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, 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%.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Another Underwhelming Week

I spaced out completely on making a post yesterday. Wish I could say that I was too busy, but I’m nowhere near busy enough. At least I was able to spend a couple of hours repairing our rotted porch steps. Ordinarily I'm just a slave to Curio City this week.

Daily sales had to average $384 to match LY. I only hit $274. The week started out pretty well but faded badly on Thanksgiving and Black Friday. I should probably just yield Black Friday to the big guys rather than trying to compete – sales don’t work if you don’t advertise them, and my newsletter and Facebook pages combined barely reach 100 people. I had exactly one coupon redeemed, and that was by a friend who already gets a 15% everyday discount. 

Next week was the busiest of last year at $743/day. It would take a bolt from the blue to touch that this year. 

Oh well, it’s not all bad. The pace hasn’t overwhelmed me these past few weeks. And people are obligingly snapping up some of the old, dead stock that I’m happy to be rid of. I didn't overbuy, so 2013 should start out with some cash in the bank. My main regret (so far) is waiting too long to bring in new stuff. Some items haven’t even arrived yet and Christmas only has three weeks left to go.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Heeeeere's Christmas!

After an encouraging weekend and one huge corporate sale, I quit waffling and placed nearly $5,000 worth of Christmas orders this week. I don’t have a single thing with bestseller potential, but I think it’s a solid lineup of “B” items. So Christmas is locked in. Even if I stumbled upon some miracle product today, it’s too late: Anything that arrives after thanksgiving has effectively missed Christmas, since online sales die out 10 days before the holiday.

This week’s daily average LY: $253. This year: $484, thanks entirely to three bulk sales (including one $1,400 lighted cap sale). Without those I’d be running way behind LY; with them, I’m ahead of the game. Traffic picked up a little this week, but it’s still nowhere near where it ought to be. 

My worries would all be behind me if I could position myself for bulk and B2B sales over regular B2C retail. Bulk sales do bring some drawbacks: Markup suffers because the merchandise is almost always discounted; costs that scale with sales go up (payment processing and payroll…but of course payroll is the whole point); and I have to reorder immediately to prevent lost sales when someone strips the shelves. But those are good problems to have. This week kicked ass by any measure. In fact, it might eclipse 2/6/2010 as my best non-December week ever.

Next week the average day rises to $384. Wish me luck. Or, better yet, buy stuff.

Friday, November 09, 2012

Are You There, Christmas? It's Me, Kraken

This should have been the first real, hardcore week of Christmas with sales averaging $243 per day. Actual result through yesterday: $139 per day. Including the soft weeks immediately following Halloween, Christmas season is almost half over now. But I’m not seeing it. Things must inevitably pick up…eventually…somewhat, right?

Did I hoard cash too long and forfeit a lot of early holiday sales? Or will my prudence stave off financial disaster from laying in a lot of holiday junk for sales that never came? Should I still place my holiday orders after my credit statement resets, or should I pull the plug on Christmas and focus exclusively on cutting losses? Next Monday is decision time. I’ve got a thousand glaciers poised and ready to roll over Africa!

Google shows that my site traffic is stubbornly average, while Analytics lets me watch people not shop in real time. The culprit looks like an absence of customers, not a lack of merchandise. I’m always nervous about spending money in anticipation of big holiday receipts, yet year after year they magically materialize. This year I don’t see any signs that the magic is coming.

The one new product line that I did gamble on, Metalworks, is a complete bust so far. After two weeks in stock and advertising, I’ve sold 0.

I’ve tried to avoid writing about sales apart from my monthly wrap-ups because I know how boring the topic is for readers who aren’t me. But Christmas business is all that matters for the next 4-5 weeks, so that’s where I’ll be going.

Friday, November 02, 2012


Hurricane Sandy’s tropical storm-force winds barely brushed the Boston area. My office roof didn’t leak and our cellar (Curio City’s warehouse) didn’t flood. We didn’t even lose power in Braintree. The only consequence of the storm was a slight shipping delay caused by no mail service on Monday…and a disruption in my holiday merchandise strategy (more on that below).

Sales have been so poor for so long that I don’t know if I can attribute this week’s sluggishness to Sandy or not.

Yeah, October extended my long string of flops despite a couple of large sales that staved off complete disaster. The numbers:


Total income: -19.9%
Total COGS: -18.9%
Payroll: -38.6%
Marketing: -13.3%
Net Income (Profit): +111.1%

Year to Date: 

Total income: -7.1%
Total COGS: -8.1%
Payroll: -1.3%
Marketing: -3.0%
Net Income (Profit): -326.3%

The spin: October’s double-digit sales decrease was a little smaller than September’s and costs fell by almost as much as sales. Advertising still cost more than it should have, but the bottom line was a tiny profit vs. a small loss LY. 

The YTD numbers speak for themselves. 

Christmas is just not materializing. As much as I’d like to believe that that monstrous quasi-religious holiday is fading into oblivion, I have to blame two things: Tired old merchandise and tepid cash flow.

All of my old mainstays are waning. Switchables don’t justify the huge inventory that I have to keep on hand; Panther Visioncaps are nowhere near the star that they used to be; bird kite season is over; the usual tournament-driven surge in golf balls didn’t come this fall; and I had to stop or scale back advertising for earbuds, keyboard stickers, and 3D puzzles. Even some bestselling standalone products like Whisky Stones and Fuzz Scarves have dropped off to almost nothing.

Cash flow won’t let me place holiday orders until my credit card statement resets on November 12. Those orders will arrive just before Thanksgiving’s official starting gun for an extremely short holiday season of scarcely four weeks. This new line of Metalworks models is my big gamble for this year. I hope they’ll be a bright spot, but I don’t expect them to save Christmas.

I did have just enough cash to place one major order before the 11/12 reset. Since I had a customer requesting one of their products, I decided on 10/21 to go with (a Vendor Who Shall Remain Nameless) despite some misgivings based on their checkered fulfillment history; half of the orders I give them get screwed up in one way or another and they’re extremely slow under the best circumstances. Their sales rep emailed me the next day to get my updated credit card info. Yesterday I still didn’t have my stuff. The Vendor Who Shall Remain Nameless had lost the updated payment info and the order was never placed. When I asked the rep to please make sure that it goes through today, I got this reply:

Our warehouse was closed due to the effects of Hurricane/Superstorm Sandy. The power is still out at our warehouse and they’re currently using a generator in their offices. We are virtually unable to ship at this time. As of today, we are still unsure if UPS will be able to reach our facility to pick up shipments that we are able to pack. Also, the port of New Jersey is closed; this will effect the inbounds of items into our inventory.

Translation: I gambled on the wrong vendor, and I might never see this order. I'm wondering if I should just cancel it outright.

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