Welcome to Curious Business

Every Friday, I post a small insight into running Curio City. 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, January 13, 2017

Yeah...Not Going to Happen





I won't miss the complaints about fixtures not being included with Switchables covers, or the ensuing orders for a single fixture (costing me a 50-cent box, a 5-cent label, and my time to process a $7.50 sale). Every single nightlight cover's 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. You can also use your Switchables cover as a suncatcher, a Christmas ornament, or with any other kind of light source. To display your Switchables cover in a window, add the optional suction cup. Switchables make gift-giving easy: Start your recipient out with a fixture and one or two covers, then buy him or her new covers on future gift-giving occasions.


The category page repeats this message in slightly different wording. Additionally, I added "Light fixture sold separately" text to most (but not all) of the product photos. Plus, all of the product names end with the word "cover." And yet, around 10% of customers still think they're buying a complete nightlight. People just plain don't read. 

Because I had found Switchables at the Boston Gift Show (a.k.a. The Cavalcade of Crap) 10 years ago, I faintly hoped that I might find a replacement for them there this spring. I should have registered for that by now, so I Googled the date. Turns out that the 2017 Boston Gift Show has been indefinitely postponed (why not just say canceled?), with suggestions to attend trade shows in Philadelphia, Atlantic City, Gatlinburg (the capital of tacky...didn't Gatlinburg burn to the ground?), or Myrtle Beach. Hah! Nope. The Boston show was of dubious value when it was free, and it died for good reasons. I'm sure not going to travel far away to browse tacky souvenirs, mass market junk, and handicrafts.  

As glad as I am for the excuse not to roam that sad and deserted convention floor this year, it does leave me with no plan for finding a Switchables replacement. I might overcome my hatred of travel to consider a road trip -- at my own expense, obviously; Curio City sure doesn't have a travel budget! -- if I thought that any of those other shows might be worthwhile. New York's Toy Fair (Feb. 18-21) is the only one that could be worth it. "Toys" are not a great fit for my store since I don't cater to children at all. But Toy Fair is enormous, and it defines "toy" very broadly. Admission is free to retailers, but of course staying in NYC is not. Even with free Amtrak tickets, meals and a couple nights' lodging would approach $500.

But behold their online component called shoptoys365.com. I found a lot of my opening products on the Toy Fair website back in 2005, so I have requested access. That it is a gated community encourages me. 

Now I just need to grit my teeth and shop it. It's hard to get motivated when one has no money.

Friday, January 06, 2017

When Battle Plans Go Awry





"No battle plan survives contact with the enemy," said the German strategist, and the recovery plan that I outlined last week collided with reality this week. The 10-hour editing job that I had expected to start right after the first of the year is not even an actual open position yet, and I'm not a shoe-in if it does open up. What's worse, I might have shot myself in the foot when I balked at being on-call 24/7 in addition to the 10 scheduled hours. I don't mind doing some ad hoc night-and-weekend editing within some reasonable parameters, but I can't be available all the time just in case, and I find it hard to believe that anybody else would go along with that, either. It's copy editing. Lives are not at stake here. I would still very much like this gig, but I think my chances died with that exchange.

Well, Eisenhower said that "Plans are nothing; planning is everything," and I'm still doing that. Since I can't go entirely without income I'll have to start bleeding Curio City again until I can figure out something else. I took one last mini-paycheck ($62.55 gross, baby!) for the last week in December. I'm going to skip the other half of the check that would be due on Monday. Then I'm going to start taking 10% of net sales rather than the 15% that I took in December, or the 20% that is my historical due. This will hurt Curio City's debt repayment plan without helping me very much. 

If I can't find at least one copy-editing client within the next month, I'm going to have to find a part-time minimum wage job. Eleven bucks an hour is still a lot more than Curio City can pay me, and I don't mind doing menial mindless work, but I really want to avoid being servile to the public. Most of the menial jobs that haven't been automated yet are customer-facing, and I have already spent too much of my life doing that.  

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I was going to say "At least LY set some easy sales targets for this year," and then I noticed that the second week of 2016 brought in a $750 bird kite sale. Sigh. $750 would be a pretty good total week in January. That one lucky strike will almost surely make this January yet another double-digit loser. Not a cheery start to the new year.

This week, at least, was halfway decent, thanks entirely to Switchables. I still can't believe those are going away. I'm announcing their demise in a newsletter tomorrow morning. It only goes to 185 people, and only some of them will open it, and only some of them are Switchables customers...but some collectors are going to be as shocked and disappointed as I was.

Friday, December 30, 2016

Good Riddance to 2016





The meme of the moment would have us believe that 2016 was the worst year ever. It certainly did bring losses, from celebrity deaths (David Bowie) to heroes' deaths (John Glenn) to the death of the American republic and even, in a harbinger for the rest of the country, the death of democracy itself (North Carolina). Legalized marijuana was some consolation, but we can't even buy it over the counter until 2018...and our legislature just postponed that small comfort from January to July. 

How awful was it, really? People -- celebrated or not -- die all the time. Companies and nations eventually do, too. Except for temporary hiatuses under Clinton and Obama, the US has been declining since the Reagan administration kickstarted inequality; the country only had to hold it together for five or 10 more years to outlive me -- 25 years in the worst case -- yet here we are, staring down apocalypse. Does Curio City also belong on 2016's hit list?  The top-line numbers certainly look that way, but the bottom-line numbers hint that maybe it's not time yet:

December

Total income: -44.4%
Total COGS: -45%
Payroll: -66%
Marketing: -64.7%
Net Income (Profit) vs LY: +559.7% (+$729)
Actual Profit/Loss: +$599

2016 (preliminary)

Total income: -22.9%
Total COGS: -23%
Payroll: -28.7%
Marketing: -28%
Net Income (Profit) vs LY: +22.5% (+$568)
Actual Profit/Loss: -$1,953

If I'd hit my marks I'd be a manageable $4,000 in debt. Instead Christmas came up short by at least $4,000 and left me $8,000 in debt. If you're a middle-class person or above, $8,000 might not sound crippling to you. To a bottom feeder like me, it's more than one-fifth of 2016's total sales, and $1,000 more than I paid myself last year. I have to come up with $1,100 in annual taxes and tax prep expenses before I can even start to whittle it down, and interest is accruing. 

Yet, 11 years of experience says that I can still turn this around, and the bottom line backs me up. In December 2015 I blew an outrageous $2,000 on advertising; I held this December to just $712 and could have pared it even more if I hadn't foolishly wasted $200 on Bing for some reason. Along with the reduction in sales, cutting my paycheck from 20% of net sales to 15% saved me $1,550 on payroll. That's bittersweet since "payroll" means "my pocket"; December 2015 lavished $2,200 upon me, compared to a paltry $734 this year. But my loss is the company's gain, leaving this December comfortably in the black, whereas December 2015 ended $130 in the red. The year as a whole lost only $1,953, compared to $2,521 in 2015. If sales don't tank I can turn that black in 2017.  
  
The implications of declaring bankruptcy are too complicated for my little brain, but I gather that it isn't a viable escape plan. The internet says that declaring a Chapter 7 personal bankruptcy discharges my personal responsibility for corporate debt, but not the corporation's liability. For that, (somebody) would take Curio City's assets to pay American Express. I'd lose my inventory and probably my laptop and cell phone, and I'd obviously have to fold the business...but they couldn't come after my sorry ass. That's good to know as a last resort. First, my wife absolutely refuses to even discuss declaring personal bankruptcy; second, there would be legal fees; third, it's a drastic way to make just $8k go away; and finally, I can't imagine that it would be good for my perfect 850 credit score. No, first I have to try to dig out the old-fashioned way, one dollar at a time.

I can see two paths through 2017. 

In the most likely route, I won't take any salary at all until solvency is restored. Assuming that 2017 sales match 2016, that $7,500 (including payroll taxes) is almost enough in itself to retire the debt, exclusive of interest. I've lined up a part-time copy editing job that will pay me three times as much as Curio City did per week for just 10 hours of work, and I can probably find another client or two as well. Curio City goes on autopilot while I focus on my second, much more lucrative career. All I do is fill orders daily, tweak my advertising here and there, and reorder as little stock as possible. If my editing business thrives Curio City might cease being worth the grief...but I won't make that determination until next Christmas. I would like to keep it going, if only because I've already invested so much in it. But, for now, I just want to clear some of the stock out of my cellar and get out of debt.

The less likely path involves angels. I know at least three people who probably have $10,000 they don't need; who would trust me to repay them $12,000 over four years; and who would be willing to settle for a 5% annualized return on their investment. Ten grand would get me solvent immediately. In this scenario I would start taking a salary again and devote most of my attention to Curio City, holding the editing business to the 10 hours a week that I've already lined up. I would immediately set to work refreshing my product lineup, as explained last week, and would most likely become profitable again by the end of the year. I only see myself praying to angels if the editing gig falls through...and it's entirely possible that none of them would bless me anyway.   
    
So the meme is right: 2016 was a bad year all around. Politically, 2017 will surely be worse. Economically, Wall Street thinks it'll be good for the investing class; for the rest of us? Who knows. Personally...well, as a heterosexual white male of a certain age, at least I won't have to fear the pogroms, but I was really counting on Medicare and Social Security. Professionally, only one thing is certain: The spambots will flock to the words "loan" and "debt" in this post and the volume of daily robocalls will increase. I'm already blocking four or five new numbers every day (they seldom use the same one twice), and have completely stopped answering the phone. 

Incidentally, blog posts will be less regular next year. I won't have much to write about if I'm only paying minimal attention to business. 

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For all that Christmas set new records of suckage, I still shipped 96 orders in November and 175 in December with zero errors. Yay me.

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