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, November 29, 2013

Christmas Week 4: Halfway There

I expected a weak week thanks to Thanksgiving. I didn’t expect it to be mediocre even by non-holiday standards.  Yet here we are. At least today’s off to a decent start with five (smallish) orders before noon and most of the day still ahead. Black Friday and Small Business Saturday ought to bend these numbers at least a little.


Total income: -43.6%
Total COGS: -36.4%
Payroll: -21%
Marketing: +9.8%
Net Income (Profit): -126.5% (-$2,581)

Year to Date 

Total income: -19%
Total COGS: -21.4%
Payroll: -14.4%
Marketing: -6.2%
Net Income (Profit): -302.5% (-$3,067)

It’s hard to put a positive spin on that. The way my accounting calendar works, this year’s  Thanksgiving is one week behind LY’s – that is, I ought to be comparing this week with LY’s previous week. By that rationalization I’d only be running $500 behind LY, well within the power of the next day and a half to cover. Unfortunately, I’m going to run out of weeks.

Christmas this year lasts only seven weeks versus LY’s eight. Since the “lost week” is one of the year’s biggest, this Christmas will come in about $5,000 below LY’s. The bottom line might even finish the year in the red.

Well, it ain’t over til it’s over. I’m done spending money on everything except reorders and advertising. Christmas may be more than halfway over, but the three busiest weeks of the year are ahead. However they stack up historically, I’m going to be working flat-out to service them.

If there's any consolation, it's non-financial: The short season makes Christmas less of an ordeal than usual.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Christmas Week 3: Starting to Cook

Sales were finally perking up this week until Wednesday ran in the red for most of the day, only redeeming itself with one sale at the eleventh hour. That’s awful. Then Thursday rebounded with a very healthy 13 sales. Today’s looking average. The best I can say is that this week was uneven. Google Analytics says I’m getting nearly 400 visits a day, yet spot-checking their realtime traffic report rarely shows more than one person online at any given moment. Christmas just can’t quite seem to get rolling. 

Paying my November charge bill is a nail-biter. Right now my bank balance is $1,400 shy of covering the payment scheduled for Dec. 3. Hitting next week’s $4,000 sales target would make everything better, but last year’s “next week” was the week after Thanksgiving rather than the week of (if you managed to follow that). Shoppers typically slack off on the holiday and then swarm the malls on the day after, making both days weak for me. I’ll most likely accumulate enough money to pay the bill in full, although my next paycheck is in peril if customers don’t get down to some serious shopping very soon.

December needs to be extremely intense.

Curio City is ready to feed the frenzy. The cellar is overflowing with merchandise and no shortages have appeared yet (in fact, nothing except Panther Vision caps is really selling yet). I don’t have one standout product like Whiskey Stones but I do have a good solid range of unspectacular stuff. I’m getting nervous about it, though, as the boxes keep coming in a lot faster than they’re going out. My last newsletter of the year is scheduled and my mailing list updated. Google Shopping is up to date. I still need to order some boxes and shipping envelopes, but I’ve done everything else that I can do to get ready for the blitz. 

Whiskey Stones, incidentally, died after a respectable three-year, $14,000 run. Word’s gotten around that they don’t really work very well (I refunded my last sale after the customer complained about feeling deceived); the vendor confused the marketplace by introducing too many variations; and several competitors selling the same thing popped up last year. I’ll retire the product after the last eight sets sell. Virtually all successful products have a similar trajectory – hot for a year or three, then killed by discounters or copycats. Earlier this year I feared that lighted caps had gone down that same path, but it looks like they’re going to carry me through at least one more Christmas.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Christmas Week 2: In Which I Dodge a Bullet

I raised my Corn-n-Tater price by a buck and shut down my ads in anticipation of the big Dr. Oz promo that was scheduled for this Wednesday. Nothing happened. Minutes ago I learned that the appearance is never going to take place. Lawyers are involved, so I’ll restrict myself to saying that Steve was scammed by Dr. Oz’s production people. After traveling to their headquarters and sitting in the producer’s office for two hours, he got sent away empty handed. To make matters worse, Steve had told QVC about the Oz thing; when they found out that it was canceled QVC pushed his November spot into next spring.

So he is out thousands of dollars and his media plans are in ruins. As you might recall, a few weeks ago I mulled over making a bet-the-company investment in expanding to handle acceptance and distribution. If I had reached for that star I’d be looking at bankruptcy right now.

If my aversion to risk keeps me from success, it also saves me from failure.


I went into this week $566 ahead of LY. Right now I’m down by -$1,400. I needed a stellar week; I got a mildly good one. Veterans Day weekend was surprisingly slow -- one order on Monday, seriously? It’s like shoppers didn’t get the memo that they’re supposed to start frenzying over Christmas this week. They’re going to be in for a rude awakening if they try to cram it all into the three weeks after Thanksgiving.

I’ve pulled out the budget stops on my Google ads; paying $40 per day for 250 clicks that produce just two or three sales is disturbing, to put it mildly. I’ve been hammering Facebook with at least one post a day and sometimes as many as three, but those only ever reach about 30 people (out of nearly 200 “likes”). Even my own wife never sees Curio City’s posts. I assume it’s because I won’t pay Facebook’s “boost” fee. 

Rushing in where angels fear to tread, I just dropped another $1,200 this morning to replenish MetalEarth (formerly Metalworks) models and add a few new designs. Last year one customer bought up nearly half of my stock and I never quite found the money to replace it, making it very difficult to judge the real demand. This might turn out to be a stupid mistake.  

At least I was able to carve out 5.5 hours for raking. Another couple of hours ought to finish it off. So far, I’ve filled 14 bags, two barrels, and two compost bins…after running the leaves through the mower. The mower gave up the ghost this morning, though. The internet says that I can replace the pull cord myself. Just what I need: another project. The fall yard cleanup is on hold until I can fix my mower.

Friday, November 08, 2013

Christmas: One Week Down, Six to Go

Panther Vision caps are back, baby. I don’t know where all that business went for most of the year, but now that sales are back to normal all is forgiven.

I realized this week that Corn-n-Tater advertising was eating up as much as half of my daily ad budget and crowding out more lucrative merchandise. With my link from the manufacturer’s page (free clicks!) still active until next week’s Dr. Oz promotion, I don't really need those ads. Sure enough other products gained traction when some ad bucks were freed up. I’ll pull out all of my budget stops next week anyway.

With the first week of Christmas nearly over, it’s looking pretty good. The high season between Thanksgiving and Christmas is six days shorter this year than last, and that’s surely going to depress December. Will November make up the difference? I will know by the end of next week. This season ought to be short but intense.

Blog entries will be short and sweet as Curio City gallops out of control over the next six weeks (and I have to make some time for the fall yard cleanup; those leaves won’t rake themselves).

Friday, November 01, 2013

October Surprise

I didn’t think it was possible to top last October, but here it is: With a day and a half left in the fiscal month, Excel says I’m up by $3 for my second-best October ever (after 2009). Quickbooks is slightly more generous.


Total income: +5.6%
Total COGS: +5.8%
Payroll: +12.6%
Marketing: +25.3%
Net Income (Profit): +15.8% (+$44)

Year to Date 

Total income: -13.0%
Total COGS: -17.2%
Payroll: -13.4%
Marketing: -0.4%
Net Income (Profit): -59.8% (-$614)

The advertising increase is still a problem, but it's not the disaster it has been since I allowed Google to change some settings. I have mostly changed them back.

This is a relief because I’m doubling down on Christmas like never before. I’m buried in Christmas merchandise a few weeks earlier than usual and I’ve run up a frightening credit card balance to do it. I could easily spend thousands more, and I just might do that if the omens look good.

So here we are at the first of the two months that really matter…the Corn-n-Tater media thing (a scant two weeks away) and my overflowing cellar give me hope that the YTD bottom line could still turn black for the year…and that’s what it’s all about.

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