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, April 26, 2013

There Sure Is a Lot of Paper In Here

For a virtual business, I sure do pile a lot of paper on the filing cabinet next to my chair, underneath my clothes rack (my office is a glorified closet). Shuffling through my clothes can trigger a paperslide when the stack gets more than six inches high.

Another paperslide this week buried last year’s paperslide that I never bothered to pick up, so it was time to gather it up and throw 99% of it away. Do I really need copies of bank and credit card statements going back to 2010? Not when they’re available online. Toss ‘em! Packing lists and invoices? I kept one recent invoice from each active vendor just so that I can find my account numbers and pitched the rest. Receipt for the $90 printer I bought four years ago? Gone. Tax returns for 2010-12? Well, yeah, I ought to keep those.


Of the four orders I’ve had for Corn-n-Tater bags, one went to a friend (thanks, Joy!) and three went to customers in Kansas. I don’t know what’s special about Kansas. Maybe the manufacturer is marketing there, or maybe Kansans just like to say “tater.” 


This being the last full week of April, it’s time for the monthly numbers.


Total income: -9.8%
Total COGS: -3.9%
Payroll: +32.8%
Marketing: -15%
Net Income (Profit): -109.7% (-$417)

Year to Date: 

Total income: -18.5%
Total COGS: -28.4%
Payroll: -15%
Marketing: -26.9%
Net Income (Profit): +19% (+$388)

It was a slightly better month, or at least less bad, thanks entirely to a fluke $400 day this Wednesday. Blips like that are meaningless. 

Looking ahead…last May was exceptionally good with three bulk sales, so I’m sure to fall dramatically farther behind again next month. I don’t expect this trend to stabilize until July, when sales collapsed last year.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Comfortably Broke

Well, spending that money didn’t take long. A long-postponed Panther cap reorder left me enough money to bring in just one new product. I’ve had many requests over the years for lighted visors, and Panther doesn’t ordinarily sell them wholesale, so this one has to be money in the bank. I won't sell a lot of visors, but they should be steady.

I could easily drop another $1,000 on reorders and $2,500 on new items right now. Since my open-to-buy is now hovering around $600, I’m back in my old familiar holding pattern – I can easily blow $600 in 10 minutes. On the plus side, I have sold four Corn-n-Tater bags, which isn’t too shabby for a new product. I was starting to worry about my instincts.


International sales really took off when I revived the First Class Package International service option. I had discontinued it years ago because USPS didn’t offer package tracking with that service. However, as of January they started offering tracking for shipments to Canada, and that was supposed to roll out to something like 40 other countries this month. On the downside, the weight limit was cut from 4 pounds to one and the rates went up.

Supposedly. As of this week, the 4-pound weight limit was still in force and tracking was not available on packages sent to India and Australia. Should I disable the option again? Shipping untraceable packages is asking for trouble…but a few extra sales each week are hard to turn away. I shall continue to offer it until I lose a package or the USPS follows through on its “advertised” service change.  “Advertised” is in ironic quotes because I got that from the Endicia newsletter at the beginning of the year. I suppose that you don’t have to tell anybody your plans changed if you don’t announce them to begin with.


I don’t think I’m going to get much done today, what with Boston and environs completely locked down while an intense manhunt for the surviving Marathon bomber goes on. I’m comfortably out of the way here in Braintree, but it’s hard to pay attention to anything else. I sure do hope they will snag that kid this afternoon…preferably alive, so that we can get some answers, although I expect that he will go out in a blaze of glory.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Time to Get Off My Duff and Order Some Stuff

I usually comb my regular vendors’ spring catalogs and dutifully order new products from February through April. By May my cellar is full and my bank account is empty.

Without really planning to, I skipped that this year. (My one $900 gamble, the Solar Powercap, flopped bigtime.) Now I have money in the bank and virtually nothing new to sell. I’d always rather have money than stuff, but being in the business of turning stuff into money compels me to buy stuff. Stores supposedly need constant novelty to seem fresh and exciting and keep customers coming back. But spring is weaker than fall for product introductions and most of it wouldn’t sell until next Christmas anyway.  

I’m tempted to blow off the spring catalogs entirely and wallow in my positive open-to-buy and cash flow. Regular readers know that business is down by double digits so far this year, though. A lack of new products is not going to help with that. Novelty creates excuses to put out newsletters and make Facebook posts. When I fall silent, I fade even further into obscurity.

So with today’s dawn of a new credit card statement period, I’m gingerly ordering stuff again. Don’t get the wrong impression: I’ll easily spend the whole surplus in a couple of hours this afternoon, and sales are too poor to replenish that cash. When it’s spent, it’s gone. I’m going to be selective and bring in just enough new crap to justify regular marketing contacts. I’m also going to stretch out those announcements to keep up a steady low-level presence.

The Corn-n-Tater reusable microwave cooking bag is the product that I mentioned finding at the Boston Gift Show. The vendor’s grandiose promises of partnership dissolved into unanswered email – I finally had to snap my own photos after requesting product images that never came three times. It still might sell respectably, but its odds of becoming the game changer that I had initially hoped have fallen to zero.

Friday, April 05, 2013

My Tax Dollars at Work

An unexpected letter from the Mass. Department of Revenue – never a welcome sight – led to a discovery: I screwed up my excise tax payment. I paid my tax on time, but accidentally designated it for 2013 (why was this even an option?) instead of 2012. I didn’t discover that the error was mine until after I’d already sent them an aggrieved email disputing their “notice of assessment.” 

Days went by with no response. I considered paying the delinquent 2012 tax while leaving the 2013 payment alone; I’d be paying tax twice this year, but I would get out of it next year. I have enough money to do that. But geez, $456 is a lot of money to throw away even if I would “get it back” a year from now. I finally picked up the phone and steeled myself to endure a long wait on hold before taking on that unique combination of indifference and impotence that we all associate with civil servants.

The phone queue took only a couple of minutes. As soon as I gave my corporate ID number to the fellow on the line, he said “Your payment has been moved.” Stunned, I stammered something about the penalty and interest. “Your account has a zero balance. You have a clean bill of health.” I thanked him and hung up. Total elapsed time: Under five minutes.

Skeptical that it could really be that easy, I logged into my Webfile for Business account to double check. Sure enough, we’re square. Unreal! I must not be the only businessman who ticked the wrong box. 

So today’s tirade against government is canceled in favor of this testimonial. The DOR discovered and corrected my error after I sent them a message that didn’t have the whole story. My only complaint is that they left me twisting in the wind for a few days rather than emailing or calling to let me know. Knowing DOR, they’ll snail-mail that information next week. 

Far from being a Reason to Hate Massachusetts, as the subject tag says, I offer kudos to the Commonwealth. Now don't blow all that money on schools.

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