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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, March 27, 2009

Long Post, Eventful Week

Sheesh, what a week. Let’s take it in pieces.

Baking Babies

I've started buying groceries at Shaws again because Stop 'N' Shop is reorganizing. Nothing is where I'm used to finding it. Shaws is a worse store in most ways, but at least I know where everything is there. S&S just relocated the bread aisle across from diapers and baby supplies. Yech! Now instead of smelling baked goods, I smell talcum powder. That’s just nasty.

I have wished for years that Curio City's navigation bar would show any associated subcategories when you click on a main category. Commissioning a programmer to implement that would have cost more than it's worth. I've known for some time about a free software "mod" that adds that functionality. The catch was that I would have to do it myself. It was pretty scary looking.

This week I gritted my teeth and made the prescribed changes to Curio City's SQL database, six program files, four templates, and the style sheet. Lo and behold, it worked on the first try! Not bad for a retailer with an English degree and no technical training.

The bad news is that, like the Stop 'N' Shop, Curio City's going to raise a little dust moving things around in the coming weeks. The good news is that the layout will make more sense, be easier to navigate, and please the search engines more. I just have to make sure that the bread aisle won't reek of babies.

The Cavalcade of Crap Rebooted

Tomorrow is the Boston Gift Show, known to Curious Business readers as the Cavalcade of Crap. Yes, I’m taking the T into Boston and walking from South Station to the convention center, where I will waste the whole day shuffling like a zombie through aisle after aisle of boring consumer trinkets. The Fall ’08 show was canceled after steadily declining participation. Its new owners are trying hard to revive the tired old event…obviously an uphill struggle in this business environment, but isn’t everything? Throughout March I rebuilt my open-to-buy from -$350 to over $1,000 in the black. I’ve got my eye on one new product that will take $120 of that, and I’d like to place about $2,200 worth of reorders. But at least I do have money in the bank in case I find something really great tomorrow.

I Am Not A Lousy Month

This week surprised me with not just one, but two, very large sales. I sold 71 I Am Not a Paper Cups to a marketing firm near Chicago. The UPS tracking site assures me that they were delivered to the UPS Store yesterday afternoon, so I can reship them this morning. The product is made by DCI, the same company that was behind the great Christmas tree debacle. So I won’t believe that the correct merchandise arrived in the correct quantity until I actually drive over there this morning and see it.

Two days later a gentleman organizing the 2009 Turkey Ridge Youth Hunt in Kansas bought 50 camo caps. (Presumably the youths are hunting turkeys, and not themselves being hunted.) Twenty-five adults and 25 youths participate. It was pure luck that I had exactly 50 of these caps in stock when he called (not the 53 that my spreadsheet indicated). A 20% discount and rapid order fulfillment sealed this deal.

I get about one of these institutional inquiries a month, but they almost never pan out – people almost invariably want imprinting/embroidering and deeper discounts than I can afford. I was quite surprised when the first sale went through, and downright stunned by the second in one week. Even after the hefty discounts, this week’s net sales will approach the entire month of March 2008.

March had been looking really anemic before this lucky break. I thought I was going to fall short of LY. This big shot in the arm put me comfortably ahead of my YTD sales plan. Awesome…for now.

The year-to-year numbers:

Total income: +72.4%
Total COGS: +97.3%
Payroll: +26.6% (yay me!)
Net Income (Profit): +107%

Year-to-date sales are up 33.3%, gross profit is up 38%, and the bottom line is up 202%. There are even some hopeful signs that the economy might finally be bottoming out.

Two More Reasons to Hate UPS: An order for a 2nd Day Air shipment came in on a Friday. I dropped off the package at the UPS Store on Saturday so that it would go out first thing Monday. UPS helpfully picked it up on Saturday, then unhelpfully billed me $15.38 extra for Saturday pickup. OK, it’s my own fault for dropping off on a Saturday…but $15 to toss it in the truck? So typical of their “gotcha” pricing.

One of the shipping supplies that UPS offers for free is a two-part adhesive label. You can’t actually use them for UPS packages because their shipping label prints out off-center. The labels are perfect, however, for USPS shipping. Over the past couple of years I've recouped some tiny fraction of UPS’s extortionate charges by using their free labels to ship US mail packages. Well, it looks like they have finally wised up. I’ve been unable to reorder labels the last two times I tried. For some bizarre reason, these things are crazy expensive -- $11.25 per 50 sheets if you buy them through the USPS website, and still pricey even at Office Max. I’ll bet I’ve gone through 300 of those UPS sheets between the time that I realized that I could do this and the time that they started rationing. Now I’m going to either have to go back to taping plain paper labels, or find a cheaper source and buy them in bulk.


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