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, July 25, 2008

Dog Days

Man, am I bored. Business is taking a nice nap. This week could end up as the worst of the year to date. July will be the first un-spectacular month of the year, and August (with its nine-day vacation) could be downright poor if the current trend holds up. Traffic is down and the macroeconomic news remains grim, so I’m not worried that I’m doing something wrong. But it does get me thinking about how I might be able to goose things.

I don’t have any medium- or long-term projects going. This year’s robust sales gave me a good excuse to turn my back on the old, persistent problems that I’m sick of thinking about – no developer support, no marketing or advertising initiatives, shitty search engine rankings, no open-to-buy dollars – you’ve read this lament over and over. Unless “natural growth” (a dubious concept) carries Curio City forward on momentum alone, 2009 isn’t going to match 2008’s progress. I either need to surmount one old obstacle or to put something new into play…and I need to invest the effort now, before Christmas ramps up.

My motivation falls off along with sales. It’s easy to put Curio City on autopilot and tend my garden or putter around the house instead. I’m not much of a spark plug anyway. Even if I manage to kick myself back into gear, I’m not sure where the effort should go. What can I do by myself…isolated, without resources, and bereft of new ideas?

Well, I can reduce my PPC ad costs. Google is costing me about $10 per day. First I deleted most of the “Product Categories” campaign and tuned up what’s left. Those generic keywords (e.g., “unusual clocks”) were costing up to a buck a day with only miniscule payoff.

Then I tended to my “Product-specific” campaign, which I neglected while sales were robust. For an example: Thanks to ridiculous shipping charges from the Left Coast, the gross margin on my one mechanical coin bank struggles to reach 40%. It’s dubious whether I should even carry this thing at all, much less pay to advertise it. Yesterday I spent $3.28 to buy 16 clicks and no sales. The keyword “coin banks” alone has cost $25.33 to date to produce one sale. Buh-bye! I have spent an astonishing $105 on advertising record purses, and recorded only two conversions (although I’ve sold more purses than that). I wonder if I'd ever sell another purse if I were to shut those ads down entirely. Whenever my attention wanders away from PPC advertising for more than a week, I start to bleed money.

Rising prices sent ten more Yahoo keywords into dormancy last week; I deleted nine of them. My Yahoo spend is comfortably below $5 per day now…but given its lousy results, why am I even spending that much? Given the rate at which Yahoo keeps trimming my keyword list, they seem to have reached the same conclusion.

Reducing costs by a buck or two a day is nice, but it doesn’t increase sales and might even harm them slightly. What else can I do?

I could pursue more links. My percentage of referral visits remains stuck at around 20% despite landing links at Dayclocks.com and Panthervision.com in the past several weeks. Octopus Overlords referrals came roaring back when that forum was resurrected. But my #1 source by far is search.ebay.com. Huh? Where does that come from, and how can I affect it? And why don’t my other forums – Popehat.com and GamingTrend.com – even rank in the top 50? I suppose I could improve the links in my signatures on those sites, and see if that makes any difference.

I can try to remember that Google Base expires every month, and upload a new data file before that happens instead of my usual 3-5 days after the fact.

I can keep hammering out blog posts in the hopes that I can find new ideas through brute force.

None of this adds up to a hill of beans. I need to step out of my comfort zone and initiate something serious. But what? Figuring that out should be next week’s goal. Maybe I should follow the open-to-buy formulae to some conclusion.

Open to Buy Revisited

I spent $1,000 more in July than my old OTB method indicated was prudent. I pushed the red ink to well over $2,000 and drained my operating cash to its lowest level ever. Naturally, I turned my liquidity into inventory just as business dropped off…and, naturally, I barely scratched my merchandise wishlist. I could easily spend another $2,000 to replenish a few items and get everything new that I’d like to try.

Since I managed to spend that money without the sky falling, I decided that I’m going to reset my OTB to zero at the beginning of August. As we discovered three weeks ago, that old number is a rough guideline at best.

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