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, October 08, 2010

The Good and the Bad

As much as I fret and complain, you might wonder why I do this for a living. I’m not a risk-taker or a capitalist or even a consumer. I don’t care about buying and selling. I don’t follow popular culture or keep up with technology.

I do it because it’s the only thing I know how to do without any education or training. It uses skills I picked up haphazardly over the decades. I need to pass the years productively until I retire or (more likely) die in harness. So what consolations does Curio City offer me?

Things I Like

I love being in control of my schedule. Freedom is the single biggest tradeoff for living in poverty. I don’t need anyone’s permission to spend a day tending to my garden or household chores. Business is slow? This week I cleaned the oven and mopped the floor. Living la vida loca!

I love being responsible only to and for myself. I never do busy work for appearances sake. My labor doesn’t further enrich some rich guy. Although I might fail, I can’t be laid off and if I’m not at the mercy of somebody else’s competence. Nobody else's fate depends on my performance.

I like statistics. I enjoy the accounting aspects when the numbers are good.

I like order. My wife, who was raised by wolves, lives in perpetual chaos and upheaval. Curio City is a tiny oasis of order. Plans are made, budgets are followed, accounts are balanced, bills are paid on time, loose ends are tied up, and trash doesn’t become clutter.

I like the way my paycheck tracks my results. I make more when sales are good and less when they’re poor. I get nice big checks when I’m working flat-out in November and December. I earn next to nothing during the summer drought, but I don’t have to work very much.

It has potential. If everything breaks my way, I could earn enough money to survive on and own a salable business by the time I’m eligible for Medicare. That’s my pipe dream, anyway: By the time I turn 65 (in 12 years), either hire someone else to run Curio City while I just skim off the profits, or sell it and live off the proceeds. Unfortunately it needs to be an order of magnitude larger for that to happen. The Great Recession was a major setback and I'm moving in reverse at the moment.

Things I Don’t Like

Uncertainty. Half of my annual income comes in November and December. Spreading the other 50% over the other 10 months yields laughable little paychecks. I’m thinking about level-funding my payroll next year. That is, I’d figure out my average weekly pay based on this year’s paychecks and then parcel that out evenly through the year, keeping enough of Curio City’s holiday windfall in the bank to subsidize the slow months. Of course, doing this would break the workload/reward mechanism that I listed under “likes”, and it doesn’t affect the next point:

Low pay. If I did level-fund my salary, the bi-weekly check would be uniformly disappointing with nothing to look forward to during my busy season. I do get tired of being chronically broke.

Slavery. I can never go home from work. I can never take a true vacation. I can never call in sick. There is no such thing as a holiday or a day off.

I’m on my own. Nothing ever gets done unless I do it. Nobody else ever has insights or initiates anything. When I suspect that something might be wrong, I have to figure it out myself. For example, the sales decline that began in July is still gathering speed. I blame lighted caps. Last fall they were blowing out at record speed as Panther Vision rolled out the new 3-LED Power Caps while I discounted my old 2-LED caps. This year they aren’t selling at all. Why not? I don’t see any formidable new competitors or discounters. My ads are still generating 30-40 clicks a day, so the interest is there. Is there something wrong with my site? Did Google change their mysterious algorithms and knock my pages out of contention? Are customers just being fickle? I don’t know and nobody’s going to tell me.

Another example: The Simplaris Blogcast application that spews my blog entries onto Facebook stopped working last week. If it weren’t for my Facebook readers I wouldn’t have any readers at all – even my own wife doesn’t read my blog. Eventually I found and installed a similar app. Does it work? I’ll find out in a few minutes, after I post today’s essay. If it doesn’t show up on my Facebook wall, it’s back to the drawing board.

Another example: An astute blog reader (hi Andrew!) encountered my admin password popup when he clicked last week’s link to Buckyballs. Gosh, do you think that might be why Buckyballs weren’t selling? It turned out that a graphic that I’d uploaded through Sunshop’s text editor was calling a path through /admin, and a layer of security that I added last week won’t let you in there without a password. Moved the graphic, changed the link, and all was well. Buckyballs still aren’t selling, though.

Another example: I want to add the transit times to the shipping options dropdown list that appears when you check out. I’ve been trying to make this simple change ever since postal rates went up last February. Adding that text to the UPS options was easy, but changing the corresponding USPS text doesn’t work. It is not being drawn from the appropriate source file. The Sunshop support forum is no help. I finally gave up and asked my developer to solve it for me.

That’s just one typical week’s pitfalls. I confront crap like that constantly.

Constant change. Whenever I think I’ve got things figured out, the rules change. Technology moves faster than I can follow, especially with the spread of smart phones (which I neither own nor want). Fashions in silly stuff like website colors and layout evolves; my five-year-old Sunshop template looks archaic. Technologies like Flash go in and out of favor. Search engine algorithms change constantly. Customer whims are unpredictable. Today’s hot product is likely to end up on the discount table next year.

Boredom. You wouldn’t think I could get bored given the constant state of change and endless mysterious problems. But I don’t care about my work on a personal level. It doesn’t make the world a better place. It’s not enriching in any sense of the word. It’s unimportant. All it does is earn me a living, and it’s not very good at that. Yet.

Isolation. When Anne’s out of town I can go for days without speaking to anybody or leaving the house. As a misanthrope that suits me just fine, but I get weird when I withdraw too completely for too long.

On balance, the good outweighs the bad. I don’t want to return to conventional employment (despite its higher pay) even if I thought that I could get a halfway decent job. Which I’m pretty sure I could not do anyway in the current market.

And so I soldier on.


  1. Joy Haenlein12:49 PM

    Reasons to hate myself? That label upsets me.
    I realize there are an awful lot of fine writers out of work these days, but you are a fine writer, Ken. I enjoy reading what you write. I don't read any blog regularly -- not a single one -- but the one I come closest to reading regularly is yours because it is completely accessible to a dolt like me, the writing is clean and I learn from it. I know it's honest and genuine, with minimal hype or drama.
    Plus, I like CurioCity. A lot.

  2. Thanks for the encouragement, Joy. It's always gratifying to know that someone's reading and enjoying my blog. And the email notifying me of your comment was my first indication that the new blogcast thingie works. One problem crossed off my list!

  3. Anonymous12:01 PM

    What Joy just said...that is a summation.
    I also am interested mysteriously, in your success. I would love to see the business do well. If I could offer some free advise or look into something for you that you have no time for...I am not sure what I could do or anything. Been on my mind since I considered doing what you have done. I stopped reading the blog consecutively from the start but have continued to check it out when posted on facebook.

  4. Hi Greg, thanks for chiming in. The most helpful thing that readers can do is to spread the word about Curio City. There is nothing more valuable than good word-of-mouth (especially in the form of online links). If the subject of shopping or gifts ever comes up, refer friends to my store. If people are talking about blogs that they follow, mention this one. If you think that something I sell is especially cool or useful, tell others about it. Whether in discussion forums, email, blog comments, or even (gasp) face-to-face, gently steer people my way.

    'Course, buying stuff yourself from time to time doesn't hurt, either. :) I hope that my readers remember to shop Curio City first whenever you need a gift idea. You (Greg) still have your old Curio City "Friends & Family" account...email me if you would like to update it with your current email address and address information.


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