Leave it to the wife to pose a hard question that I’ve been avoiding: What’s the future of Curio City? I’ve got to haul my carcass through 8.5 more years until I can get Medicare, 10 years until my full Social Security date -- and that’s too long to simply run out the clock. I need to have a long conversation with myself about how I should struggle through my last 10 years.
The next few posts will be that conversation.
The future is rooted in the past, so let’s start there. Curio City is a story of constantly diminishing expectations. My original plan called for a physical store and website with a $400,000 break-even point (assuming a personal salary of $50,000 per year). That bar fell below $250,000 when I dumped the bricks and mortar.
The trend was encouraging until the economy collapsed in 2008. Curio City’s momentum stopped in 2010 and went into reverse in 2012. This year I’m facing a 20% decline. My best year netted $15,000 on sales of $70,000 – not even one third of my goal. Today even a $25,000 income would feel lavish and the $125,000 that I'd need to generate it looks like a pipe dream.
I can’t lower my expectations below zero.
Curio City expected that people would always buy stuff they don’t need and can’t afford, as they had done dutifully since the 1980s. It’s apparent now that the Great Recession permanently diminished everybody’s expectations. The middle class will eventually stop shrinking and losing wealth. It will recover some sense of security, even progress, but robust good health will not return within my working lifetime. The gulf between the classes will keep widening through the next election cycle. Reversing that trend and redistributing the wealth will take a decade beyond that -- and that assumes that we can elect a progressive government in 2016, which is hardly a given with the big bucks firmly in control of the system.
So waiting for things to turn around, as I’ve been doing since 2009, doesn’t cut it. This is as turned around as it’s going to get on my time horizon.
Now, having said that: Curio City is not entirely at the mercy of the macro economy and the fortunes of the middle class. I don’t have millions of customers whose collective behavior mirrors economic trends. On a typical day I only get 100-150 visits and make two or three sales. Those numbers are stubbornly consistent and doubling them should not be an insurmountable challenge. It's not like I need to bring in a million new shoppers; 150 would do nicely.
Of course, that’s been the challenge all along. Nothing I try ever seems to work for long. Progress in one area is offset by declines in another. Consumer tastes are fickle. Technology keeps moving ahead. My tech knowledge is stuck in 2005 and I’ve never been a consumer at all. I’m not very good at this and I don’t seem to be getting any better. After banging my head against the same wall every day for eight years with little to no success, it’s getting hard to even care.
Is it time to hang it up? What options do I have?
1. Keep plugging along, but plug better;
2. Keep plugging along, but supplement it with other work;
3. Do something else.