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, March 25, 2011

When Is a Package Not a Package?

Last week I promised (threatened?) not to post again unless I had either good news or something interesting to say. So which one brought me back again the very next week?


Maybe my aggressive advertising for the new 4-LED Panther caps is finally bearing fruit. Or maybe other companies’ publicity is driving consumers to look for them. Or maybe it’s just cap season again and people are stumbling upon them.
Whatever the reason, three fat juicy cap orders and a smattering of small ones made this a very good week. March is already ahead of plan with nine days left to chip away at February’s huge deficit. I’m going into Monday’s Boston Gift Show with some fragile optimism. I’m surprised that people aren’t snapping up the discounted 3-LED caps, but I guess I’ve convinced them that the new ones are really better.

I’ve used the USPS for at least 90% of my shipping for five and a half years now. This week they sent me a “Dear Customer” letter (on paper – how quaint!).

“It has come to our attention many of the pieces of mail we received from you are NOT classified properly.

“Large envelopes are being classified as 1st class parcel, when they do not meet the criteria for this class, these pieces are not eligible for delivery confirmation, but are eligible for certification.

“This is a courtesy notice; your pieces have been dispatched. But future pieces that are incorrectly classified will either be returned or forwarded Postage due at our discretion.

“To ensure no delay in your mailings please classify your mail correctly.”

They included a photocopy of one of my packages with this scrawl: “3/4” or less is a Lg flat env.”

It always irritates me when people who earn five times my pittance can’t write a proper sentence…but that’s just me. This quasi-government agency needs to capture all the income that they’re due; Large Flat Envelope rates are higher than First Class Parcel rates, and Certified Mail is much more expensive than Delivery Confirmation (which is free when postage is purchased electronically), so cha-ching! right? Well, no. Rather than pay for Large Flat Envelopes, I’m now enclosing a scrap of bubble wrap in all of my formerly-flat packages. I have two trash bags full of it because I never throw packing material away. If mailing trash to my customers reduces my cost, who am I to question the post office?
Maybe their machinery requires a minimum thickness to properly sort packages from envelopes.

Friday, March 18, 2011

A Flood of Memory

Pause with me for a moment’s reflection on Curio City’s disaster days. Several days of historically heavy rains flooded our cellar last March 14 and destroyed hundreds of dollars worth of merchandise and supplies. At the same time I was unknowingly racking up big fees by challenging the unfair chargebacks generated by three fraudulent sales; the bank would ultimately get more than the thieves did. A week later a smaller flood drowned the month’s bottom line. This March should look a little better simply by virtue of holding no disasters.

“Disasters?” I use the word deliberately. Curio City’s trials pale in comparison to Japan’s earthquake, tsunami, volcanic eruption, nuclear meltdowns, and the return of Godzilla. But Curio City doesn’t have a powerhouse economy and the sympathy of the world on its side. All it has is me, and that ain't much.
Still, I'm essential enough that I didn’t lay myself off last year (although I did put a stern “Needs Improvement” review in my permanent record). Massachusetts rewarded my largess by cutting my unemployment tax rate by nearly 1% of payroll. That will add a (very) few more bucks to the Net Income line.

While I’m nickel-and-diming…has anybody in the history of the world ever really used a “.biz” internet address? Why do I keep paying $16 a year to renew mine? Well, to prevent anyone else from buying it, of course. But who would do that, given that I own the US service mark?

Nickels and dimes are all that I’m bringing in as yet another sales disaster unfolds. I only broke three digits once in the past 10 days. I’m paying more for traffic than I’m making in sales. In hopes of liberating some of the dollars imprisoned in the cellar, I cut the prices of all of my old marked-down stuff this week, but most of that dead stock will never move at any price. I wrote off $138 worth and might wipe out a bit more before the month ends, since it doesn’t cost me any cash. Of course, it doesn’t free up cash, either. I’m flogging the Panther Vision cap changeover as hard as I know how to do with new ads, new keywords, and increased bids. It's not making much difference.

This month’s early sales spike made me hope that I could revive two spending priorities: Buy a video camera and buy a smart phone, in that order. The camera might be a small revenue-booster, but it’s also a time sink that comes with a learning curve, and I probably won’t be any good at using it. The smart phone, being expensive and of no practical use, is just one of those things I feel like I ought to have; it’s only on the list because my old flip phone barely works. But both of those are back on hold now.

Hmm, I wonder if smart phones have acceptable-quality video cameras these days.

I almost wrote that “It couldn’t be much worse,” but just like life, business can always get worse. In fact, zero isn’t even rock bottom: A damage claim and a lost shipment turned this week briefly negative on Monday. It’s on track to set another record low.

You must be tired of reading the same lament week after week, if anybody’s even still reading this blog. I’m sure sick of writing it. Other than month-end numbers, I’m not going to post anymore unless I have either good news or something interesting to complain about. All I've said for the past six months is “sales suck,” and I am out of ways to phrase that.

Friday, March 11, 2011

The Science of Trademarks

My wife’s Internet meanderings brought her into a Canadian Curio City. It’s a science education resource site. No link here for obvious reasons, but you can find it easily enough if you’re so inclined.

Years ago I had a trademark challenge against some sleazebag who was using the Curio City name to sell one of those worthless gasoline additives that’s supposed to miraculously boost your gas mileage. I found him out when his customers started calling me with complaints. A cease-and-desist letter quickly
convinced him to go bilk the gullible under some other name.

Should I go the cease-and-desist route again this time? My attorney friend explained that

Generally, US trademark rights are effective only in the US, which is why multinational companies spend huge amounts to protect brand names in foreign countries. The situation with Canada is a bit different because of NAFTA, which includes provisions for mutual protection of intellectual property rights. Basically, Canada is required to protect a US trademark owner against use of a substantially similar mark for substantially similar goods or services where the use is likely to cause confusion in the marketplace. Your initial impression is that there isn’t much overlap with the Canadian user, but that might become less true in the future. For example, you sell products that have scientific educational value. The Canadian site might start selling T-shirts or educational toys to support its mission. So there might be a chance of confusion down the road.

I don’t currently have a legal argument against them. Even if I did, I am a gnat compared to their well-funded and prestigious backers (including the Ontario government). Besides, I believe strongly in science education. So many Americans don’t believe in evolution and deny global warming precisely because education has failed in entire regions of the US. I don’t think that willful ignorance has much traction in Canada, but one must never be complacent – once superstition gains primacy, it’s nearly impossible to unseat. The Canadian Curio City site is a credit to our mutual name. I wouldn’t want to smack them down even if I could.

Still, I’m obliged to protect my commercial interest. I should at least politely inform the Canucks of my existence. Maybe we can work out a mutually beneficial understanding, like cross-links. This goes onto my list of “Things I ought to do someday”.


This week finally delivered the new 4-LED Panther caps that I’ve been hinting at for the past month or more. The amount of work and money spent to change over my biggest product line made this a milestone. The deluge of orders from people clamoring for new caps and snapping up discounted old ones has not materialized. In fact, another dramatically dead week erased fully half of last week’s big spike. The Switchables surge ended and bird kites
haven’t taken wing yet. A few people bought a handful of golf balls at $10 a pop, and not much else. The week is on track to set another record low.

Curio City is back in the toilet, baby. Somebody please flush.

No, I don’t mean that. I must persevere. Maybe the Boston Gift Show will reveal some fabulous new product this year. Maybe those Panther caps will be a late bloomer.

At least I had time this week to finish preparing my portion of our personal tax return and hand it off to Anne. I don’t care much about our foundering personal finances anymore, either. I am tired of struggling to slow down decline and postpone collapse everywhere I look.

That's a great segue for another political rant. But the news breaking right now about a devastating tsunami in Japan has sapped my will to pursue it. Life could be a whole lot worse.

Friday, March 04, 2011

Back In the Saddle Again

Hey! This week’s newsletter produced a sale! And not to a friend, either. I can’t remember the last time that happened.

Not only that, but I got another small sale from a Facebook tweet the previous day. This week was trending my way for a change.

And I opened my email on Wednesday morning to find an $800 lighted cap order waiting. A $200 Switchables sale later that day and another $500 worth of caps yesterday went a long way toward erasing February’s epic suckitude.

It’s funny: Every year brings one -- and only one -- big sales spike. Last year, it was the first week in February. In 2009 it came in April. In 2008 it was July. (My sales records for previous years aren’t easily accessible). Of course I can’t know when to expect it, or even expect it at all…but my annual numbers depend on at least one big boost like this.

The timing of this year’s spike was perfect. Getting those next-generation 4-LED caps in the pipeline broke the bank. Freeing up so much cash just days before the new inventory arrives, and before the bill comes due, couldn’t have worked out better.

What a difference $1,500 makes. Spring is almost here and I’m feeling optimistic for the first time in months. I barely remembered to worry about my over-dependence on two product lines or how I’m going to match this spike next year. If the new caps that are due on Monday give me another shot in the arm, March could be a seriously good month.

Curio City is back, baby.

Google Search