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, August 30, 2013

Cost of Goods Sold...and Bought

August numbers add a twist to this year’s grim saga.


Total income: -12.2%
Total COGS: +2.0%
Payroll: -7.8%

Marketing: +110.7%
Net Income (Profit): -197.8% (-$796)

Year to Date: 

Total income: -19.6%
Total COGS: -23.2%
Payroll: -18.6%

Marketing: -11.5%
Net Income (Profit): -26.4% (-$355)

Basically, I narrowed the persistent monthly sales deficit a little bit at a huge cost to profitability. The only two black numbers are the ones I want to be red. 

Dropshipping changed some outbound freight costs from an operating expense into Cost Of Goods Sold. I don’t like statistical flukes, but there’s nothing real behind the apparent jump in COGS. That number should settle down now that kite season is mostly over.

I wrote off $100 worth of dead stock, and $65 in late payment fees on my Mastercard didn’t help the bottom line, either – all because I forgot to click Citizens Bank’s superfluous “OK” button in the online bill pay interface. That wasn't the first time, either. 

Advertising was the big killer, though. That outlay more than doubled and sales obviously did not. Google’s the only winner here.

Per my usual effort to end on a positive note...September's targets look easy. I think that's the first time I've said so this year.


Meanwhile, I’m mentally spending all the money that I’m not earning. Assuming that Christmas sales magically materialize as usual, I’ll need to buy:

Chair: Duct tape is slowly replacing the leather on my venerable executive chair. Samsonite apparently doesn’t make office chairs anymore and I can’t buy a chair online if I cannot find the same one that I’m already using. I’m going to have to (shudder) visit physical stores to do some test sitting. Old-school shopping is a lot of work just to park my butt comfortably for another 10+ years. But it’s got to be done. The nice thing about being old is that this next chair might outlive me if I choose wisely.
Expected price: $100-250. Critical

New laptop: After five years of nearly continuous use my Dell Vostro is getting slow and crash-prone, and Windows XP is due to pass into history soon. I’ve always bought Dells because of my extensive experience with those dependable workhorses. I usually buy machines with a little more oomph than I really need, both for future-proofing (that’s why this machine lasted five years) and for limited personal use (gaming while I’m on vacation). If Christmas sales track the rest of this year I might have to go with a basic business machine this time around, although a sexy little Lenovo tempted me when I compared them to Dells a few weeks ago.
Expected price: $650-1100. Critical

Software: If I can find a Windows 7 machine I won’t need much new software. If I’m forced to jump two generations to Windows 8, a lot of my old programs will be incompatible. I’m going to need Quickbooks; my 2009 version is already unsupported. The boxed version of QB Pro 2013 goes for $160 on Amazon. (one should always buy Quickbooks on CD, not the digital download, as Intuit only allows you to install it once.) I think and hope that MS Office 2007 will still run under Win8, because I sure can’t afford to replace that.
Expected price: $160-300. Probably unavoidable

Telephone: My god, has it really been almost two years since I replaced my old flip phone? Yes, it has, and my current phone’s battery is mostly dead (plus my iPod is dying and I need an MP3 player for my morning walks.) Rather than replace the battery, I should replace the phone when it becomes eligible in January. I’m currently paying $15/month for plain old cell service. A data plan is $30. I’ll get a smart phone if I can pay Verizon $30 instead of $15, rather than on top of $15, although I fear that it won’t work that way. Like it or not, I should at least try to stay on top of modern technology. 
Expected price: $200-400 plus monthly charges. Expendable


Bottled Up Jewelry got a partial reprieve after I took a closer look at it. I’ve sold 37 pieces at $30+, which isn’t too shabby. Pink Depression Glass is the most popular material; square and rectangle earrings are the most popular styles. I got rid of all the fused glass and mixed nuggets, eliminating one subcategory and 19 product pages. I’ll slay the whole line if I don’t sell any between now and January. One or two pieces a month would be nice, but since I can’t afford to advertise it due to the staggering amount of competing glass jewelry for sale out there I'll settle for any action at all.


I’ve got to solve the Panther Vision problem. This old warhorse recently showed a slight pulse, but still nothing like its old vigor.

I expected to find some formidable new competitor with better presentation out-pricing me. I didn’t. One discounter with a marginal website is underselling me by $2 but adding a ridiculous shipping charge ($9.50 vs. my $3.50). A lot of people are siphoning off sales with cheap 2-LED caps, but that’s always been true. On one hand, I'm glad that I'm not being obviously out-competed; OTOH, a straightforward explanation would've been nice.

Panther says that their sales are meeting expectations…so it’s not them, it’s me.

A new line of knit winter hats is due out at the end of next month. Maybe that will rekindle the fire.

Friday, August 16, 2013

(Can't Get No) Satisfaction

This week’s sales were the best since early May. With a day and a half left in the week there’s an outside shot at approaching January’s high water mark. So…Yay, right?
Not really. Advertising costs have tripled and profitability is gutted. And I’m still running more than $600 behind LY’s corresponding week, setting August up as yet another losing month. Even as things seem to improve, Curio City continues to devolve. It’s all just wind in sails.

My first-ever run on Corn-n-Tater bags was briefly exciting. The surge was clustered in both time and space (mostly California) and only lasted a day, so it was probably driven by local broadcast media. The most popular design sold out quickly; two emails to the manufacturer went unanswered and it remains out of stock. This relationship is proving to be less than satisfying.

Speaking of unsatisfying, I’m thinking hard about discontinuing Bottled Up Jewelry. Although it’s brought in a few hundred bucks over the years, I haven’t sold a piece in months. Because it’s a dropship item, and because the astronomical volume of competing recycled glass jewelry makes it impractical to advertise, offering it doesn’t cost me anything. The vendor has been extraordinarily responsive and responsible. But it’s really not clever enough to enhance the image I want for Curio City. The sheer number of product pages (over 100) is awkward and overwhelms other pieces of jewelry that I carry. I abandoned an effort to consolidate the pages when I concluded that it actually made them harder to shop, not easier. To tell you the truth, the huge number of hours that I put into creating all those pages is the main reason that I haven’t quietly deleted them already. I just can’t quite bring myself to wipe out all of that work when it doesn’t cost me anything and still brings in the rare sale. But I sure would like to trim 100+ pages from my database.

I’ve been asked why I carry jewelry at all. Well, most of my customers are in its primary demographic: Women aged 40-60. My original line of Typewriter Key jewelry was unique enough to be a real Curio City product, but it quickly fell victim to its own success – there is a limited number of antique typewriter keys in the world and customers all tended to want the same few common letters. The jeweler wasn’t thrilled with dropshipping special orders in the first place and kept putting more and more restrictions on them until I finally gave up.

I keep trying to recreate that early success. Maybe I will, someday. Unfortunately, Bottled Up is not going to do it. Being beautiful and recycled just isn’t enough to stand out from the pack. 


A few weeks ago I casually remarked that Amazon.com probably does more business in an hour than I do all year. I later read that they gross $61 billion per year. That’s $6,963,470 per hour, or $116,057 per minute, or $1,934 every second of every day. It takes Amazon 36 seconds to collect my annual sales volume.

That’s just whacked.

Friday, August 09, 2013

Revision Revisited

A last-minute surge improved July’s numbers enough to warrant revising them.

July (Rev)

Total income: -9.8%
Total COGS: +1.5%
Payroll: -19.7%
Marketing: +9.6%
Net Income (Profit): +24.2% (+$68)

Year to Date:

Total income: -20.5%
Total COGS: -25.9%
Payroll: -19.7%
Marketing: -21.5%
Net Income (Profit): +22.1% (+$387)

Google persuaded me to tick a box that summoned a representative to review my account. As I said last week, I’d already intended to change my bidding strategy, so their timing was good. He called on Friday and walked me through some obscure menus and routines that I never would have found and can’t entirely reconstruct. Sales picked up immediately and stayed up for three days. Even though business subsequently dropped back off, traffic has remained at over 150 visits and my advertising spend has more than doubled to hit my $26 ceiling every day. It would go even higher if I’d let it. (So much for free advice.)

So why is this a reason to hate Google?

Panther Vision has disappeared from Google Shopping entirely -- it doesn’t even show up as “disallowed.”  I suspect that the Identifier_exists (FALSE) variable is to blame. I’m going to omit that column entirely the next time I upload. That product feed has gotten so complex that I can’t figure it out anyway.

My effort to reduce ad costs turned out to be self-defeating when sales fell by the same percentage, yet sales did not double after this week’s revision. Far from it. Intense babysitting might improve that a little. But if I want my sales back, I’m just going to have to pay the Google.

Friday, August 02, 2013

July: More of the Same

July would have been the first black month of this year if the Corn-n-Taters deal had produced the sales that I was led to expect. Instead of the 40 bags that I "should" have sold, I moved exactly 0. I don’t think the fault is mine because I’m not seeing any traffic coming from the manufacturer’s link. Maybe that will still turn around if he does the television that he was talking about for August.

On Sunday the USPS renamed Express Mail and broke my shipping modules. I shut down my advertising and put my site in stasis until midday on Monday. Sales never picked up again after that. The mod that I was using to grab “online” postal rates instead of the higher default counter rates stopped working when my USPS modules were replaced. I just got updated code to fix that today, but I don’t expect it to make any difference. 


Total income: -24.4%
Total COGS: -12.2%
Payroll: -19.7%
Marketing: +9.6%
Net Income (Profit): -71.8% (-$203)

Year to Date: 

Total income: -22.1%
Total COGS: -30.7%
Payroll: -19.7%
Marketing: -21.5%
Net Income (Profit): +6.6% (+$115)

Almost everything that I’ve tried this year has failed. I spent $840 on Solar Powered Panther Vision caps and sold 0. I spent $480 on Lighted Visors and sold two. Another few hundred bucks on miscellaneous small stuff brought in maybe $50. So nearly $2,000 worth of new product brought in less than $100 and left me unable to buy anything else –the fall Switchables designs knocked my open to buy down to -$217. Meanwhile, Christmas catalogs are starting to trickle in.  
Next week I’m going to see if I can revert my Google advertising to the old bidding process wherein I set bids manually for each keyword rather than letting their algorithm figure it out. It probably won’t help but it can’t hurt…much.

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