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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, May 02, 2008

Rearranging the Deck Chairs (Part 1)

One Curious Business reader mentioned that
Curio City’s organizational structure is hard to understand. Here’s how the departments came about:

Very early on, with only the foggiest ideas of who my customers would be, what would sell, and what direction I wanted to take, I had to decide what Curio City would carry. I defined a few broad categories, added a couple more for flexibility, and then commissioned a front-page city graphic (below) that showed one building per category. As an ex-game developer, I wanted to target gamers with a front page that looked like a computer game.

Each building was fictionally a “store” (department). Each store was going to have unique internal graphics. The main city image was supposed to have little flash animations and other graphical flourishes to make it look lively. The featured product boxes at the top of the page would display merchandise from whichever category (building) your mouse hovered over.

It was cool. It was clever. And it was beyond my reach. The boring, static image that resulted was more confusing than amusing. I reluctantly shelved the concept when the Sunshop 4.0 upgrade forced my hand, and now my departmental structure is a relic. Changing that isn’t trivial.

I want to implement subcategory flyouts. As you mouse over the category list in the navigation bar (navbar), the category description would attach to your pointer as bubble help. When you click on a category, its subcategories would appear as either a flyout or a dropdown menu. Since everything would be readily visible, I’d just need to rename and reorganize existing categories and shuffle a few products around. None of my product URLs would change, so my search engine page ranks (such as they are) would be unaffected. This is hardly a cutting edge idea. The drawback, of course, is the old familiar lament: No developer support. One company will do it for an hourly rate that’s almost triple what Eric has been charging me. I don’t think that’s a very good use of my limited money.

(In response to some Support board requests, another Sunshop developer already wrote code to implement subcategory flyouts. If I were a little bit smarter, I could almost implement this myself. I just need somebody to integrate or adapt the provided code, troubleshoot it, and prettify it to match the rest of my site).

If I don’t break down and spend triple their value to implement the flyouts, then the quick-and-dirty remedy would be promoting all of my subcategories to the main category level. Everything is in plain sight on the navbar, and I don’t need anyone’s help to do it. There are two huge disadvantages to doing that:

  • If every subcategory makes the cut, my navbar will grow from 17 buttons to approximately 44. That’s going to be one ugly navbar.
  • Most of my product URLs would change, ruining their search engine rankings and making me revise hundreds of pay-per-click ads.

And so, as usual, I prefer to do nothing except complain. Superficially, it's just a cosmetic issue. Fixing my store's structure might improve my conversion rate a little bit, or raise the value of my average sale…but -- perhaps more important -- it would also loosen the shackles that my old categories impose upon my own mind. There is always value in thinking outside the old bounds.

Incidentally, the developer who turned me down last week suggested that an ad on a particular website might be fruitful. Yesterday I discovered that it would cost me $100 just to run this little classified ad. Ouch. Will I suck it up and pay the price? There must be someplace where one can find qualified developers for free (or cheaply). Maybe I will even resort to (yuck) Craigslist. Craigslist always feels like slumming. Nothing good ever comes of Craigslist.

Next week’s post will get into the nitty-gritty of actually reorganizing my store. What categories would I have if I were starting over today?


Daily visits unexpectedly spiked to 149 last Monday, then drifted back down throughout the rest of the week. I don’t know why. Sales were anemic – it looks like I’m just about going to match LY, and miss my sales plan. Last May was a dismal month, and I’m not very optimistic about it this year. My bread-and-butter Panther Vision caps are going nowhere. The competitors who are underselling me all have poor selections, high minimum quantities, or predatory shipping charges. My Google search result for “Panther Vision” moved up from page 7 to page 5, so my organic rank is slowly sucking less. My PPC ad positions keep slipping as keyword bids keep rising, but most of the ads are still on page one. I think demand has simply stalled. (shrug) Blame the recession. On the bright side, most of my vendors are rolling out special offers as they feel the pinch, too. On the dark side, I can’t take advantage of these offers unless I’m selling products and generating cash.

Here are the numbers for this fiscal April vs. LY:

  • Total income: +24.2%
  • Gross profit: +30.5%
  • Advertising: +115.6%
  • Payroll: +76.1%
  • Net income: -58.3%

The increases in advertising and payroll were just flukes of the calendar – and as long as I'm the only employee, I don’t mind seeing payroll rise anyway. The month still finished slightly in the black. Looking back over this reminds me yet again that one or two exceptionally good sales can turn a poor month into a decent month literally overnight.

Fun tidbit: Although YTD gross sales are up 83%, shipping fee collections are only up 55%. I’ve been reducing product weights to better match reality (which is much more difficult to get right than you would think) and I cut my invisible handling fee from 85 cents per order to 65 cents. If I can afford to, I’ll shave that by another dime or so after the May 12 postage increase.

Upcoming Posts:

  • Rearranging the Deck Chairs (Part 2)
  • Social Networking Sites
  • Running with the Big Dogs
  • The Zombie Store
  • Legal Extortion
  • Where Traffic Comes From


  1. Anonymous3:21 PM

    It looks like the provided code could largely be used as-is. Have you tried it? I suppose you might have a few colors off, but it looks pretty trivial.

  2. No, I haven't tried it myself for multiple reasons:

    -I'm a coward;

    -It was written for version 4.0.4, and we are now on 4.1.0, and the templates changed at least once during those upgrades;

    -I've already got one display bug because my developer didn't properly update the templates in the last version upgrade;

    -Even if I could implement it, I'd have to carry it forward across future version upgrades (meaning I'd have to keep re-implementing it);

    -The thread states that the code won't work for IE7, which accounts for >70% of my visitors, so the payoff is pretty low.

    Put that all together and the risk:reward potential just isn't high enough to justify fumbling with it. I need to hire somebody who can do it right. I do, however, believe that updating and customizing this code ought to be fairly cheap and easy for someone with the right knowledge. The price I was quoted is much too high for the amount of work that I perceive as necessary.


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