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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, September 27, 2013

Existential Crisis Part 2: Do Something Else

First let’s put a bow on September.


Total income: +13.7%
Total COGS: +45.3%
Payroll: +18.1%

Marketing: +158.3%
Net Income (Profit): -1898.8% (-$822)

Year to Date: 

Total income: -16.6%
Total COGS: -21.4%
Payroll: -16.1%

Marketing: -3.2%
Net Income (Profit): -67.7% (-$882)

This year’s first black month came at a steep price. Spending 158% more on advertising to deliver 14% more sales is a losing proposition. Given that I’ve been down by 20% all year I could spin it as a 34% increase. But whether you go with 14% or 34%, you can see what the 158% jump in advertising did to my bottom line. Google is laughing all the way to the bank.  

Recording the first positive month of the year makes it difficult to go back into my existential crisis, but I’m sure the red ink will be back soon. I wish I could believe that I’ve turned the corner. But a $900 kite sale on 10/15/12 means that lightning has to strike again this year if I hope to reach October’s sales target.


What would I do for money if Curio City folded? I’ve been out of the workforce for too long, the labor market is too weak, and my skills are too outdated to even think about career-level work. My life as a salaryman is over. But I might be able to score a minimum-wage (or slightly better) job. Fulltime jobs at any pay are highly coveted and go to people who have education and skills and connections – especially connections -- and the labor market isn't going to heal as long as Republicans keep sabotaging the federal budget. But let’s pretend that I could somehow find a fulltime minimum-wage job. In Massachusetts, that’s $8 per hour for 35 hours per week, $280 per week, $14,560 per year. Virtually all hourly jobs are being pared back below 30 hours to avoid the Obamacare coverage requirement, so 30 hours is the new “fulltime” for those of us at the bottom of the economic ladder. Eight bucks an hour for 30 hours per week is just $10,920 per year.

Last year Curio City paid me $15,371. Even with this year’s compensation on track to shrink by 20%, the $12,296 that I expect to pull in still rivals a minimum wage job. I would make less money working fulltime for somebody else than I make working three-quarters time for myself. Add the intangible benefits of making my own schedule and not answering to some two-bit tyrant and Curio City looks pretty good. Wage slavery needs to pay more than $10 to be competitive in an Obama-fulltime 30-hour week. California is talking about raising its minimum to that level, but I don’t see it spreading here soon.

What are the alternatives to a fulltime job?

Popular culture’s advice to “Do what you love and the money will follow” isn’t very helpful if you don’t love anything. I love to drink good beer. If I were 20 years younger I might have gotten into the craft beer industry in its formative days, but I don’t have any beer-making expertise and can’t see how drinking it is ever going to pay off. Massachusetts is currently setting up medical marijuana dispensaries, but one needs to have $500,000 in financing and a solid business plan to crack that market, and there are already 120-some people competing for 30-some licenses. Legal recreational pot isn’t even on the ballot yet.

The real money’s in the black market; Walter White is my role model for a broken, defeated man who turned his life around. Since the DEA and the NSA will eventually get around to reading this post, I’ll just say that I don’t have much of a criminal mind. I don’t foresee a bright future as a drug lord, whoremonger, or slave trader, although I wouldn’t rule any of those careers out if an opportunity came along. I don’t know how one finds such opportunities, though. Probably Craigslist. 

Petty crime doesn’t interest me. Nor does gambling or playing the lottery. The risk:reward ratio is too unfavorable. But I’m not out to get rich. I just need to survive the next 10 years until Social Security comes to the rescue.

Boston being a medical mecca, I might be able to make some serious coin as a lab rat. There are always studies looking for test subjects. The criteria for any given study are usually pretty narrow, but there are so many studies going on that I could probably get paid to take experimental drugs.

My most realistic option is to work part-time without folding Curio City (and I know some readers are thinking “well, duh”). If I could bag groceries or stock shelves or tend somebody’s shop for 16 hours a week I’d make $128 before taxes. That’s more than Curio City pays me for most summer weeks. Getting out of the house and interacting with other humans makes me cringe, but some limited social interaction might be good for me, even in a menial position. 

Curio City demands most of my attention between mid September and mid February, when retailers hire their seasonal help. I can’t work elsewhere during the winter if I want to keep my own business alive. But there must be some job openings during the slow season, too. I could spare 12 or 16 hours a week from March through August without putting too big a dent in Curio City’s sales or screwing up my personal schedule too badly to garden and cook. I haven’t looked for a job since the newspaper classified ads were all the rage, but it can’t be terribly hard to figure out how it’s done nowadays. 

The only thing I’ll rule out entirely is food service. 

I figure that being offline and away from my phone for 16 hours a week would reduce my summer sales by 10-20%, or $75-150 per week. Only 20% of that would have found its way into my pocket, so I’d expect to my Curio City paychecks to shrink by just $15-30 a week. If I’m earning $128 doing something menial, I’d still come out $100 ahead. I’d have to buy some presentable clothes, but that shouldn’t cost more than $100.

A reader suggested that I revisit the idea of opening a bricks & mortar store in Boston. A local chain called Copley Flair folded a few years ago, leaving an opening for an offbeat gift shop. I hate to be dismissive, but I’m going to dismiss this idea on two points: First, I hate stores and don’t want any part of owning one – especially not a high-rent urban store -- and second, nothing has arisen to claim Copley Flair’s niche since it failed. That tells me it wasn’t exactly a gold mine. It’s probably a recipe for slow-motion, high-cost failure…and I don’t want to do it anyway.    

So that’s it: I’m going to look for a part-time job next February or March and look into the possibility of becoming a medical test subject in the meantime. Unless, that is, I can turn Curio City around in a big way. And that is grist for next week’s post.


  1. I think you are really selling your skills, experience, and value to employers short. There is a big gap between a high-level career job and minimum wage. What I think you should be looking for is a job in between those two extremes that would pay more and be more interesting and less horrible than a menial job, and yet not require a new college degree or lifetime commitment. These are hard to find, of course, but you really aren't under any huge time pressure here, and perseverance is one of your many strengths. You could continue CC full-time or do CC part time and some low end job part-time while you were looking.

  2. Having now been out of conventional work (and downwardly mobile) for 9 years now, I don't understand the market anymore. All I see available are high-end and low-end jobs. 80% of the workforce is competing for the constantly shrinking pool in between...and considering themselves lucky when they find something only slightly below their level. I think I am too old and outdated to compete at that level.

  3. Andrew6:02 PM

    Move to Sweden and work for Paradox?

  4. Heh. I sometimes think about how different life would be if I had moved to Maryland to work for Firaxis when I had the chance. I'd be making the big bucks by now...or unemployed in Maryland.

  5. Matrix12:36 PM

    Well i think you can do a whole bunch of stuff. A) there is Elance where you can do freelancing, i hire people on free lance all the time. It would certainly pay better then minimum job.
    b) I think running a business is a mufti skill, you weren't out of job market for 9 years. You were developing different set of skills. Which all play role in business: writing, selling, conceptual thinking. Biggest issue i see is you feel defeatist, and you need even tiny bit of "go get them" attitude.


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