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, September 30, 2011

September Wrap-up

I was ready to give up on the random act of media that I’ve been writing about since late July when their online gift guide finally came out on Wednesday. I haven’t sold any of my three Science Quiz Clocks, or anything else that I can trace to that ad. That was unexpected. Maybe the print version will do better, if and when it comes out; for now, I’m very glad the manufacturer’s stock outage prevented me from ordering a big pile of doomed inventory. I have never seen a media mention fail completely before.

Someone who inquired about $1,000 worth of Switchables fixtures didn’t return as I had expected this week, but she might still come back. It will be a very nice boost for October if so.


Total income: +13.4%
Total COGS: +11.8%
Payroll: +29.6%
Net Income (Profit): +39.8%


Total income: -3.4%
Total COGS: -6.3%
Payroll: -0.8%
Net Income (Profit): -253.9%

Two black months in a row set me up for Q4 in decent shape. If the country club that owes me $850 pays up on time, I can pay my payroll taxes without destroying cash flow. The way I count my beans, 2011 is running only $300 behind LY; Quickbooks insists that I’m down by $1,425, and of course QB has the last word. The crucial bottom line is $839 behind LY (I am still slightly in the red, where I should have tipped into the black).
That’s an incredibly long way from the 10% increase I had planned, but given the economy’s return to recession this year I’ll settle for breaking even. Just getting back up to zero makes me feel pretty good.

October's targets are a little more formidable as Christmas starts to ramp up.


Sunshop evolved through three version upgrades this morning. That didn’t go as smoothly as one might have hoped -- in fact, it still isn't completely right -- but the worst is over. The new Flash image viewer is probably the only difference most customers will see…and the 15% of my visitors who get here with Apple devices can’t see that. Some good stuff under the hood made the expense worthwhile (especially fixing the bug that limited how many photos I could upload for a single product).

Friday, September 16, 2011

Hurry Up and Wait

A week after I told Edge magazine's representative that we can’t get any Science Quiz Clocks to support their gift guide insertion, she replied that “it might have been too late” to drop Curio City’s name from the package (implying that she had tried). I don't want that to happen, of course. I should have kept my big yap shut. I assured her that I had a contingency plan in place, then asked her (for the fourth time) for the magazine’s street date. Four days later…no reply.

I still don’t know when, or even if, this is actually going to run. Meanwhile, I’m still postponing things (such as a major software version upgrade and a couple of doctor appointments) that could interfere with the anticipated surge in visitors. I will need to react quickly after selling the three clocks that I have in stock. 

You’d think the media would cozy up to Curio City naturally. My wife has worked for newspapers, magazines, and trade publications her entire life. My in-laws work in newspapers and television. Many of my friends are in various facets of journalism, or have retired from it. I myself studied journalism and English; although I never worked in either field, I’m a competent writer who understands old-school publishing. Yet my attempts to solicit media interest over the years always came to naught. I don’t understand the highly fragmented, non-professional 21st century media realm. If there are millions of specialty media outlets today, there are billions of people clamoring for their attention.

I’m not much of a clamorer. 

Business was perking right along until it inexplicably hit the wall last Wednesday. Now September is trailing LY. This would be an excellent time for that magazine insertion to appear. I see that their website hasn't changed from last month, so perhaps it's still in the works.

Friday, September 09, 2011

Don't Count Your Chickens Before They Cross the Road

...because they might get run over by a bus.
On Tuesday I finally got confirmation that the gift guide promoting the Science Quiz Clock (which I first wrote about on July 29) is definitely coming out this month. On Wednesday I tried to place a big order. On Thursday the vendor told me that they’re sold out. And so the big media event that could have kicked my YTD numbers into the black will instead be a big embarrassment. Well, I’ll surely sell the three that I have in stock (if you want one, buy it NOW). A few people will probably come back when I can restock in late October. And at least some fraction of this surge of free visitors will buy something else. September’s off to an average start...the big score that I was hoping for is going to be a small bump at best...and most of those new visitors will be annoyed. But, what can I do?
The Cool Baseball Necklace is my single best jewelry item ever. But my Google pay-per-click ad only delivered three of its 37 total sales at a cost of $64.48 per conversion. Microsoft Adcenter (Bing & Yahoo) accounted for six more sales at a similar outrageous cost. If the other 28 sales came from natural search, then the product should do OK without paying for those overpriced keywords. Since I need to get a grip on burgeoning ad costs, the keyword phrases that were driving lots of clicks with very few sales are history.

As summer laziness slowly yields to autumn guilt, I’m tackling some of the crap I’ve avoided these past few months. This week I bought new batteries for my camera, which has been tethered to a power cord for months now. Next week I’ll replace my laptop’s battery, whose charge life is down to about five minutes. I’ve started the tedium of writing orders and creating pages for new products. Thanks to that $800 golf ball purchase I can’t actually place these orders for another week, but at least I’ll have a few stacked up and ready to go by the time I can afford them. And once the traffic surge from my random act of media is over, I’m going to bring Sunshop up to date with three version upgrades.

It does feel good to move forward again after a summer of spinning wheels.

Friday, September 02, 2011

Goodbye, Summer

August was a marvelous month. Panther Vision caps, Switchables, bird kites, and golf balls had already propelled it well past average...and then yesterday a country club bought 100 sleeves of golf balls. (Yeah, I know yesterday was September, but my full-week Excel accounting puts it in August.) When's the last time all of my monthly numbers were black?


Total income: +42.8%
Total COGS: +46.3%
Payroll: +51.3%
Net Income (Profit): +4,362.7%


Total income: -5.4%
Total COGS: -8.6%
Payroll: -3.9%
Net Income (Profit): -429.9%

Don’t be too mortified by that YTD bottom line: It only represents $405, all of it coming from my new “internet access” expense -- and since that's Curio City directly paying a household bill, that's cool. I’m well positioned to recoup the rest of my YTD deficit in the next four months, which historically deliver 50% of my annual sales. Achieving any growth whatsoever over LY still seems ambitious, though, as I'm starting from negative 5%.

My biggest long-term problem is advertising costs. My ad budget has crept up from 8% of gross to 9.5% over the past few years, and I can’t raise it any higher. YTD advertising is currently running at an unsustainable 14.4% of gross -- a whopping 55% increase over LY. I’m whittling down my pay-per-click bids a little bit, but that can be self-defeating. This might straighten itself out if sales surge while my ad spend remains about the same, as typically happens in the last quarter.

My biggest medium-term problem is lack of anything new for Christmas. None of my usual vendors came up with anything great this year. I will bring in a few halfway decent new products when my budget allows, but I haven’t found any potential blockbusters. This is largely my own fault; I just really hate shopping. I need to start looking harder.

My biggest short-term problem is cash flow again, despite August’s strong receipts. I won’t get paid for that huge golf ball sale until 30 days after the order ships. But I had to charge the merchandise up front. That charge will be due four weeks from today, while I don’t expect payment for five to six weeks; now I can’t place any new product orders until after my statement closes on the 13th. On the plus side, I’ll save $35 since nobody scalps 4% off the top of a check deposit.


Constant Contact now lets me link my newsletter through my Facebook page, and one customer redeemed the coupon within an hour of the newsletter going out. It’s always gratifying to see a response, even though the newsletter’s financial value remains dubious. As of this morning, 179 mailings brought 56 opens (yielding 13 clicks), 1 bounce, 1 opt-out, and 1 spam report. Huh? Nobody gets onto my list without signing up, so I guess that’s just somebody unclear on the concept. I’ve only had half a dozen spam reports from 17,000+ emails I’ve sent over the years. They still irritate me, though.

In case you missed it, coupon code WORKING gets you 20% off any order of $25 or more through Sept. 9.

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