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 02, 2016

Cold November Numbers

The slaughter continues. I didn't think it was possible for Christmas to disappear completely, but here we are. Behold the first money-losing November ever:

November

Total income: -54%
Total COGS: -54.9%
Payroll: -50.9%
Marketing: -45.2%
Net Income (Profit) vs LY: -197.1% (-$632)
Actual Profit/Loss: -$312

YTD

Total income: -18.7%
Total COGS: -19.5%
Payroll: -18.2%
Marketing: -19.4%
Net Income (Profit) vs LY: -11.2% (-$269)
Actual Profit/Loss: -$2,659

Wow, that's just stunning. I had planned to come in 25% below LY based on YTD results and my parsimonious advertising plans. I was wholly unprepared for falling off a cliff. Last year this week averaged $500 per day; this year I expected $400 per day. At the rate it's going, the whole week won't break $1,000. (It's possible, if highly unlikely, that the next day and a half could still push fiscal November just barely into the black; another $460 would make it only the second-worst ever.) 

There are no technical problems. My analytics are within normal parameters. But the orders are all tiny, and people aren't buying what I want to sell them -- everything on this page, for example, has a solid track record and seasonal appeal; there's nothing speculative there, and yet nothing is selling. Where are all of the nice juicy $50 or $100 sales that should be rolling in? Tuesday brought seven sales worth just $135 (and I spent $38 on advertising). The packages were so small I could hold them all with one hand. Yesterday -- the busiest of the season so far -- landed nine sales worth just $285, with one healthy Metal Earth order saving it from mediocrity.

What's wrong, America? Is it me or is it you? 'Cuz I don't think it's me.

I don't mean to disparage small orders, btw. All business is welcome. I just can't make it on those alone.

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The app that was autoposting my blog posts to Facebook stopped working last week and its successor wants money, so I had to move on; without that link, my last post only had six readers, and one of them was probably me. Linking Blogger to Facebook is harder than you might think. I'm trying IFTTT (If This Then That), but it wouldn't let me specify my Curio City sub-page so I'm afraid it might just post this to the unused (personal) parent page, in which case I'll have to look for a different solution. We'll see in a few minutes, I hope.

Friday, November 11, 2016

Where's the Grinch Hiding?



After working my patootie off in October to clear November's decks for action, I'm unexpectedly twiddling my thumbs. This is shaping up as the worst November ever. 

Things stirred to life a little later than expected on Nov. 11 and perked along a little below expectations through the 16th. On Nov. 17, sales fell to zero, and over the next four days I only netted $135 when I was expecting $1,500. 

It sure seemed like something must be wrong. Everything tested normal in three different browsers on three different machines, and the few orders that did trickle in indicated that there weren't any technical problems. Traffic didn't look like a problem as I was getting a healthy 400-500 visits a day. There were no security warnings and the address bar lock icon was locked -- there was nothing to frighten people away. My product assortment is a little weak on new stuff, but I'm very well stocked on proven sellers like Christmas ornaments, Switchables, and lighted beanies. Last year I sold well over 100 beanies and had trouble getting enough stock. This year I think I've sold eight so far with 120 sitting in the cellar. There had to be something wrong...but what?

On Tuesday it occurred to me that I ought to test the mobile version, since nearly half of my visitors arrive on mobile devices. I wish that inspiration had struck earlier; mobile's always an afterthought to me. Turned out that menus weren't working right and my site was impossible to navigate on a smartphone or tablet. Finding something wrong was a relief -- tech problems can be solved. But mobile traffic converts at such a low rate that I could lose all of it without noticing (and very likely did; it's probably been broken since August). Even without the smartphone people, I should still be seeing 6-8 sales per day from proper computers. I kept testing and poking and prodding and everything kept looking stubbornly normal. My developer graciously solved the mobile problem during the holiday week, so at least that's back online now, not that it will make much difference.

Regular readers know that I was counting on Christmas to erase most of my debt. Instead the hole got deeper while my daily advertising costs exceeded sales. The mysterious drought might be ending. Tuesday and Wednesday both delivered five (small) sales, and today's Black Friday has been pretty good so far, thanks to one big camo cap sale. A heroic December could just about salvage the season. I don't see any reason to expect that, but it's not out of the question. If I can match last year's performance over the next three weeks, I'll be bloodied but still standing going into the new year. If I fall back into the doldrums it's going to be hard to see a way forward.

After the Trumpocalypse





On Wednesday, voters awoke to a vastly different America than we had been led to expect as the Electoral College once again overturned the will of the urban majority, routing the Washington establishment and setting up uncertain but seismic change for the next four years. Since I occasionally weigh in on politics I'm going to comment from the perspective of a (liberal) nano-businessman. I shall endeavor to avoid the histrionics that you can find aplenty elsewhere and focus on economics.

First, the stock market didn't crater as many had expected it to do; on the contrary, the Dow set a new record. The investor class stands to do pretty well from infrastructure and military spending hikes, massive tax cuts, and corporate deregulation...if those are, in fact, coming. We can only guess at what next year's federal budget will look like. Even while basking in its unexpected victory, the Republican Party is far from united, and those cracks will grow when the new president is sworn in. Donald Trump is promising massive deficit spending. The Republican Party's lodestar has long been the Paul Ryan budget plan that seeks to balance the budget by cutting Medicare and Social Security. Without knowing whether the big spender or the deficit hawk will prevail, we can't predict what's going to happen to the economy.

The biggest other wild card is Trump's threatened trade wars. If the flow of cheap imports gets choked off prices will rise while selection constricts; as our trade partners retaliate, exports get choked off. Again, we don't know if he will really tear up treaties and provoke China or if that was just campaign bluster.

"We just don't know" comes up over and over again. Trump is neither a Republican nor a traditional conservative, so the usual GOP agenda is not a blueprint. We do know that, since World War 2, the economy has performed better under Democratic administrations by all objective measures (nine of the last 10 recessions were under Republican presidents). There's nothing ambiguous about those numbers, and your own experience bears them out: Surely you can remember that George W Bush left behind a flaming ruin; Barack Obama put out the flames and tidied up the wreckage. The ensuing recovery has been long but sluggish and only recently started to benefit the middle class. That's going to change next year, one way or the other. Spending $1 trillion on legitimately needed infrastructure improvements would certainly produce a growth spurt for a year or two before inflation and the exploding debt choke it off; Ryan's austerity would quickly bring a recession. Even if Trump's plan makes it through Congress, it's unclear how much stimulus an already-growing economy can absorb, particularly since we are already near full employment. Would a burst of overheating lure enough sidelined people back into the workforce? Will we have enough immigrants to take up the slack, or are we going to have to replace them, too? Self-driving trucks will soon render 1.9 million professional drivers superfluous...but how soon? The more deeply one delves into the future, the more questions one raises.  
  
But you're wondering how all of this will affect Curio City. I'm hedging my bets. Just last week I wrote about how environmental regulations might have indirectly signed my store's death warrant, and that's squarely on the Democrats. The tired old GOP agenda embodied in the Ryan budget would be terrible news, but I think the danger of that passing is low. Trump's own policies are vague, as is his level of commitment to them. I'm not even going to go into the implications of ending Obamacare, but they're going to be major. Trump's fantasy wall and anti-immigration stance will certainly be important if they really do play out as threatened. The only sure thing right now is uncertainty. I am not jumping on the impending-disaster bandwagon; in some ways, I'm even cautiously optimistic.   

Curio City is too tiny to be affected very much by macroeconomic trends, except insofar as general conditions encourage people to spend or hoard their money. And most of Curio City's merchandise comes from China, so the potential trade wars loom large. My best year ever was 2008, when the Great Recession was wreaking havoc. One could draw a contrarian conclusion and say that hard times somehow help my business. But that, too, is a stretch. I am not rooting for recession. Right now, I'm just hoping for Christmas. 

Instead of bringing in the $1,000 worth of Christmas sales that I expected, this was quite possibly the worst November week ever. Is that the election's fault? Probably not; a $600 lighted beanie sale that I had last year wasn't repeated this year. Christmas is just getting off to a very poor start, and it's a stretch to blame our national political crisis for that.

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