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, September 21, 2007

Some People Never Learn

Nine months ago I wrote about the demise of the Ultra Bright Finger Lights, a fun and profitable little bestseller that succumbed to dead batteries.

Several weeks ago, I discovered that the supplier of my bestselling cap lights is now offering a new incarnation of finger lights called Rocket Rings. The casing is a little different, the battery compartment was redesigned to use smaller batteries, and the price is much lower. Even allowing for a generous markup, I can retail these things for a buck apiece (versus $4.50 apiece for the old finger lights). How could I pass that up?

A few orders soon revealed that the Rocket Rings share their ancestors' tendency toward battery problems. About one in ten of them don’t work; since they come in three-packs, that means about a third of my stock is unsalable out of the box.

Luckily, the packages are very easily opened and re-closed, making it easy to reassemble working three-packs (although achieving the proper color assortment adds a bit of challenge) and reduce the spoilage to only the lights that are actually defective.

I am not the kind of guy who just throws things away. Even though they’re so cheap that they hardly merit the time and attention, my cheap nature compels me to rehabilitate what I can. Usually, the only defect is one bad battery of the three tiny ones in each ring, or even just a bent contact. With enough time and patience, I can salvage almost all of the defectives. It's a nuisance, but as long as people buy only a few packages at a time and I’m only shipping a few orders a day, I can squander my time.

Yesterday somebody ordered 30 three-packs. Ninety lights. And so this corporate CEO once again spent a solid hour fussing over his latest bestseller. I ended up trashing only four lights. I've only written off two packages out of the 37 sold to date.

There is a wrinkle, though. The same customer who bought 30 packages asked about potentially buying up to 1,000. I obviously can't do triage on that many. If I can get them at all (my source is down to 25 left), I’ll offer the customer a generous allowance for defects. Slightly more worrisome is the potential for these things to start selling in great numbers very soon, now that they've made the bestseller list. I can imagine them blowing out for Halloween and Christmas. If that happens, I'll probably have to raise the price and throw away the defects more aggressively, or I'm going to be spending hours every week playing around with these tiny batteries.

The Boston Gift Show, Again

I think this was the first time I attended one of these things with actual money in my open-to-buy. Even though this show should be subtitled “Cavalcade of Crap,” I did find two new product lines, and one older vendor’s display convinced me to try a small assortment of their merchandise (emphasis on the last syllable; they are a dice company. I’m an adventure gamer).

Three hits from 525 exhibitors (down from 625 last spring) is not too bad for a store with Curio City’s focus on the unusual.

Business remains strong, btw. Last week was down a little, but still more than doubled LY’s comparable week (low-hanging fruit, remember?). I’m guessing that consumers are pausing after their annual back-to-school spending. If LY’s pattern holds up, they’ll come roaring back next week.

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