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, December 28, 2012

My Loss Is My Gain

I shipped over 600 packages in November and December without any mistakes in filling or addressing them. By Excel’s accounting December came within $600 of being the busiest month ever…and with a day and a half left in fiscal December, there’s a remote chance that it could still make it. That’s remarkable because, in my whole-week based accounting, this December was only a four-week month and the still-champion December 2008 had five weeks. The numbers:


Total income: +6.1%
Total COGS: +7.3%
Payroll: +4.4%
Marketing: +4.3%
Net Income (Profit): +31.7%

Whole Year: 

Total income: -2.2%
Total COGS: -2.4%
Payroll: +0.2%
Marketing: -3.0%
Net Income (Profit): +3.2%

I couldn’t quite staunch my first year-over-year sales decline. Excel has me down by $992, while Quickbooks thinks the shortfall is $1,616. But the all-important bottom line actually increased a wee bit over LY, so I can still consider it a win – even if only by $91!

These numbers are preliminary because my accounting calendar closes on the last Saturday of the year -- tomorrow. Quickbooks, of course, uses the whole calendar year. Here’s the first draft:

This year’s profit was (roughly) $3,000. Uncle Sam and the governor will take 20% of that, or $600. I’ll take my traditional 75% bonus out of the remaining $2,400, leaving the company with $600. My final year-end payout (bonus plus taxes) will be $2,400, compared to LY’s $2,350. My 2012 salary was $12,831, making my total compensation $15,231, down from $15,668 LY, which was itself a decrease from the previous year. BUT Monday, Dec. 31, is a payday. Even though that additional $750 infusion amounts to stealing 2013’s first payday, and even though payroll reduces profit (it all comes out of the same pocket, after all), this year’s total compensation might technically beat LY. Or maybe not, thanks to payroll taxes shaving the bottom line without going into my pocket.

I’ll post the final Quickbooks numbers next week for history’s sake. Yes, I know it's boring, but I really do refer back to these posts for comparison.

What’s 2013’s plan? I’m going to take my 2012 high point and add 7.5% -- which is to say, the same plan I had this year.

The next couple of weeks are for housekeeping. I need to tidy up my office and reorganize the cellar, where I cleared away enough old junk to make room for new junk. I need to place a wave of reorders once the profit/bonus calculations settle out – my open-to-buy is actually in the black at the moment! I also need to retake manual control over my advertising and refresh my ads and bids. I’ll leave that subject for another post, though.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Another Christmas In the Bag

I survived another one. I should get a T shirt or something. The sudden silence is eerie.

I don’t know why Christmas was compressed into the traditional four weeks after Thanksgiving this year, rather than strung out from Halloween on as usual. But these intense few weeks set new records for the busiest non-December week ever; for the biggest week ever (beating a 2008 benchmark); and for the biggest paycheck ever (beating the 2010 record by nearly $500). Excel indicates that I’m only running $1,900 behind LY (Quickbooks says $2,700) with a week left to go. Although it’s still going to be my first year-over-year decline, it’s a whole lot better than I had expected even two weeks ago. 


I wonder why amazon.com is referring traffic to me. One customer left a note complaining that he couldn’t pay me with his amazon gift card, and Google’s realtime analytics periodically shows Amazon as a referring website. I don’t shop Amazon often enough to know how their referrals work. While I’m obviously happy for the traffic, I’m less thrilled about people thinking that I’m affiliated with the evil empire.

Speaking of evil empires: Micosoft, you are this close to losing me entirely.  The past few times I’ve gone to your site to ratchet up my ad spend, I ended up cutting it instead. So I was especially exasperated when you sent me an email with the subject  “Your ads or keywords require changes.” "As part of the editorial review process, we were unable to approve one or more of the ads or keywords you submitted”, you said, which is weird because I don’t think I’ve added any keywords or written any ads in months. When I clicked your handy links for a summary of the “problems,” you showed nothing listed. You said that you had vetoed three keywords in my “apparel” campaign, so I opened every ad group in that campaign…and still couldn’t find anything amiss. While I was looking, though, I did find several more keywords with quality scores that you had inexplicably demoted to 1 or 2/10. So after wasting half an hour during the busiest week of the year looking for problems that apparently don’t exist, I ended up deleting yet another handful of keywords. 

Honestly, I want Bing to show my ads, but you are making it much more difficult and expensive than it’s worth. I’m probably going to abandon you entirely now that Christmas is over.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Move Over, Mitt

Last week’s sales beat the months of July and August combined and set a new record for busiest week ever, edging out 12/10/08 (after the Boston Globe promoted Whisky Stones). Amazing that I could beat that without a random act of media in my corner. 

This week is shaping up to be another great one. I’m spending $70/day on advertising to bring in >500 customers a day. That spend is justified as long as sales are north of $700/day...which, incredibly, they are. Next Monday’s paycheck is going to beat the 2010 record for biggest ever. 

I’m looking forward to crunching December numbers. I’m exhausted…but there are only four or five more days to go at the most. I’m enjoying watching my bank balance boil into Mitt Romney territory, but I’m getting very sick of the grind.

I had an epiphany. Customers don’t understand the supply chain and don’t care where stuff comes from anyway. Much of this year’s gain came from dropships of big Panther Vision orders. I’ve always been cool toward the practice of dropshipping, but I can’t argue with results. I’ll be doing more of that next year.

Wtf, Microsoft? My “bird kites” keyword links to a category called “Bird Kites” that contains nothing but bird kites, all of them with the words “Bird Kite” in the product name. And you gave it a quality score of 2/10? OK, I deleted it. You are very close to losing this advertiser.

Friday, December 07, 2012

Dreaming of a Weird Christmas

This Christmas started several weeks late. It never did frenzy out of control, but this was an unexpectedly good week. Wednesday came within $96 of my all-time single-day sales record; finessing shipping charges a little would have put it over, but I’m above such chicanery. As of Friday afternoon I’ve already beat LY’s intimidating target; the rest of this week is gravy. If the week’s pattern of alternating crappy (sub-$500) and healthy ($1,000+) days holds up, today should be another good one…although it’s off to a mighty weak start so far. Come on, people.

If I can average $1,000/day between now and the end of Christmas on Dec. 17, I can erase my deficit and match LY. It’s bloody unlikely but not impossible. We’ve got one more balls-to-the-wall week ahead.

Their vendors were out by the time I tried to order my holiday quantities of Zombie Family car stickers and Obsessive Chef cutting boards (no links because they're sold out). I need to gamble on my hunches a few weeks sooner than I did this year, because my hunches are usually pretty good. Well, except for MetalWorks models. My only gamble this year has sold all of four units.


Hey! Google Checkout still works! I had my first sale since they changed the name to Google Wallet last summer. I thought that they’d broken my payment module, but apparently they only confused their customers. The payment method that used to deliver a few sales a month is all but dead.

Friday, November 30, 2012


This week tried hard to save November. Really, it did. A few good days brought the month to within 2% of LY. And then came yesterday. A year ago yesterday I set my all-time one-day sales record. The corresponding day this year missed that target by $2,000 and blew November right out of the water. Oh well, I saw it coming.


Total income: -6.1%
Total COGS: -4.6%
Payroll: +1.8%
Marketing: -50.8%
Net Income (Profit): +23.5%

Year to Date: 

Total income: -6.4%
Total COGS: -7.1%
Payroll: -1.4%
Marketing: -11.3%
Net Income (Profit): -15.0%

The spin: Although I’m clearly going to suffer my first-ever year-over-year sales decrease, I’ve done a pretty good job of controlling expenses. Both COGS and marketing are down more than sales are. Profit is down, too, but that seems to be because my salary was higher. I’m sure that’s just a quirk of the calendar (as is the big marketing drop)…but if one line has to be over budget, my paycheck is the one I want to see. 

Why on earth do I still advertise on Microsoft Ad Network? Every time I go there – which isn’t often – I end up deleting keywords and cutting back bids, even when I had intended to do the opposite. The conversion percentages are terrible. Keyword scores are as low as 2/10 for even highly relevant keywords (like “earbuds”). In the last seven days I paid Microsoft $31.75 for one lousy conversion. I'm loathe to do anything that would harm traffic, but this doesn't look very cost-effective.

So…December. The targets look impossible and I don’t have any outstanding products this year. I’ll call it success if I can hold the decline below 6%.

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