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, August 26, 2011

Me, Myself, and Irene

Maybe the titular movie wasn’t the greatest romcom of all time, but how often do I get an excuse to depict Rene Zellweger's sour face?

Hurricane Irene is coming! Aside from imperiling my vegetable garden, it threatens to flood the cellar again…and that’s Curio City’s warehouse. Yes, all of my merchandise is at least a few inches off the floor. But I don’t have enough room to raise up my shipping supplies, and we have 22 years worth of personal detritus piled up down there. A flood would be a massive inconvenience at the very least. We raised our water heater a few inches off the floor after the last flood, so perhaps that won’t go out again. I’m hoping that most of Irene’s rainfall will run off the surface. Our cellar only floods when the water table rises too high.

Heavy, wind-blown rain eventually saturates our chimney and leaks through my ceiling…and that’s Curio City’s office. Ordinarily that only happens after several days of sustained storms, and Irene should blow through here in 24 hours or less – not enough time to soak through bricks. Capping, lining, and re-pointing the chimney is too expensive to ever happen. So I have a bucket.

I’m mostly worried about power outages. Curio City is hosted elsewhere, so business won’t be interrupted. My ability to monitor and process sales, OTOH, would be. My laptop’s battery is worn out, so I can’t use it at all without a cord…and we wouldn’t have Internet access anyway. The prospect of being housebound without any electronic entertainment is much more frightening than being cut off from Curio City for a short time. The state’s main utility is warning that some areas could be without electricity for up to a week. Fortunately, my town’s nonprofit municipal power company only has a few thousand customers and can respond very quickly. Even if the lights do go out, I don’t expect them to stay out for long.

Friday, August 19, 2011

On Being Small

The Boston Globe reports that small businesses – historically responsible for creating half of all new jobs -- are not leading the way to recovery from the Great Recession. Most of us are still in survival mode. Huge corporations are investing record profits to expand in rising powers like China and India, or simply buying back their own stock. Small companies are just scraping by, and even the most successful are wary of investing in a declining nation. “The percentage of small-business owners feeling optimistic about the economy fell from 67 percent in a June survey, to 47 percent in July, according to the online payroll service SurePayroll.”
Well, no duh. Knowing that other small companies are struggling as hard as I am is cold comfort. But as I like to say, if it weren’t for schadenfreude I’d have no freud at all.

I’ve been both a manager and an employee often enough to know that employees suck…and the bigger the company, the worse they are. I never wanted Curio City to have more than one or two employees. But I don’t want to be an Old Man Selling Stuff Out of His Cellar forever, either. If you’ve been with me for the long haul, you know that the original idea was for a bricks-and-mortar store with an auxiliary web business. (To relive those heady days of yesteryear, click on the “early history,” “expanding online” and “opening a store” post tags in the list to the right; I’m not going to rehash my history here). My chief objective has always been to generate a decent living for myself, working (mostly) by myself, in a business entirely owned and financed by myself.

The problem is that time is against me. I’m 54 years old and my body is beginning to betray me – it’s difficult to lift my arms over my head, for example. If I’m lucky, I might be able to flog this meat puppet another five years before I lose the ability to lift and carry. I need to outsource the physical part of the job to an order fulfillment service (incidentally supporting one blue-collar job, btw). Sales need to at least double, if not triple, before that becomes feasible. 

And in this never-ending recession, that just isn’t happening. Sales grew by 121% from 2006-10. But that rate slowed to 3% last year and this year is in the red so far. That does not make me optimistic about growing another 121% by 2014…and that’s the low end of the growth that I need.

That said, I'm still counting on Q4 to make up the YTD shortfall. August 2010 is when LY’s sales started to slump; this August is comfortably trouncing LY. Switchables came roaring back from the dead after I created subcategories, brought in the new designs, sent a couple of Facebook tweets, and linked them here. Bots love links.

See what I just did there?

Friday, August 12, 2011

WTF, America?

I’m sorry that my last post panicked the stock market and tanked the economy. I’m flattered that America’s economy hinges on my blog, and I know that I should be building your confidence, not tearing it down. Sales had been humming along pretty nicely until Monday’s freefall set off a roller coaster that tracked the market’s fortunes.
Seriously, America, get it together. Every time I get a little rally going, you pull something like this. The Great Recession may have ended two years ago for big corporations and those whose earnings come from investments, but us working schlubs have been plodding along for nigh on five years now. Maybe Congressional dysfunction is ending the good times for the capitalists, or maybe not. They’re just getting what they paid for when they bought all those tea party Republican seats. It shouldn’t matter greatly to the rest of us who live paycheck to paycheck. We may not be able to buy Congressmen, but we ultimately do control this economy through consumer psychology.

With no FDR in the White House to remind us not to fear, we have to muddle through on our own. Consumer spending drives 70% of the US economy. When we have confidence and spend our money, everybody prospers.

Most voters finally realize that we need to end this tea party nonsense in 2012. But it’s a long slog until then, and it’s too late to dodge the economic damage that’s coming from the federal austerity that’s already locked in. So if we’re going to keep this party going in the meantime, you need to get serious about consuming…and Curio City is an excellent place to start.

To help you out, I sorted Switchables into subcategories. My fortunes with this product line have risen and dropped through the years as it grew from a tiny, almost-exclusive niche to a mainstream gift item with multiple major competitors. I need to goose sales in advance of this season’s new designs, coming next week.

I was delighted when two Switchables orders came in just hours after I reorganized the department, and you’ve bought a couple more since then. You’re getting the message. Don’t disappoint me, people.


It’s tax-free weekend in Massachusetts again…not that that ever makes much difference to Curio City, but sales tax will be suspended for the next two days. Come on, Massholes, I’m expecting you.

Friday, August 05, 2011

In 1937 the US was a few years past the Great Depression. Unemployment was still around 15%, but profits and production had recovered to 1929 pre-crash levels. When some of FDR’s advisors convinced him that it was time to balance the federal budget, the ensuing recession cut industrial production by 30% and raised the unemployment rate back to 19%. Economic growth didn’t resume until FDR sent Congress a massive new spending program 15 months later. Even then, employment didn’t recover until WW2’s epic economic stimulus.

In 2011 the US is technically a couple of years past the Great Recession (although it doesn’t feel that way to the working classes). Unemployment is officially 9.1%, but really closer to 16% if you count “discouraged workers” who’ve dropped out of the workforce or delayed their entry. Corporate profits and production have recovered, big business is flush with cash, and the rich own a record share of the national wealth while paying the lowest taxes ever – income inequality is higher today than it was before the 1929 crash. While the stock market nervously anticipates another recession, Congress caught an irrational deficit fever and passed an ill-timed austerity plan that’s likely to bring about another contraction. Let me be the first to dub it Great Recession II.

Read more about parallels with 1937 here

This time, instead of an FDR who’ll come to the rescue, our president is a tool of the ruling class; capitulation is his main negotiating technique. The rational policy right now would be to raise taxes on the rich and split the resulting windfall between jobs programs and deficit reduction. Instead, all we can expect – seemingly for the next 10 years -- is more budget cutting. I don’t see what could possibly turbocharge the US like a world war once did, even if we still had industrial might to mobilize. We’re already on a permanent war footing anyway; our obscene military budget is partly what got us into this mess in the first place. Plus world wars have a non-economic downside, what with all that nasty killing. 

As hopeless as our situation looks, things can change. In 2012 we might kick the tea partiers to the curb and restore rationality to our national budget. We are not necessarily doomed to permanent decline despite how our fate appears today.

What’s any of this got to do with Curio City? Beats me. My best year for growth was the crash year of 2008. Business has been strong for the past three weeks and that random act of media I told you about last week could save the year. It almost seems like my fortunes run opposite to the economy.
But Curio City was predicated on the reliability of impulsive American shoppers. It won’t earn me a decent living as long as they are fretting and scrimping. And this lousy economy just goes on, and on, and on….

Well. Surrender is not an option. The job market will not kindly welcome a 54-year-old white guy who’s been out of the mainstream workforce for six years. All I can do is keep plugging away.

I've said all this before, haven't I?


The Mason Jar Closed Spiral Necklace is sku 1000. It’s not technically my 1,000th product – I’ve had a few junk skus over the years – but close enough. It’s a milestone, anyway.

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