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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, April 01, 2011

Blowing Off Steam

One night a few weeks ago over dinner and drinks I filled in my wife (who doesn’t read my blog) on just how badly Curio City is doing. My bottled up frustration and self-doubt unexpectedly came uncorked. I don’t ordinarily allow emotions into my life or display weakness, but sometimes I have to release steam to keep from blowing up my containment building. Unfortunately, steam can be radioactive. Anne takes my company’s failures personally due to foregone income and wasted lifespan, and I don’t have anyone else to talk to.

After a heated discussion I decided to give Curio City one more Christmas. If I don’t achieve my modest 10% year-over-year growth plan, I’ll be looking for a way out in 2012. I won’t dwell on that possibility this early in the year, but it does give the monthly numbers more urgency.


Total income: +38.8%
Total COGS: +17.3%
Payroll: +67.7%
Net Income (Profit): +136.1%

Year to Date:

Total income: -12.4%
Total COGS: -22.1%
Payroll: -2.9%
Net Income (Profit): -23.9%

March was a weird month. Eight really good days hid a lot of really poor ones. The annual numbers improved, but there’s still a big gulf between the -12.4% that I’m at now and the +10% that I need by year’s end. I’m $2,800 – a slow month’s entire sales -- below plan; basically, I need an extra July this year.

The percentage drop in YTD Net Income only represents $156 and my new “Internet access” expense item accounts for $90 of that. Curio City’s loss is our gain since that payment goes directly to our household budget.

I lost last Sunday entirely when my server went down and Mocha took all day to fix it.

Last April was so strong that I’m likely to lose ground again this month. Well, goals are supposed to be challenging, right? News flash: Life is a struggle that we all lose in the end.

I could shave expenses a little by killing my email newsletter. Three or four of the 400+ emails that go out each time will bounce because people mistype their email addresses or die or something. A couple more people will unsubscribe (or more than a couple when I refer to a “controversial” product like Pot Holders or any smoking accessory). Only 85-100 of my 400 subscribers will actually open the email, and they’ll only click 15-20 times. Those clicks only ever produce a sale once every three or four issues. (Those percentages are better than the industry average, btw.) For this I’m paying $18 per month, or a buck per click.

Is there any value in simply putting my name in customers’ mailboxes each month? Probably. Is it worth $18? Dubious.


The Boston Gift Show was not a complete loss: one of my existing vendors gave me permission to return $57 worth of dead stock, which justified the $15 it cost me to attend. I didn’t find any unexpected new products. They ought to rename it the Boston Jewelry & Souvenir Show. The amount of dreck that our economy still generates is truly impressive.


  1. Any thoughts to running a sweepstakes, Ken? We often use those to build lists. Not sure how 'qualified' of leads we get, but if you start thinking of the pay per click model in the newsletter, if you have 2400 newsletter readers, it may justify sending it out, even if you conversion rates dip. People will enter almost any sweepstakes, regardless of whether or not they've heard of you. If you seed the sweeps out to many online sweeps sites, it spreads like wild fire. With very little effort at all, I've generated nearly 15k sweeps entries this month, and about 3200 new email addresses. You could even just frame the sweeps as "Win some of the most obscure items you could ever imagine." And just give people some of your more obscure old inventory. Cheap way to get names? Maybe, but people like to win stuff! And, even if you don't get a ton of action on it, it could be a way to get rid of some of that inventory that you know might not move at any price. Just a thought.

  2. A sweepstakes never would have occurred to me; I thought various state laws made them nearly impossible to run legally. Constant Contact's price doubles when you hit 500 subscribers, so I wouldn't want to exceed that number by just a few addresses -- to make financial sense I'd need to jump close to the top of that price tier, which is 2,500. In other words 100 new subscribers would do me more harm than good, whereas 2000 new subscribers might make financial sense. I'll ruminate on your idea.

  3. Targeting medium to large Bloggers who review items, is very good to reach very buy friendly audience through referral. And yes kill mailing list, if it preforms so poorly. But on the other hand you might not be counting, that some of those who see newsletter will not buy right away, hence will not be tracked but will act later on. Also 100 subscribers wont do anything ,but additional 500 will make a large dent.

    I like sweep stakes idea a lot, in fact might try to adapt to my own business in the future. Great tip.

  4. Good point about delayed purchases. Also, Constant Contact can't track browsers that block images, so my open and click rates are a bit higher than their statistics show. I don't have any other channel for my newsletter's main function: introducing new products. New-arrival posts on Facebook never get any reaction. I should probably try to expand it rather than kill it.

    "Targeting bloggers" would be a good idea if I knew who these bloggers were or how to "target" them (why does that make me think of Sarah Palin's incitement to murder congressmen?). This cluelessness is an example of why my personal disinterest in retail works against me.

  5. Anne Stuart12:10 PM

    Your wife does so read your blog.


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