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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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Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Nailing the Concept

My concept for Curio City was twofold.

First, I would sell "everything else", meaning anything that isn’t owned by Wal-mart, or by some trendy mall boutique chain, or by an Internet category-killer like Amazon.com. I would sell an odd assortment of quality merchandise. As I mentioned last time, my earliest model was a store in Williamstown called Where Did You Get That?! They sell curios, novelties, toys, games – all manner of unusual and fun merchandise. It’s the kind of store where you never know what you’ll find around the next corner, and that is the feeling I want to create at Curio City. But WDYGT was crowded, and full of low-quality, low-priced crap for children. I started thinking about taking their same concept upscale, in the kind of shopping environment that would appeal to me.

Besides “everything else”, my other main concept is “everyone else”. That is, my customers will be people like myself (except with money!) who need to buy gifts but hate to shop. I will offer an assortment of high-quality merchandise at reasonable prices, with no tasteless trash to wade through. I’ll offer original greeting cards. I’ll offer gift-wrapping on the spot. The idea is to be a painless, one-stop destination for people who need to get gifts but aren’t inclined to shop around for them. “Gifts to go” is my catch phrase for this concept.

Armed now with a goal, I started kicking around some names, relying on a thread in my favorite Internet forum, Octopus Overlords. I polled these names: Everything Else, The Worthwhile Shop, WorthWhile, And Another Thing, and The Odd Store. “Curio City” was eventually suggested by user Pyperkub.

Anne and I took a couple of road trips, scoping out different types of gift shops in resort towns and tourist areas. Each one helped me refine my ideas about merchandise and presentation. A local chain with the awful name Funusual does something near the concept that I was settling on. They do it in malls, though, where I don’t want to go. And the last time I looked, they had no Web presence worth speaking of.

In late July 2005 we had dinner with our old friend Michelle Chambers, who owns a web design firm called New Tilt. I picked her brain about business in general and Web business in particular. Based on that conversation, and on a suggestion from Anne, I decided to open Curio City as an e-commerce site ASAP, and postpone a physical store until Fall 2006. I was dismayed to learn how much professional web designers earn. Michelle says the rock-bottom charge is $7,000. I reluctantly raised my budget from $2,000. I began to hope that the Web business might work out well enough to preclude opening a real store. I’m skeptical, but I’m open to the possibility.

Once this decision was made, things happened rapidly. I opened a mailbox at the UPS store to obtain a business address: 300 Grove St., Suite 113. I got a cell phone so that I could have a business phone number: 781-635-8743. I met with my patent attorney friend Dale Malone in an official capacity for the first time, buying him dinner at The Union Street Brewhouse in exchange for his advice on incorporating.

I got my federal EIN, and incorporated as an S Corporation on Dale’s advice. Then I trademarked the name Curio City. Sadly, that URL was taken, so I bought curiocityonline instead, and made a point of referring to my store by its full name in all references.

By late August 2005, I was finishing up a highly detailed website spec and looking for a developer. I had extremely ambitious plans to create Curio City as a place – a destination as much as a store, with a strong community aspect. It would have been like no other store on the Net. The first developer I interviewed turned down the job as unworkable. The second one agreed to do it, and for the very good rate of $35 per hour. Thus began a long struggle that continues to this day.

NEXT: Web development

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