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, December 19, 2014

Good Bets and Bad Bets

Excel's "Net Sales +/- LY" column shows black ink on 11 out of the first 13 days of this month, often by $100 or more...and yet, this December's final number will still be the worst since 2007. Why? Lots of nickel-and-dime sales and no big scores. Every December since 2007 has brought at least one bulk sale over $1,000; this year had none. Each of the past three years peaked with a $5,000+ week; this year's high water mark was $3,800. (Blame the decline of Panther Vision caps for that. I just don't have anything else that people buy by the dozens.) On top of that, Christmas ended right on schedule on Dec. 15 this year, whereas it dragged on for a week past that LY. Five of the most recent seven days came up short by hundreds of dollars a day -- I "lost" $500 on Monday alone. I'm still getting a Christmassy 8-10 orders a day, but they average an un-Christmassy $20 -- enough to keep me hopping without making much money.

One thing's for sure: That last-minute Santaur order was a smart gamble. I sold a total of 54 altogether, and I'd easily have doubled that if I hadn't run out three times. Being entirely without function and kind of bulky for its price, Santaur doesn't fit my definition of an ideal Curio City product. But when I accidentally stumble upon something whimsical that people want, I'm happy to take their $800.    

Unfortunately, I made too many bad bets. The "long tail" -- the 80% of products that deliver 20% of sales -- didn't wag at all this year, especially in the previously reliable Kitchen and Party (shot glasses, ice cube molds, etc.) categories. Things like the Buddha Butter Dish, the Pizza Boss 3000, and even last year's hit Manatea -- all proven performers -- sold no more than 0-2 pieces, and some new things that looked like surefire winners (like All About the Benjamins) didn't sell a single piece. None of these products will ever be bestsellers but ordinarily I expect to break even on them, or a little better if I'm lucky. This year they were a money sink to the tune of a couple thousand bucks. It's the first time that my shotgun approach failed completely.

In spite of these complaints, I'm right on the verge of turning a profit for the year. In fact, I'd probably be in the black now if I hadn't written off a couple hundred bucks worth of dead merchandise this month. While a small loss would be good for my personal income tax bill, a small gain would stroke my ego (and could even tip this year's total compensation over the magic $10,000 mark).

Friday, December 12, 2014

What Next?

Metal Earth has been one of this season's bright spots. I've carried those models for at least three years now, and they do a little better each Christmas. Oddly, though, they never sell at all outside of November and December -- presumably it's something that everyone thinks somebody else will like, yet nobody buys for themselves. If that's true, is there any way it could become a year-round line?

It's an ideal product in many ways. Being a uniform small size and weighing next to nothing, they're cheap to ship and easy to store. There are no batteries to go bad or trigger shipping restrictions, no moving parts to break, and they aren't fragile. The range of subjects is wide enough to appeal to anybody who likes models. I can advertise a lot of individual items with one small group of keywords, and the bidding for those words isn't ridiculously expensive -- meaning that I don't have a killer competitor yet.

If I have any money left after my next paycheck, my Mastercard bill, and my tax payments are covered, I'll beef up Metal Earth again and keep my ads running. I desperately need a solid seller to supplement the somnolent Panther Vision line. Beanies did pretty well but the caps are a shadow of their former selves.


I feared that Christmas had ended early when business crashed to just six sales on Dec. 10; ordinarily, the expiration date is Dec. 15 or later. Things came back strong yesterday so I guess the season still has legs. A $2,500 Panther Vision special order during this week last year doomed this December's prospects right from the start. If you subtract that outlier, my numbers are running slightly ahead of LY, but I'm not feeling the frenzy this year.

I don't know. Maybe we're building up to a big finish. This December's likely to rank low in the pantheon of Christmases, but it's probably going to be big enough to pay all the bills. That's really all I ask. I'm thoroughly tired of Christmas by now and ready for it to end. 

Friday, December 05, 2014


Cyber Monday proved that there is nothing wrong with my website. Christmas blew in with 15 transactions worth more than $800. Sales peaked on Wednesday with a nice, round 30 orders -- half of them for Santaur ornaments, and half of those going out of the US. It's already been a very good week. Now I need two more just like it. I don't know if it's possible; my most popular stuff is already gone or very nearly so, and we're still a week away from the desperation stage when people buy the unpopular stuff.

Most of my competitors jacked Santaur's price to $20+ after Gizmodo and Reddit featured it; I quickly sold 30 at $15 and could have sold twice as many if I'd had them. It's probably stupid, but I reordered yesterday knowing full well that I won't see them until 12/11. Since sales usually crash by 12/15, I probably just spent $225 on something that won't sell for another year. But maybe I can l blow out one more shipment if the hysteria keeps up.

PayPal didn't kill me, obviously, although $8.23 inexplicably disappeared from my balance. I'm meticulous about my deposits and half an hour's error-checking didn't uncover any mistakes. I finally decided not to waste any more time and wrote it off...but I don't see how money can just disappear unless PayPal is playing some cute game. I've had a lot of international sales; maybe they took extra charges for exchange rates? I don't know. There's no line item showing the debit and the merchant interface is useless.   

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