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, March 29, 2013

March Sucks a Little Less

…But it still sucks double digits.


Total income: -18%
Total COGS: -13.8%
Payroll: -29.3%
Marketing: -23.9%
Net Income (Profit): -148.4% (-$776)

Year to Date: 

Total income: -22.3%
Total COGS: -31.9%
Payroll: -21.4%
Marketing: -29.4%
Net Income (Profit): +28.1% (+$681)

This week was the best since Feb. 2, so maybe the trend has turned. One can dream, anyway. I blame this year’s lousy sales on the continuing decline of my old mainstay Panther Vision caps. I can’t complain about their good, long run, but I think they’ve become too ubiquitous and discounters have horned in. It wouldn’t be my first product to die of success.

I don't expect April to be any better.

Remember my most recent random act of media? As of a week ago my contact at Edge magazine still couldn’t (or wouldn’t) tell me when their magazine would land. The month on the cover of a magazine is supposed to be its off-sale date, but even if they don’t follow that convention they wouldn’t ship a March issue in April, so I’m guessing that it’s out. I received one order this week for the featured LP Stepped Bowl, which is effectively a dead product. But the order was placed by somebody in Canada and shipped to somebody in Florida, so I’m not seeing a connection to this New Jersey magazine. One piece is what I expected to sell based on our past history, so that’s probably over and done with. 

The new product that I mentioned last week just shipped today, so still no link. The vendor seems to have gone from “OMG let’s partner up!” to “who are you again?” but I expected that. Some vendors get over-enthused at trade shows.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Time Not Wasted

Surprisingly, the New England Gift Show was not a complete waste of time this year. I found one product that hits all the right notes: It’s clever, it’s useful, it’s easy to explain, it’s unbreakable, it’s easy and cheap to ship, it’s a little over my $10 minimum price point, and there aren’t many online competitors. Its creator hates filling retail orders (“onesies”) and would love to steer all of his online business to me so that he can focus on manufacturing and wholesaling. That could be huge -- even game-changing -- if it really pans out. At the very least, the product ought to sell reasonably well and the opening investment was small. I’ll link you to it next week when my inventory arrives.

And speaking of wasting time...I apologize to my tiny cadre of loyal readers for skipping last week's blog update, but I really had nothing to say and decided not to waste my time and yours saying it. This is a decision I intend to repeat every now and again.

I got seven sales within 24 hours of blundering back through the deep dark Google bid-setting jungle and letting their algorithm spend as much as it wants. I had been fine with declining sales as long as costs and inventory declined in lockstep…but my paycheck is one of those costs. Unfortunately, I need a paycheck. Good beer isn’t free and there are no government vouchers.
That quick payoff was encouraging, but my spend also rose by a crippling $25 per day and sales didn’t increase by anything like the $250 that would justify that. In fact, they dropped back to the expected 2-3 per day, and those have all been in the $10-20 range. So I’m back where I started before I upset the advertising apple cart in the first place – spending way too much ($25-30 in ads) for way too little ($40-60 in sales). I liked it better when I was spending very little for next to nothing.


Minor milestone: Sunshop reached order number 110000, its 10,000th transaction. That includes test transactions, so it’s not meaningful. Quickbooks’ count of 9,731 is closer to the truth (albeit also slightly inflated).

Friday, March 08, 2013

Leave Well Enough Alone

Never tinker with something that works. You’d think I’d have learned by now that trying to improve something I don’t understand is almost sure to break it. I futzed around with my AdWords campaign settings all week, but I’m down to 0-1 sales per day when I should be scoring 2-3. I finally gave up on Google’s cryptic automated bid controls and went back to manual bidding yesterday.

I did finally sell a couple of bird kites with the new pole add-on. I hadn’t sold a single kite since I added that option and was beginning to think that I’d broken the category somehow. I’m counting on that expensive new premium to kick up the income as kite season ramps up this spring. 

The bill for my unwanted tech upgrade ended up being below my worst fears and I don’t think it has anything to do with the sales plunge, so I can start taking some baby steps forward again. Who knows, maybe I’ll find something new and great at this year’s Cavalcade of Crap. The Boston Gift Show dropped their Saturday hours and Sunday is grocery day, so I reckon I’ll sacrifice Monday the 18th. If it’s the usual waste of time, I’ll revive my depleted Metalworks category. That vendor foolishly changed the product name to “Metal Earth” so it’s starting over as far as Google is concerned.

I have still not sold a single solar cap. I hope they turn out to be a summer item, because I invested way more dollars and space in them than I should have.

Friday, March 01, 2013

February Numbers

Between January’s payroll tax increase (or reversion to the norm) and February’s increasingly hysterical headlines about Congress’s latest efforts to tank the economy, it’s no surprise that this month’s numbers suck. With less money in your pocket and a self-inflicted recession on the horizon, you’d have to be insane or rich to buy anything you don’t need.

And, of course, I only sell things you don’t need.


Total income: -36.8%
Total COGS: -41.0%
Payroll: -44.3%
Marketing: -42%
Net Income (Profit): +69.9% (+$921)

Year to Date:

Total income: -25.0%
Total COGS: -34.7%
Payroll: -18.5%
Marketing: -31.5%
Net Income (Profit): +62.6% (+$1,189)

The bottom line looks swell because I have not yet paid my corporate registration ($456), my annual report fee ($109), my tax preparation fee, or my developer’s fee for last week’s version upgrade. Those expenses will wipe out my profit in March.

Thank the gods I stashed away money for everything but the software upgrade. 

Assuming Congress remains deadlocked on the sequester, March sales could worsen dramatically as the spending cuts start to bite, the stock market tanks, and furloughs and layoffs begin – at least, that’s the Obama administration line. Or nothing at all might happen if Americans have stopped paying attention to Washington’s crisis-of-the-month. It’s always some damned thing and us little people can’t do anything about it anyway, so who cares?

Guess we’ll find out a month from now. Either we’ll be circling the drain again or we won’t.


On Google’s advice I converted a couple of my ad campaigns to their new “enhanced” mode, which is supposed to let me adjust my bids for clicks on mobile devices. People shopping with smartphones seldom buy anything, they misread product descriptions, and they generate a lot of cryptic emails and (worst of all) phone calls. Those who do place orders usually fail to choose product options and then don’t answer my emails. Even though smartphones are a small and low-quality market segment, I don’t want to block them entirely, so reducing my bids is a good option -- and even better if I can shave a few bucks off my advertising costs.

When I tried to cut mobile bids by 50% in my main campaign the interface cryptically told me “Not available with this bid type.” Bidding is really complicated with at least half a dozen different options (focus on clicks, focus on conversions, target maximum cost per conversion, target average cost per conversion, and on and on). I never did manage to find the bid type that would let me reduce mobile, and I think I screwed up my results while trying. Yesterday I had triple the usual click traffic for the same daily spend, which would be great if anybody had bought anything.

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