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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, March 23, 2007

The Next Big Thing

One of Curio City’s main 2006 achievements was market testing different kinds of merchandise and establishing relationships with vendors. The experience I gained is key to realizing this year’s goal of earning a profit.

The oak DayClock was one of the first products I brought in, and it quickly became my #1 bestseller (subsequently nudged out by the phenomenal USB Fan). Its mahogany cousin is in 11th place. Together, they delivered an astonishing 16% of gross sales in 2006. Their 50% discount with free shipping meets my markup requirement. I ran out of DayClocks briefly during the Christmas season, but restocked aggressively just as the season was ending. They’re such a sure bet that I felt safe investing my precious post-Christmas inventory cash there.

I’ve sold exactly three of them so far this year. I’m not sure why sales dropped so dramatically. The number of online retailers offering them has just about doubled since the last time I checked. Some of the newcomers are discounting. One, in fact, offers a “member’s price” that I can’t begin to touch. The American consumer is all about the lowest possible price, so whenever discounters move into a market, small independents die out. We can’t survive on those thin margins. I’m sure everyone’s familiar with the way Wal-mart has destroyed whole market sectors and business districts, or the way Home Depot has vanquished neighborhood hardware stores, or Borg & Noble's contribution to the death of independent bookselling.

To find out if pricing is indeed my problem, I knocked a couple of bucks off DayClocks for two weeks. I sold exactly one clock. After returning it to full price, I sold one more. This week, I discounted it again and sold one more. Transaction logs at Authorize.net revealed another customer trying unsuccessfully to buy one; their five rejections due to invalid addresss info will cost me $1.50. Altogether, this does not constitute clear evidence that the discounters stole my lunch. Maybe the product itself is dying. Maybe the marketplace is saturated. Maybe it's just seasonal doldrums. I just don’t know.

The Neverlate clock, my #6 bestseller, is another old standby that is now just standing by. It’s no DayClock, but it does bring in enough revenue to be noteworthy. I told you in “The Neverlate Dilemma” that this product’s markup is problematic for me. I was able to restock in January with a small one-time incentive discount, so I bought as aggressively as I could afford…and then didn’t sell a single one. One competitor has consistently undersold me all along, but I should still be moving one every now and then. I tried the DayClock discount experiment on the Neverlate, with similar results. I sold one clock during the two-week sale period, then subsequently sold one at the regular price. Again, the experiment told me nothing. Next week I’ll mark it down again and see what happens.

Thanks to dropshipping, typewriter key jewelry was a low-risk proposition with a decent markup. But the studio gradually put the screws on throughout last year. First the supply of the most popular letters became iffy, and then unavailable entirely. As the product consequently lost appeal, they raised their prices, discontinued some styles, and imposed a minimum order amount for customizations. I haven’t sold a single piece this year. I’m reluctantly looking for a replacement jewelry line now. It will be hard to find something that’s as clever and amenable to online sales – I really like the line. Jewelry is hard to commoditize. (Commodify? Is that a word?)

I don’t have any new product lines comparable to the heavy hitters that I mentioned above. Golf balls do alright, but aren’t spectacular. Ditto Switchables. USB gadgets are moribund at the moment, although the category retains potential. I need to either find the Next Big Thing, or create it with advertising or product placement. And I need to do that soon. March sales are going poorly. Unless I can turn this around pretty soon, I am going to be forced into Possible Future #4 (“A Curious Hobby”).

Well. The Boston Gift Show starts tomorrow. Maybe I’ll luck into the Next Big Thing at the show. I do have a few new products lined up, but with my inventory dollars all tied up in merchandise that mysteriously stopped moving, I can’t do much about them. None of them look like blockbusters anyway. But one never knows. I never would've figured that USB fan for a #1 bestseller. It's all about marketing, isn't it?

Future Subjects:

  • Changes in the Wind
  • What Sells, and Why


  1. Anonymous1:06 PM

    Great Blog! Just found you today, and caught up with your prior posts. Looking forward to the updates!

  2. Thanks for reading, and especially for the compliment. I update every Friday. Feel free to suggest topics for future posts if any subject particularly interests you.


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