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.
Add to Technorati Favorites

Friday, July 20, 2007

Learning the Obvious

It's Friday again already? I neither made much progress on my punch list nor had a blog entry prepared. I don’t know where the week went. So today I’ll just tell a story.

Yesterday a woman called to ask about special pricing on this Seashell towel. She’d shopped for two days, she said, and ours was the only realistic seashell design she could find. One other store had them for $5.99, but theirs were out of stock. She wanted 30 of them. The pupils of my eyes changed to dollar signs as “cha-ching” sounded. At the same time, my hackles rose when she said that she wasn’t going to pay our $10 price.

I offered to sell her the eight that I had in stock at a discount. No, she needed all 30. OK then, if my supplier had any more I would still offer her a discounted price, although I couldn’t touch $6 apiece. Well, she wouldn’t pay much more than $6. My gut reaction to her intensified, but what the hell? I wanted her $300, and if I’m really the only store on the internet with what she wants, I was determined to get it. At this time of year, there are entire weeks when I don’t gross $300.

Even though it was no longer in the wholesaler’s catalog, I could get some towels. Two cases would cost me $120, and I could add six of my eight stock towels to make 30. Fine, until I noticed a minimum order requirement of either $250 (according to their website) or $350 (according to their catalog) was going to increase my cost. I contemplated pumping up my order to meet the minimum. But towels are not exactly Curio City’s core competence, and I’m trying to get away from my tangential products.

I called her with good news/bad news. Yes, we could get 30 towels for her. But because the cost went up when I could not meet their minimum order quantity, I couldn’t offer her a discount. Free shipping was the best I could offer.

I’d say that she turned icy, except that this lady had been irritating right from the first contact. “So you’re telling me it’s $300.” Yes, that’s the price. “That’s too much,” she said. Take it or leave it (my silence implied). I told her to call me back if she changed her mind.

A few hours later, she did. But not to buy towels. She wanted the name and contact info of my supplier. I could feel myself flushing red. “I get them from a wholesaler. They don’t sell to the public,” I said. “I know that. Just let me talk to them.” I pondered for a few seconds. Maybe they would refuse to sell to her, and she might then come back. I could offer her a token discount and still get most of my price. I was sick of dealing with her anyway, and by now I just wanted her to go away. I gave her the contact info and told her to call me back if they wouldn’t help her, and I’d see if I could find some wriggle room on the price.

She never came back. She must have bullied them into selling to her, just as she had bullied me in each phone call. I’ll bet the bitch got them for $5 each, too.

Mistake #1: Holding out for the full $300, or something very close to it, from someone who clearly wasn’t going to pay it. I didn’t like this lady and I would rather lose the sale than cheapen myself or be pushed around. I should have instead sold them for whatever she’d pay. I probably could’ve gotten $7 apiece. A $210 take on $120 cost is better than $0 (which turned out to be my sales total for the day). But frankly, when you consider that only $14 of that $90 markup would’ve ended up in my paycheck, the accounting hassle of reducing that sale’s contribution to my various budgets wasn’t worth it.

Mistake #2: Giving out supplier info. That simply isn’t done, as I know full well. I should’ve ended the conversation right there. Let her go away mad; so what? In the first place, I hate interpersonal conflict and avoid it whenever possible. In the second place, 16 years of working for retail employers taught me to never, ever, piss off a customer. Even after two years of being my own boss, I haven’t quite grasped that my word is final.

I consider it two lessons re-learned. First, a marginal profit is better than no profit. And second, I don’t have to cave in to abusive customers. At least she went away and I didn’t waste inventory dollars on dozens of new towels that I don’t want.

To end on a positive note, I’m currently negotiating what would be by far my largest sale ever. If it breaks my way, it’ll more than erase my April-June slide. I also had an intriguing phone call this morning from someone who wants to be a sales rep for my lighted caps. It almost surely won’t amount to anything except more wasted time – he thought that I was the manufacturer – but it is more good evidence that my instinct is right: Those babies are a really hot product, if I can just figure out how to sell them before they become ubiquitous.


  1. Spookious11:30 AM

    re: Towel Lady...
    Meh... those customers aren't even worth the minimal $ you would have made. I've learned this one myself.

  2. Many years in retail have made me a big believer in customer service. I routinely go out of my way to satisfy a customer, even when there is no profit in doing so. Sometimes it's even a losing proposition. In the long run, and in aggregate, a reputation for customer service pays off.

    But you're right; sometimes it's just not worth it. Towel Lady reminded me very much of somebody my wife and I encountered at a duty-free jewelry store in Philipsburg, St Maarten. We coined the phrase "cruise ship trash" for her. This story really needs gestures and vocal inflection to work...but her catch phrase was "Show me your best emeralds!" She spent 15 minutes berating the gems and trying to get them for next to nothing before she stormed out without buying anything. Some shoppers simply delight in making shopkeepers bow and scrape.

  3. Matrix1:19 PM

    Yah they not worth it. I have had turn away customers before, those who want to haggle too much. In fact i recently terminated contract with a client, when he was going too psycho with no hope of recovering. Some people try to bypass me and go straight to coaches i work with, but i made it clear to my guys, that everything concerning payments goes through me, or no more work for them.


What do you think? Leave a comment.

Google Search