop just three months ago. So I just gave myself a raise from 20 to 25% of sales – that’s more than I’ve ever taken out of it before. Congratulations, me! Monday’s paycheck will be the best one so far this year…and possibly better than any that will follow, since I just don’t have enough stuff left to keep up this pace. 

Just as I started to get carried away by the rush and reconsider closing my store, a problem customer reminded me why I'll be so glad to put an end to it. She ordered the wrong thing because she didn’t read the description. She demands her money back…but she doesn’t want to pay to return the product because this is my fault, somehow. Naturally, this was a dropship, so I have to loop the vendor in, too. 

As the old retail joke says, this would be a great job if there weren’t any customers.

Friday, April 06, 2018

Flipping Birds

Ever wonder why I keep blathering on about kite season?

Bird kites are my last product line that still sells reliably at full price, because they really work, and because there’s not a ton of online competition. People buy predator kites to scare birds away from their gardens, orchards, boats, or wherever birds are a pest (many parks and golf courses report that the Bald Eagle effectively repels geese, when nothing else works). Far and away the biggest market, that season runs from April through August. Hunters buy goose and duck kites as decoys; this smaller market gives me a bump in the fall. Ordinarily, Christians get the ball rolling when they buy dove kites for church plays at Easter and Pentecost. The manufacturer ran out of doves last fall, promising to have more “in the spring,” but they missed Easter. (When they run out of a style, it often takes them a year or more to replenish; I don’t know why). The smaller Create-a-Bird covers that same niche, and the other “small birds” are used in school plays and community theater productions. Some businesses buy kites as marketing gimmicks, and (finally) some people fly them for fun, or as decorations. 

Curio City will stay open through the summer if bird kites sell well enough to pay its expenses. Anything else I can move is just the gravy for that meat. If kite season doesn’t materialize for some reason – and without doves this Easter, it’s already late – then I’ll close down my store earlier than I had planned. One cannot live on gravy.

The very first product that I bought in 2005 – SKU 1, still available today – was the Canada Goose. I eventually added the other birds, but they languished until I made two conceptual breakthroughs. First, Jackite offered to dropship. That meant that I could offer poles as an add-on without having to stock and ship them myself – something I had found to be impractical because they don’t fit in a standard-sized kite tube. Second, I found some third-party YouTube videos of kites in action and learned how to embed them in my pages. Video sells. After years of barely hanging in there, bird kites finally took off. 

How many kites are we talking about? I’ve sold 105 Canada geese since that first one. The more popular falcon and osprey kites have sold 345 and 520, respectively. That’s nearly 1,000 kites right there, at $40 a pop. I’ve moved 243 top-of-the-line eagles at $70 apiece. Christians have bought 452 doves. Create-a-bird only fetches $13, but 857 of those have flown out of here. I won’t go through all the lesser kites – Snow Goose, for example, has only sold 18 pieces – but I’ve sold 3,000+ bird kites, and most of those were in the past five or six years. Add in add-ons like poles (roughly 322 sold), line rigs (1,100 at $4), and pole mounts, and – well, you can see why I’d like to milk one last kite season, and why it has to materialize to keep me going.

That business is late, as I keep saying, but I won’t give up on it until Memorial Day. Eventually someone will come along with a better website or lower prices or a “free shipping” gimmick, because someone always moves in on successful products sooner or later. One cannot fend off competitors without money and talent, neither of which I have in abundance. But AFAIK nobody else is eating my lunch yet. 


I finally removed my phone number entirely from Curio City’s website. It will cost me some sales and save me some aggravation. The days when I’d do anything to maximize sales ended long ago. The volume of junk calls dropped after I deleted it from the “Contact number” heading on my contact page and re-recorded my voicemail message to mention only Blue Hills Editorial Services, so this last move should get rid of the few calls. Shoppers have to work hard to find my phone number now.

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