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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, January 19, 2007

Possible Future 3: Tentacles of the Kraken

Conventional wisdom says that specialized online stores do better than general-interest stores. Pick a narrow niche, and market to it exclusively, say all the advice books.

Bucking conventional wisdom has been a consistent theme in my life. I have always been a generalist in an increasingly specialized world. This has not worked out at all well for me, career-wise…but it’s who I am, and I’ve learned not to fight it. There has to be a niche for generalists, right?

Getting the attention of a general audience is much more difficult and expensive than targeting a well-defined demographic. This might be the single biggest brake on my growth. Curio City sells a wide range of unusual gifts for all kinds of people and all occasions. Its only specialty is the appeal of the unusual. I try not to carry anything that you’d find at Wal-mart or in a shopping mall. Curio City’s customer share two qualities: They like to find the unexpected, and although they don’t like to shop, they’ll spend a little time browsing if the merchandise is interesting enough. Finding those people and getting across that message has to be the focus of Curio City’s marketing.

So “Tentacles of the Kraken” is easy enough to understand: Curio City is supplemented by some number of specialty websites that sell the same products to narrower audiences – customers who want to find what they’re after quickly, without hunting around for it. Customers who don’t want surprises. One web store might sell only timepieces; another, only gadgets; another, home d├ęcor, and so on.

All of these sites would point visitors to Curio City.

Advantages: Each individual site is theoretically easier (and cheaper) to market because of its narrow focus. Each site will theoretically enjoy a better conversion rate because it’s less demanding on customers’ time and attention.

Disadvantages: The logistics of maintaining and promoting half a dozen sites is intimidating. I have no real reason to think that I’ll be any better at marketing them than I am at marketing CC, and my budget will be stretched much thinner. None of the individual sites would have much personality – if I am maintaining them all myself, they will essentially be clones, with only the products differing. Establishing and maintaining half a dozen URLs and payment gateways and so on is likely to be much more expensive than the same requirements for one site. Six sites would almost surely not translate into a six-fold sales increase. Perhaps most important, there is already ample competition in every product niche that I can think of. And finally, it sounds neither fun nor interesting.

“Tentacles of the Kraken” is therefore my least likely path in the near- to medium-term. I can’t imagine Kraken Enterprises taking on any other ventures until CC is paying the bills. I laid it out only because circumstances can always change, and the idea should remain in play.

Forthcoming Topics:

  • Possible Future 4: Curious Hobby
  • Possible Future 5: Exile On Main Street
  • Startup Phase 3 Revisited, & Phase 4 Envisioned
  • Credit Card Processing

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