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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Friday, December 29, 2006

The Changing of the Blog

The “Blogger 2” software just went operational after a long Beta period. The template now has drag-and-drop functionality that makes it easier to manage. I like the tags and the index flyouts. But some of my customizations got stripped out, and the Google AdSense box returns an error message when I try to resize it.

Oh well, those ads weren’t going to make me rich anyway. I’ve racked up a whopping $22 worth of click credits in the past six months, and Google won’t even pay out until you hit $100. At this rate I’ll get my first check sometime in 2009.

The interface for changing my Profile photo got obscured. Now I have to upload my picture in a post first, and then link to it from the Profile interface. Here, then, is my new profile photo. I guess I look more mayoral, huh?

One reader sometimes has problems loading this page. It’s happened across three browsers, two IP addresses, and two PCs, so that’s certainly worrisome. Has anybody else ever noticed this? I’m hoping the Blogger 2 upgrade cures that.

Sound off, readers. Do you like this color scheme, or want to see something lighter and cheerier? Bright backgrounds hurt my eyes, but I see a few lighter templates that don’t look too girly. Is the currency converter useful or interesting? What kind of gadgets would you find appealing? Google has tons of little plug-ins to choose from, including some simple games. Or are they just a distraction?

Finally, what about the new title? I want something a little snappier than “The Curio City Online Blog”, but I’m not sure this one does anything for me. Any inspired suggestions?

Friday, December 22, 2006

Wrapping Up Christmas

The 2006 holiday season – Curio City’s first – is over. Oh sure, I’m bracing for a wave of complaints and returns over the next few days…but hopefully those will be few, and I’ll make enough sales to keep from having a negative week.

Christmas was hard to quantify because the huge infusions from our American Way and WaPo mentions skewed the results. I’ll have to secure comparable placements in coming years if I’m to rival this year’s results. The press kits that cost me $400+ brought no known results. A small cluster of sales to Colorado tipped us off to a little mention in the Rocky Mountain News, but the return from that was negligible. Next year, those kits must go out at least a month earlier, and we need to do one round of follow-ups.

November came in a robust 36% over plan, and December is an incredible 72% over projections -- with virtually all of that coming in just two weeks! The two months together delivered 36% of the year’s sales. The year ended only 10% below plan, with a loss of only 7% of gross sales. Given that I was not aiming for profitability in 2006, that is very encouraging for my 2007 goals. I had a little trouble keeping up with the pace of 10-15 sales per day, every day, for about three weeks. I was pretty exhausted by the time it ended. Next year, I must keep my calendar clear of doctor appointments and similar distractions during December.

We set a quantity record on Monday 12/4 (18 sales in one day) and a dollar record on Wednesday the 6th. The following week was the overall high water mark, although it didn’t break those earlier single-day records. Not until Wednesday the 20th did I wake up to find my in-tray devoid of new orders. I haven’t had a zero-sales day since Nov. 16. I do expect one any day now, though.

I only made one real gaffe, mixing up two customers’ shipments. Fortunately, both were cooperative and I was able to put things straight quickly. A couple of customers refused delivery of their shipments. One just wrote “refused” and “please refund” on the box, with no explanation or correspondence of any kind. WTF? I’d never seen anyone do that before and was rather surprised when it happened twice. Naturally, I refunded their money with good grace.

I was aggressive about customer service. I don’t think anyone ended up with a bad impression of my company, which is quite remarkable – I know from many years in retail that some customers live to complain. Several people sent compliments and praise -- in fact, I'm going to add a "testimonials" secton to my About page. After I coughed up $8 to replace one shipment that was lost through no fault of mine, the customer effused that not only will she be a good future customer, she’s now an evangelist for CC. Now that is eight bucks well spent! Making hundreds of new customers is probably the most important single outcome of this Christmas season…some percentage of them will certainly be back for more. A few have already made repeat purchases.

I was a little bit off on ordering, spending more money than I should have later than I should have. Next year I need to go deeper earlier on those items that I know will do well, and take a gamble on some others, because there simply isn’t enough time to place and receive reorders in a season that only lasts four weeks. Overall, though, I did a very good job of remaining in stock on most items most of the time. I stuck myself with a couple of turkeys, but nothing major.

Our credit card processor took advantage of the season’s volume to slip a $95 annual fee into their already-extortionate charges. An email to the merchant service sales company got the fee removed. I’ll save my credit card rant for another column, because that racket really gets me steamed.

All in all, Christmas 2006 was a tremendous success. I earned two substantial paychecks for myself in December – the first real paychecks I’ve had in literally years. Most important: For the first time since I started this business, I’m confident that Curio City will succeed. If I can make as much progress in 2007 as I made in 2006, I’ll be looking at serious expansion in 2008.

Other Forthcoming Topics:

  • Credit Card Processing
  • Possible Futures
  • Planned features

Friday, December 15, 2006

What Does Success Look Like?

That is a harder question to answer than you might think, because there are several possible long-term futures. Those will be the subject of future posts. For today’s essay, let’s make these assumptions:

  1. That Curio City Online continues indefinitely as a one-man, home-based, online-only operation;
  2. That I solve enough structural financial problems to achieve profitability in 2007;
  3. That I can do #2 while still devoting 16.5% of gross sales to payroll, and that I can handle the business while remaining the only employee;
  4. That I can achieve the above and also take on some additional expenses (like insurance), and can eventually pay temporary part-time help so that I can take a vacation now and then.

In other words, I’m assuming for the sake of discussion that things go on pretty much as they are now, except with dramatic growth continuing for 2-3 more years.

I said in an early post that riches are not my goal in life. I only need to pull out a salary of $50,000 per year to live quite comfortably. That means Curio City has to gross roughly $300,000 per year. Quite simply, that's my success level.

In Year One (November to November, so not including this all-important Christmas season), I made 515 sales, averaging 1.4 per day. Gross sales were $22,510 with an average ticket of $43.71. To reach $300,000, I’d need 6,865 sales, or 18.8 sales per day.

It sounds like a lot. It is a lot. But it’s attainable. I already make four or five sales on my good days. My busiest day ever hit 18 transactions, and I’ve averaged 10-15 per day for the past few weeks. I've had to run at full speed. It’s hard to imagine processing 20 sales a day on average, but it's not impossible...and I've shown that I can (just barely!) handle the logistics of finding, ordering, receiving, storing, packaging, and shipping that much stock. It would become overwhelming to do it routinely, but that is a problem I’d love to have.

My goal for 2007 is to double my 2006 sales, and end the year with a profit (even just $1). Curio City will pay me in salary about the same amount as I plan to infuse, making the year revenue-neutral from a personal point-of-view.

If I can achieve this realistic goal in 2007, I will feel comfortable taking out a loan for a major expansion in 2008. That’s where my “possible futures” columns come in, so I’ll leave it at that for today.

Other Forthcoming Topics:

  • Christmas Wrap-Up
  • Credit Card Processing
  • Possible Futures
  • Planned features

Friday, December 08, 2006

Flipping the Finger

Ever wonder how a company president spends his day? Playing golf? Jetting around the country in his private plane? Dictating memos in his high-rise office, maybe? Not this president. On my good days, I spend a lot of time boxing up orders, buying postage, and schlepping boxes to and from the post office. Today was one of my bad days. Stay awhile, and listen….

A couple of customers recently received nonworking Ultra Bright Finger Lights. It’s no big deal; they’re cheap, so I apologize, send out free replacements, and absorb a small loss. After the second complaint, I started testing them before sending them out. A bit more than 10% are defective. That’s annoying, but the markup on these things is good enough to make up for that.

Last week somebody ordered several finger lights in specific colors, one being purple. I was out of purple ones in my main stock, so I opened up the reorder that I had placed nearly a year ago. I tried a purple. It didn’t work. Tried another with the same result. Another, and another.

Uh oh.

One by one, I tested my remaining 66 finger lights. Almost all of my backup stock is defective. Now, the finger light is my #3 bestseller and one of my flagship products. I like these silly things. I can’t just mark them all down and throw them away. So this company president spent his afternoon opening up battery compartments, removing defective batteries, and salvaging as many working finger lights as possible. I wound up trashing 25 of them, and probably resurrected 15 or 20. Altogether, I’ve lost 34 out of my initial 119 units. That’s awful. And those batteries are still deteriorating in the 28 I have left.

It is way too late to seek recourse from the vendor. They’re selling them in a different package now, at fire sale prices. Their defect rate is running as high as 50% and their stock is priced dirt cheap. I’m tempted to order a huge quantity; even after throwing away half of them, they’d be lucrative. But the thought of testing hundreds of them and swapping all those little batteries in and out just makes me shudder. Reluctantly, I’m probably going to have to let them go. But maybe I'll bring in a small reorder, just to look at the repackaging and ponder. If I can maintain my existing retail price, the markup would be something like 3,000%. That is hard to ignore.

* * * * *

On a completely different subject…have you ever noticed that most of the ads Google assigns to my blog are about debt and bankruptcy? It’s depressing. I’m half tempted to remove the danged things, except that every now and again somebody clicks on one and earns me a few cents. (Hint, hint).

Other Forthcoming Topics:

  • Christmas Wrap-Up
  • What Does Success Look Like?
  • Credit Card Processing
  • Possible Futures
  • Planned features

Friday, December 01, 2006

Cyber Monday: Fact or Crap?

Fact, I guess. We did set a new record for number of sales in one day. We would’ve surpassed our dollars-per-day record, too, if one of our intrepid customers hadn’t been foiled by an AVS check. Damn you, Internet security! Of course, it’s the kickoff of the Christmas season. We would’ve been busy regardless. Who can say whether Cyber Monday made any difference? Maybe it did for the big retailers who can afford to offer free freight and deep discounts. I wouldn’t know.

As it turned out, Thursday, Nov. 30, was our busiest day to date, and I expect to surpass it next week. Business is booming and the Christmas season is just getting cooking. Our little spot in the Washington Post is this Sunday. The next two weeks should be pure madness here.

Another fact: I am way too busy to put much effort into this blog for the next few weeks. Message ends.

Other Forthcoming Topics:

  • What Does Success Look Like?
  • Credit Card Processing
  • Possible Futures
  • Planned features

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