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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, October 24, 2008

Wacky Ideas

First, the weekly sales report.

While Wall Street continued to crash and burn and all the economic indicators took a dive…while NPR aired a show about what to do with all the vacant stores after the upcoming “retail Katrina”…Curio City blithely turned in another nice week. With a day and a half left to go, I’m only $40 short of LY and within striking distance of plan. Having already demolished LY and achieved plan, October is certain to be one of my best months yet. Enough cash is flowing again to bring in another new product or two before I have to switch to reorder-only mode. I intend to order something cool from a new vendor next Monday -- without relying on credit.

When you put these last two strong weeks together, my paycheck is the fattest I’ve seen from routine business since mid June. It’s still not a lot of money (as I always hasten to add). It works out shy of $4 per hour, which is just half of minimum wage. But still…that’s about twice what I was making at this time LY. If Curio City can keep on defying gravity, I could be earning minimum wage by this time next year. That would be quite a milestone. (And as I also hasten to add, this doesn’t include the year-end profit that I’m going to pull out of Curio City this year to pay my personal taxes).

My pay-per-click advertising charges are growing, too, so these sales are not coming without a cost. Yahoo has nearly doubled, thanks largely to some new-product keywords that I added. You have to spend money to make money, but Yahoo’s own tracking says that the $150 I spent there last month delivered only nine sales. That’s more than $15 per conversion! If their report tells the whole story – if there aren’t indirect or uncounted conversions – then Yahoo Search Marketing is clearly a losing proposition.

Which leads me to my first wacky idea: Discontinue YSM. Although killing it would definitely reduce traffic and sales, my metrics say that YSM is not cost-effective. My average sale is $44.21. Those nine Yahoo sales should therefore have grossed roughly $400 (I’d need a developer to customize their tracking code to capture the actual dollars). My advertising budget is 10% of gross. Therefore, $400 worth of Yahoo revenue would justify $40 in ad spending. I actually spent 37.5% of my YSM gross on ads. Losing nine sales and $400 per month would be regrettable. Saving $150 would not.

Next week I shall follow through with testing FaceBook’s PPC advertising. Perhaps that will replace Yahoo. I don’t have any tracking code or analytics for Facebook, but as I currently get zero traffic from them, I ought to be able to deduce the results well enough for comparison.

OK, maybe that idea’s slightly heretical, but something grounded so firmly in numbers is hardly wacky. Let’s go a little farther out.

I get periodic requests for imprinting or embroidering merchandise. Such inquiries are often for large quantities to be given to employees or customers. How hard can it be?

The most frequent request is for embroidered caps. An embroidery machine can cost anywhere from about $1,000 up to $16,000, with the median being around $7,000. There are supplies to buy, and a learning curve to overcome. I’d certainly ruin some of my merchandise until I became expert with the machine. It would take up considerable space that I don’t have. The customer making the inquiry invariably expects a hefty quantity discount as well as customization, so the markup is comparatively low. But sheer volume makes it tempting – these people typically want at least 100 pieces, and sometimes as many as 1,000 (or so they say; the likelihood of actually closing the sale decreases in proportion to the quantity that the person supposedly wants). It could potentially bring a lot of dollars over the transom, even if the markup is poor. But I would need to sell one shitload of caps to recoup a $7,000+ investment.

Assuming that I could get around the space problem, is that a good way to spend my time? How many hours would it take me to set up the machine for a job, feed it 100 or more caps, and then package them all for shipping? What happens to this embroidery machine and supplies after the cap business peters out? Do I become a novelty T-shirt store to justify my investment? No thank you.

Imprinting might be more realistic. A decent hot-stamping machine can be had for $3,000 or so. The space requirement and materials look a little bit less intense than embroidery, although they’re still substantial. The main drawback here is that the things people want imprinted come prepackaged. I’d have to remove them from their factory packaging, imprint them, and then shrinkwrap or otherwise repackage them. Again, this could get really time-consuming, and the markup isn’t there unless I’m buying enough pieces to import them directly.

The bastard child of imprinting is stickering. Customers like stickers least of all, and the investment is correspondingly lower. If I were going to test the customization waters, I might start with stickers. You might be able to do that with the same machine that does imprinting.

After mulling it over for ages, I decided to sell suction cups with my most recent Switchables reorder. They cost $0.15 each. I hope to get $0.50 each as a product add-on. The potential income from these things is less than staggering, and keeping them stocked might become a hassle if they sell better than I expect. But that hefty markup makes them worthwhile over the long haul. While I was going through my Switchables pages I discovered a couple of products that I’d taken off-sale some time ago, so fixing those was worth the time.

Selling batteries is another idea that keeps popping up. Many of my products require batteries. I could make a hefty markup selling them at the prevailing retail store price. Some customers might regard it as a convenience. Their limited shelf life is what always stops me. Batteries start to fade after a year or so, and I’d need to buy large quantities to get that attractive markup. I sell products that take C, AA, and AAA batteries, not to mention various coin cells, so it’s not like I can just stock generic “batteries.” And they’re heavy. They would inflate my shipping rates by more than I care to do. Still…it’s tempting. It could be easy money.

Importing stuff directly from China tempts me every now and then. The minimum order quantities are huge, and so is the risk if I make a bad bet. But the merchandise is extremely cheap (shipping usually accounts for half its value), so the potential reward is correspondingly huge. Becoming an importer has lost some of its appeal since the financial meltdown – my operating budget won’t generate that much open-to-buy, so I’d certainly need to use credit for that. End of discussion (for now).

Last, and probably least wacky of all, is looking into Google audio ads and display ads. Once again, the costs are considerable and I have no experience with them. But PPC advertising keeps getting more expensive, too, and it’s taken me about as far as it’s going to take me. I need to break out of that somehow.


  • SCORE!


  1. Anonymous1:13 PM

    I just stopped my Googled ad spending. Mainly because i see huge drop for requests in coaching and i am well positioned on Google for free, so dont really need to spend PPC (at the moment, since this is my off season right now).

    Here is an idea, instead of spending on embroidery and hot stamping up front, can you find a place that you can outsource it too. Could be much cheaper in a short and mid run, then buying your own equipment.


  2. Y'know, I neglected to mention that I had priced that out for a customer a few months ago. Two places were vague about how much it would cost, how long it would take, etc. A third place might have worked out had the customer followed through. The extra effort of packing several boxes of caps into my car and schlepping them to the embroiderer, then going back to pick them up, is not very appealing, and there is very little leeway for marking up the embroidery service (since I'm already paying a retail rate for it myself). Since I'm already selling these at a volume discount, there's not much incentive to invest my time and gasoline providing a service at or near my cost. Still, it might be worth revisiting if it would open up a lot of volume.


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