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, April 29, 2011

Crunching April

April was a slightly better-than-average month. It finished a very satisfying 27% over April 2009. Unfortunately I’m not up against 2009, and April 2010 was an excellent month. Consequently I “bent the curve” (as the kids say) farther in the wrong direction.


Total income: -29.3%
Total COGS: -32.8%
Payroll: +47.4%
Net Income (Profit): -66.8%

Year to Date:

Total income: -15.4%
Total COGS: -23.2%
Payroll: -6.1%
Net Income (Profit): -211.4%

I don't understand the weird jump in payroll. Excel shows my salary properly lagging LY. Sometimes I think Quickbooks is on drugs.

I tried to exploit Mothers Day by running some temporary alternate ads on Google and Bing. I changed my welcome message to reflect the “holiday,” implemented same-day shipping, and updated my News page daily. I announced a lot of new products in a newsletter with a Mothers Day subject line. The latest newsletter stats: 15 new subscribers brought the total to 422 emails sent. There were 5 bounces, 3 opt-outs, and 1 spam report -- wtf? It’s a 100% opt-in list! It set new lows with just 79 opens, 18 clicks, and 0 purchases. I’m guessing that the Mothers Day subject line suppressed interest. Mothers Day is useless unless you sell flowers or own a restaurant.

This is just more evidence that my newsletter is a waste of digital postage (and my time). Logic says I should kill it. But I have no other way of announcing new products. Yes, I do post them on Facebook, and yes, I do supposedly have 121 fans there. But I have no indication that any of them actually see my posts – no comments, no “likes”, no response to coupon offers. At least Constant Contact tracks opens and clicks. Facebook posts just go into the void.

Easter weekend brought an anemic Saturday and a shut-out Sunday. But we lose one random Sunday to Easter every spring, so that ought not to matter in the big scheme.

Cash flow is still my ball and chain. I covered my April Mastercard payment just yesterday, two days before it was due. The paycheck that I should’ve drawn today is postponed until Monday or Tuesday, which is an appropriate punishment for the brain fart that caused this money shortage. Needless to say, that smart phone that I was thinking about buying is on hold until I can break these shackles, probably in September.

I screwed up cash flow when I obliviously spent my payroll tax money on new products. None of that new stuff is selling. I was convinced that the Cool Baseball Necklace was a slam-dunk (err, I mean home run). Number sold to date: Two. I had planned to give those the Facebook ad treatment, but the vendor (who’s a scant 10 miles away from me) still has not entirely filled my tiny opening order from a month ago. So much for churning a small inventory frequently.

Against my better judgment, I reprised my Valentines Day strategy of running Facebook ads for Bottled Up jewelry; this time, I’ll pull the plug after one week (next Monday). Total expense so far: $45.11; Total clicks: 76; Total sales: 0. Statistically, I expect one sale per 50 clicks, so this is already a disappointment. I’ll never repeat this effort with that product.

For some bizarre reason, the mini-briefcase business card holder is blowing out of here right now. Maybe somebody somewhere linked to it, or maybe Google raised its page rank. This golden oldie (sku 16) has been a bestseller since Curio City opened. It's not my favorite product. Due to a historically high defect rate, I have to open and inspect every single piece before I ship it. Customers constantly inquire about imprinting, which of course I don’t do. Its vendor requires a minimum order of 200 pieces costing nearly $1,000 – half a month’s open-to-buy -- and they're out of stock as often as not. Their outrageous shipping prices require me to game their semi-regular free-shipping offers, meaning I have to order at their convenience, not mine. And every time I do reorder, they start harassing me with followup marketing phone calls and emails. I’ve never advertised it, yet I’ve sold 660 of them (worth $6,600). And now I need another damned reorder.

I shouldn’t bitch about something that sells without any effort from me. Advertising costs are way up across the board. I stumbled across a spreadsheet view in AdWords that lets me set custom landing page URLs per keyword. So instead of just advertising “3D building puzzles” and dumping everyone on the Puzzles category page, I can use specific keywords like “Big ben puzzle” and send them directly to the product page while still using a catchall ad. The resulting profusion of new, low-volume keywords will raise my costs somewhat, but theoretically these cheaper, narrower keywords should have better conversion rates. Generic “ear buds” keywords, for example, are all priced at 40 cents and up (which is way too much for a $12 product), whereas specifics like “gem ear buds” can be had for as little as 12 cents. To help offset the new costs, I zapped a few of my keywords with the worst conversion costs ($15 or more per sale).

I don’t use Twitter, but I did open an account when that was all the rage and set it up to automatically twit my Facebook posts (including blog entries). Somehow I’ve attracted 10 “followers.” I found out through a new Constant Contact message aggregator called Nutshell that a blog called Preppy Picks featured the Dove of Peace kite as a spring product pick for preppy children. Google Analytics says it hasn’t produced a single visit, but links are always valuable in and of themselves, and so I hereby reciprocate.

On the bright side, May’s targets look attainable. On the dark side, May is the first month of the long summer sleep. There just aren’t enough dollars on the table between now and September to matter very much.

I’ve got no more blog topics “on the hook” and I’m sick of wringing my hands over shitty sales, so I won’t be posting again until I have good news or something interesting to say.

1 comment:

  1. Why not advertise item that sells the most, like those briefcase business card holders. It sounds like you are advertising novelties, when you already have a product that sells consistently and with no advertising. Which means if you advertise it, it will sell even more then now! and you know it sells.


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