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, February 22, 2013

Random Reprise

It was the Fall of 2011. Edge Magazine, a publication for rich New Jerseyites, included Curio City’s Science Clock in their holiday gift guide. I braced for an angry horde when I couldn’t back up the mere three clocks that I had on hand…and ultimately sold exactly one (and I still have the other two left). The magazine is primarily print, its online gift guide was hard to find and harder to navigate and didn’t use hotlinks, and they just displayed my main store URL rather than the product page. That’s a fail on every level from my point of view. 

So I was less than excited when the Edge editor was kind enough to notify me that she’s including the LP Record Bowl in the March issue of their magazine. Sure it’s a nice product, but it’s at least seven years old and stopped selling entirely a couple of years ago. So…a magazine with a disappointing history is featuring an old product in a non-holiday gift guide? I don’t mean to sound ungrateful, but I'm not bracing for an onslaught this time. I’ll be happy if I sell any of the seven pieces I have in stock.

(And with that attitude, I’ll probably get hammered by demand I can’t fill.)

Speaking of media randomness…I think that the NetworkedBlogs problem that I’ve been writing about is fixed. My last post appeared on my Facebook wall (or timeline or whatever it’s called), but it didn’t show up in my personal newsfeed. Given that readership remains stuck in the low single digits, I assume that it doesn’t show up in anybody else’s news feed, either, so it’s probably Facebook’s fault. Nothing I can do about that.

If you do happen to see this in your Facebook feed, click the Like button to let me know. Please? It’s not like it costs you anything.


Anxiety over the big tech update that I wrote about earlier consumed most of this week. The last couple of days I've been tracking down some wonky settings and lost customizations, but the upgrade went more smoothly than I'd feared. I haven’t seen the bill yet; all other expenses are still on hold…which is an especially good thing in light of this week’s terrible sales numbers. Right now I'm running 80% behind LY. Bleah.

Friday, February 15, 2013

The Red Queen's Race

Sometimes it takes all the running you can do just to stay in the same place. 

Last week I noticed that NetworkedBlogs had stopped autoposting my weekly blog entries to Facebook back in December. That explains the falloff from 30-40 readers per week to six or seven. Turns out that the app needs its permission to post renewed every 60 days. I don’t know why this never came up before in all the years I’ve been using it, but…OK, whatever. After much head-bashing I think I finally got it configured so that this post will show up on the Facebook. Guess I’ll find out in a few minutes if it works. If it doesn't, I'll give up.

I hadn’t intended to upgrade Sunshop version 4.x anymore because Sunshop 5 has been right around the corner for a year now. (Sunshop is my shopping cart program – what you perceive as my website.) Being a software industry refugee myself, I’m usually compulsive about keeping all of my programs updated. But I have to pay my contract developer to upgrade Sunshop and the cost is not trivial. Neither of the past two version upgrades added anything significant, so I passed them by.

Now my web host (MDD Hosting) announced that they’re upgrading all of their servers from PHP 5.2 to 5.3 because 5.2 is no longer supported. (PHP is the programming language that Sunshop runs under.) Programs that were developed for 5.2 won’t run under 5.3 and vice versa. Fortunately, Turnkey publishes Sunshop in both formats. Since I need to change the format that I’m running I might as well upgrade to the latest release at the same time. How much more expensive could that be?

Potentially a lot more. My developer freaked out when I first pitched the job to him. He subsequently calmed down some, but he still anticipates a huge, time-consuming job and, in fact, he can’t block off the time to do the work before MDD’s scheduled changeover next Friday. MDD figures that a month's notice ought to be plenty and won't extend their deadline. 
So unless my developer can make the time between now and next Friday, or MDD runs behind schedule, Curio City is going to go dark. Visiting my URL will show an error page. I’m financially paralyzed until I pay for this unwanted upgrade of unknown cost. Since disruption's inevitable, I'd like to move up to Sunshop 5, but alas, Turnkey's still being coy about their release date. So I’m going to pay big bucks to upgrade a program that’s supposed to become obsolete later this year anyway.

I haven’t paid my corporate registration or annual report fees or had my tax returns prepared yet and I’ve completely stopped buying merchandise, so I’m slowly building up cash despite lackluster sales. If my store doesn’t go dark and if the upgrade doesn’t bleed me dry, I’ll be able to make up lost time when I come through the other side.

Friday, February 08, 2013

The Storm Brings the Calm

This week came to a halt when the drumbeat over winter storm Nemo grew deafening. The weather’s just starting to degenerate at 1 pm on Friday. I managed to get in a little more than a mile of my customary four-mile morning walk before 30” of snow paralyzes Braintree for a couple of days. We escaped Hurricane Sandy, but I don’t think we’re going to get so lucky this time. I wish people would strip Curio City’s shelves the way they have pillaged the grocers…maybe they’ll shop out of boredom tonight.

I did implement my second big product gambit for 2013. As many as a third of my bird kite customers are interested in buying poles. I don’t sell them because they won’t fit inside the standard kite mailing tube and my years-ago experiment with carrying them as a standalone product didn’t work out. But I found out last fall that Jackite will package them together in a larger tube and dropship for me, and so yesterday I added the option to all of my product pages. 

Dropshipping makes me uncomfortable. I don’t like putting my customers at the mercy of another company’s service. The hassle of generating and tracking special orders offsets the (admittedly welcome) labor savings from outsourcing the shipping. But a chance to double the price of a substantial fraction of one of my best products could put thousands of dollars on the table. 

I’ll find out soon enough. Kite season starts in March.


I can take back part of last week’s reason to hate the USPS after they answered my question about international battery shipping clearly and accurately. They retain partial hatred for making me question their outdated online help in the first place, though.

The death of Saturday mail delivery is a big yawn since package delivery won’t be affected. The six-day week is one of USPS’s main advantages over UPS. I’m old enough to remember when getting the mail was a small daily treat, but, like everyone else, I get almost nothing but junk nowadays. Losing Saturday delivery will cut into Netflix deliveries and shave a disk or two from my usual monthly consumption, which I suppose is a win for Netflix. It gives me a weak reason to switch over to their streaming service someday.

Friday, February 01, 2013

Here Come the Clouds

The promise of Solar Powercaps was clouded when I created ad groups for them on Google and Microsoft. First-page placement for the best keywords costs more than $1.50 per click. I’ll sometimes bid as much as 45 cents for a high-priced product, but anything higher than that is a losing proposition. A 40-cent bid with a 2% conversion rate costs $20 to land a sale. At $1.50 I’d have to spend $75 to land that same sale. Since advertising is budgeted at 10% of gross, my average sale would need to be $750 to justify that outlay.
It’s not. I’m sure I’ll still sell the odd solar cap now and then, but it’s not going to be the hit that I had hoped for.

So let’s follow another dashed hope with a portrait of mediocrity.

January & Year to Date:

Total income: -20.0% (-$1,201)
Total COGS: -33.8%
Payroll: -0.6%
Marketing: -17.7%
Net Income (Profit): +20.8% ($121)

The month did fine until Jan. 24. What happened on that day? Beats me, but daily sales fell from triple to double digits and didn’t get back up again until yesterday. General Valentines Day traffic didn’t swell the late-month numbers and a Valentines-themed newsletter had no effect, as usual. I’d have finished even with LY were I not up against last January’s $1,200 bird kite sale.

At least Cost of Goods Sold fell farther than sales did. That’s something. Unfortunately, marketing is not down by nearly as much as sales are, and that’s something else. Profit is actually up by a smidgeon, though, and that’s really what it’s all about. 

So what to do? I turned keyword bidding back over to Google’s automation. Although the purpose of Google’s algorithms is obviously to make profits for Google, they worked out pretty well over the Christmas season. Let’s see if they can do as well when traffic is weak.

I do have one big trick up my sleeve for February. Unfortunately, last February was another unusually good month, so I’m pessimistic


A $300 lighted cap sale to a Canadian saved this month’s numbers, but I might have to cancel and refund it next week. Last May the USPS banned international shipments containing batteries. Some websites report that they eased that prohibition last November to permit batteries that are installed in products. However, the USPS website disagrees. I’m pretty sure their information is just wrong; shipping the caps with batteries is probably fine, but I’m hazy on labeling requirements. I’m waiting for USPS to clarify by email -- this issue comes up a few times a year, so a definitive response would be welcome -- but I don’t have much confidence in the accuracy of their reply. I just hope they don't consult their own website!


The Cool Baseball Necklace is history. I suspected as much when I couldn’t reorder the largest size last fall and the vendor couldn’t tell me when she might get any more. Now her website is gone. They brought in $1,100 over the two years that they lasted. 

As long as we’re saying goodbyes, Funkeyboard keyboard stickers are also toast after delivering $2,100 over three years. I won’t miss them terribly; they were a marginal product at a low price and the USPS's 0.75" minimum package thickness requirement made them inconvenient to ship, but the markup was good and, hey, $2,100!

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