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.
Add to Technorati Favorites

Friday, July 10, 2009

Who Are You?

Who Are You?

A shibboleth about online retailing says to target a narrow market. I’ve been in business for four years now. What do sales imply about who my customers are?

Outstanding Products

DayClocks were my first real bestseller. I sold more than 200 of them before underpricing competitors killed them off. Retirees (old people) and vacation-home owners (rich people) were the primary customers for those. I still sell a few.

I got my first media break in November 2006, when American Way magazine mentioned the USB Fan. I ultimately sold 350 of them (plus a couple of hundred other USB gadgets) before that one petered out. Travelers and gadget geeks (the young and the rich) were the main customers.

I sold 270 Recycled Motherboard Christmas Trees after my other big media score with last year’s New York Times gift guide. I’m sure that I’ll unload the remaining 42 this year, and probably a few dozen more. It’s a cute, clever, inexpensive gift that appeals to anyone – but especially to those who like computers and electronics. It does have that recycled thing going on, so let’s mention the “green” crowd, too.

Business card holders in general were my wife’s idea. I haven’t found a good, steady line, but the Mini-Briefcase Business Card Holder was a breakout hit. I’ve moved 257 to date. People buy them for graduates and coworkers.

The Neverlate Alarm Clock could have become a major product had its lousy markup not made it impractical to sell. I only mention it because it served the same graduation demographic as the mini-briefcase.

Lighted caps, of course, blow everything else away. These things appeal to everyone. I wish I could find something else with such universal interest. Outdoorsmen – campers, hunters, fishermen, hikers, bicyclists – are all noteworthy customers for these.

Successful Lines

Successful product lines are at least as valuable as hit products. Even if no individual item is a breakout hit, the overall collection can rack up serious sales. Golf balls are easily the best of that lot; their audience is golfers (duh), but I’ve also made a few big sales to corporate/institutional customers. Switchables rise and fall in popularity – right now they’re down, and I'm worried that they are becoming too mainstream -- but they have done well historically. Their base is mostly female, and I suspect older (although I don’t have any objective reason to say that). Pursehooks were a flash in the pan; I think those appealed to younger, trendy (rich) women. Bird kites deserve honorable mention. Although I’ve carried them since Curio City opened, they just developed into a strong line this spring. Those sell mostly to people who need scarecrows, and the Dove of Peace sells to churches, of all things. Maybe I should add Christians to my list.

Another nice thing about themed product lines is the ease of adding new items with a built-in audience. I can simply clone an existing product, change the pictures, rewrite the description, and voila: a new product is born.

3D wooden puzzles are my latest test line. Even though these things are ubiquitous in museum shops and toy stores, I don’t see much online competition for the more complicated adult styles that will be my focus. And the markup is quite good, although freight is expensive. I’ve had them for several weeks now without any results…but I’m not advertising them, either. Hmm.

Best & Worst Categories

Apparel is my best overall category with a whopping 25% of total sales to date. That’s mostly caps, of course. Second-best is gadgets at 13.2%, then clocks at 12.3%. Each of those categories is driven by just one or two products (caps in apparel, clip-on cap lights – 942 sold! – and USB fans in gadgets, DayCocks in clocks.)

Biggest flops: Fine art tie-ins, wine accessories, expensive shopping bags and totes – I need to be more critical of my wife’s product advice. She’s the only avid consumer that I know, but she’s not quite the Curio City demographic. The “nice things” that appeal to her have usually not done very well for me. I don’t think that my customers are Yuppies.

I expected games to do better than they have. Any game that’s genuinely fun becomes popular and ubiquitous. Price competition in popular games is fierce – the deepest discounters always win. Only two exceptions stand out. I dropped a techie game called Deflexion after it was repackaged and rebranded, because the markup was poor and shipping was expensive. Fluxx is the only game I know of that’s truly fun, doesn’t have saturated distribution, and isn’t discounted to death…and I’ve only sold a few dozen copies over all these years. I keep the category alive mostly because I’m a gamer myself, and one of my earliest concepts for Curio City was a game/hobby store.

Other Trends

Out of more than 3,300 transactions, only 158 people have paid me to giftwrap their purchases. The $318 collected is only slightly more than I’ve spent on wrapping paper. Giftwrapping adds an extra click to the buying process (“choose your options”) and only sells when I’m already at my busiest and can least spare the time to do it. Logic says I ought to discontinue it. OTOH, it’s almost pure profit, it doesn’t take long, and it’s a nice value-add service for the few people who do buy it. Anyway, it indicates that my customers are not time-deprived workaholics.

I’ve carried a few marijuana-related products over the years as an outgrowth of Curio City's early concept as an online head shop. None of them ever sold well at full price. Whenever my newsletter introduces a new one a couple of subscribers cancel. This is another product category that I carry mostly out of personal fondness – I’d need to push smoking accessories harder and distance myself from tobacco to develop that market. For whatever reason, I don’t seem to have as many stoner customers as I'd expect.

Finally, I get a fair number of telephone orders from people who either won’t buy online or don’t understand how. Let’s call them technophobes.

So Who Are You?

My customers are:

  • Old people/retirees.
  • Young people/graduates.
  • Rich people.
  • “Green” people.
  • Office workers.
  • Technophiles.
  • Technophobes
  • Corporations and institutions.
  • Golfers.
  • Slightly more female than male.

My customers are usually not:

  • Children, or parents of small children.
  • Known to be of any particular ethnicity or special interest group.
  • Yuppies or workaholics.
  • Stoners
  • Poor.

In other words, my customers are all kinds of people, just as you’d expect from a general-interest store. So much for retail shibboleths. I’ve resisted specialization all my life, and my store reflects that.


One thing’s for sure: You stopped buying LED caps entirely for several weeks. I’ve sold only a handful since I placed my huge reorder a month ago. A camping store is selling them online for the absurd price of $11.99. Panther says that they paid the same price I do, so they’re only making about $3 per cap. I’d fail quickly if I had to live with a 25% markup on my bestselling item. Currently this evil new competitor is out of stock on all but two colors…maybe that’s a clearance price, and they will go away. I hope so. They will soon own this product if they're going to accept token markup.

Just three multi-cap sales made this week among Curio City’s best so far this year. That's especially bizarre coming after last week’s truly terrible sales. If it weren’t for next week’s vacation shutdown, I’d have some hope for July after all.

Speaking of vacation, the Sunshop upgrade that I was hoping to accomplish next week has been postponed to August. That’s just as well; I completely forgot that I had to remit payroll taxes this month. My cash on hand is at a record low just as sales are about to go into stasis for a week. Not good. I should be able to get $200 for my old Inspiron on eBay. If you're on the market for a gently used, well-maintained laptop at a good price, send me email. I probably won't list it until around Aug. 1.

There will be no blog post next week. Try to amuse yourself without me.

No comments:

Post a Comment

What do you think? Leave a comment.

Google Search