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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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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

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