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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, February 29, 2008

Time Keeps On Slippin' (Slippin') Into the Future

I finally had a lengthy convo with the wife at Vin & Eddie’s a couple of weeks ago. Even after slogging through all of my posts, she was still all wound up about owning a store.

The promise of eventually owning a mature store, run by somebody else, is seductive. Both physically and financially, it could become a foundation for a renewed assault on the internet, where the real money (and my interest) lies. Successful retailers establish chains and franchises because the profit potential from a single store is constrained by geography and selling space. Internet sales are comparatively limitless.

A store sometimes feels as inevitable as Hillary Clinton once did. But getting from here to there – all by myself – is neither seductive nor inevitable. Like Hillary, it could flame out quickly, dramatically, and irreversibly. More than the money that's on the line, I worry about this drawback: I’d have to mothball my website while I pour everything I’ve got left into the store. The past two years of hard work and self-education have paid off in a growing, profitable, and debt-free business. Putting that aside to go massively into debt for something financially speculative (and logistically difficult) borders on insane.

Yet, continuing on my present course leaves two huge problems unsolved: (1) My personal income remains in the crapper, probably for years to come, and (2) I can’t kick Curio City out of the house, which limits its growth. February’s dismal sales emphasize just how little money I make. If it runs true to form, March will be even worse. I can’t go on like this year after year. I am sick of being poor.

The 4-LED camo caps arrived as expected. Within an hour of emailing the 16 shoppers who had requested notification, one customer bought 24 caps and single-handedly saved February. It didn’t cancel out the $900 sale that inflated Feb. 2007, but it sure as heck helped. (Not one of those other 15 people bought a single cap, btw.) If I subtract out those two abnormally large sales, this February ended up more or less even with LY. Fun with statistics!

As moribund as business is right now – averaging one small sale per day -- the ol’ P&L shows a YTD operating loss of only $56.45 – and that’s after covering my biggest annual expenditures like taxes, government fees, and accounting. 2008 is in good shape, and March’s sales target is low-hanging fruit. If it weren't for the pesky need to earn a living, "Steady As She Goes" would be the obvious path.

Would opening a store generate a big leap in sales, or would its greatly increased costs force my business into failure? Why would a store’s February numbers be any better than my website’s February numbers? A store’s costs are mostly fixed, compared to the website’s scalable costs. Curio City Online might not pay me a decent living for a long time, but neither is it ever likely to fail.

The only real result from my Wife Summit was a mutual softening of attitudes. Anne is a little bit more apprehensive about opening a store – particularly the financial commitment; I don't know if I can erect an impenetrable firewall between my business and our personal finances. I’m slightly more open to taking that gamble, although my fears are still obvious -- leaving money aside, I don't know if I have the personal expertise and energy to pull it off, and I don't want to jeopardize my online business.

At some point I’m going to accept what I already know: No amount of research or discussion is going to part the clouds and reveal a correct answer, because there isn't one. I need to make a choice and go for it. On this, my self-imposed deadline for making the commitment, I don’t feel any more confident than I did before I started all of this. In my weaker moments, I want to take the easy way out and get a normal job. Minimum wage would be a huge raise.

Faced with today’s deadline, I’ve predictably decided to postpone deciding for at least one more week. I put most of last week into the Aging Hipsters product research project that I mentioned in my last post. I’m confident that my week of unpaid labor will bear fruit in the long run. I will wrap that up this weekend, then return to the depressing financial analysis upon which my choice will ultimately hinge, and finally arrange Wife Summit II.


A new reason to hate Yahoo: Last week I discovered that Yahoo is sending Curio City email to its customers’ Bulk (spam) folder, rather than the inbox, meaning that anyone with a yahoo.com address is probably not seeing my correspondence. So I tracked down their appeal procedure and applied to have my site whitelisted. They turned me down. I’m invited to apply again in six months if I change my policies significantly. Huh? What policies? I don’t send spam! This kind of mysterious and uncontrollable nonsense tips me away from the web and toward a store. Further effort might or might not change Yahoo’s decision…but how many other ISPs out there have blacklisted curiocityonline.com for no legitimate reason? Identifying and overcoming technical errors like that takes a level of expertise that I just don’t have.

A new reason to hate Google: OK, this one isn't as heinous as the Yahoo thing, but I'm trying to be even-handed here. Remember when I told you a couple of weeks ago that I had finally earned my first AdSense payout after two years of showing their ads? Wrong. They don’t actually pay until the balance hits $100. At the rate I’ve been going, that will take three more years.

You know how to help….

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