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.
Friday, December 13, 2013
Christmas Week 6: Gone, Baby, Gone
All the good stuff is selling out.
I left a lot of money on the table by misjudging Metal Earth. First, I forgot all about these models until I got a paper catalog very late in the season (mid November). Then, already facing a big pile of debt, I dithered for a week. Then their screwy online order form tricked me into ordering four times as many pieces as I wanted. I called them up and cut the quantities – I wish now that I hadn’t done that, but it seemed prudent at the time and I figured that I’d reorder quickly if they took off. They did, so I reordered on 11/30, scarcely a week after getting my initial shipment. That little reorder didn’t even ship until 12/9 and won’t arrive until next Monday…so much for just-in-time inventory management. I might’ve sold 100 more pieces if I’d had them. If last year is a good precedent, I won’t sell another one of these things until next November. One customer answered the optional “How did you find us?” checkout question with “You were linked in an online article or blog,” so Metal Earth might have been a random act of media that won’t repeat. But I’m going to restock anyway if my open-to-buy (currently $4,000 in the red) ever sees black ink again.
What else? All 12 Manatea Infusers sold out, probably because somebody pinned it on Pinterest. That was a surprise, especially since I didn't sell a single Teatanic (which I like better). I just sold my last three Pizza Pros this morning. The Buddha Butter Dish is gone after a quick surge that must have been driven by some gift guide somewhere. The Krampus ornament sold out weeks ago. I’ve sold 22 of the 60 Panther Vision Winter Beanies that I brought in.
Christmas should have hammered me hard this week. Sunday’s 20 transactions, a level that should have persisted through the whole first half of December, made it look like things were finally taking off, but I didn’t touch 20 again until yesterday, almost surely for the last time this year. The pace has been brisk but manageable, if disappointing by historical standards. I’m breaking a sweat every day without getting overwhelmed. That’s good from a mental health standpoint, anyway.
I expect to rack up another pile of small sales through the weekend, and then a lot of nothing next week. I should get peppered with desperate people paying for fast shipping, but I have never sensed the usual desperation this year at all.
The huge dropship that I mentioned last week goosed this week’s sales into Christmas territory, as I had hoped, but it left both me and my customer with hard feelings. He was dithering between the 4-LED camouflage caps that Panther had in stock and the 6-LED caps that were due to arrive today. The last time I talked to him, he was going to find out if his embroiderer’s turnaround time would allow him to wait for Panther’s container to arrive. I said “So you’ll call me in the next couple of days when you’re ready to commit,” or at least that’s how I remember it. His recollection is a little different. When he didn’t call for two days I decided to get a status update from Panther before calling him to press for a decision, and it’s good that I did: It turned out that they pre-sold the entire container. So I left him a message saying “I have good news and bad news. The bad news is that the 6-LED caps are no longer an option – they’re gone before they even arrived. The good news is that that makes your decision easy. They still have the 4-LED caps and I can get them on their way as soon as you give me the go-ahead.”
He was seething when he finally called the next day. I expected him to be pissed at himself or at Panther, but his sights were set squarely on me. He thought that I had backordered the 6-LED caps with the understanding that I’d cancel if his embroiderers couldn’t turn them around in time. I don’t know how he got that impression. I never intended to do anything of the kind; it would have tied up $2,000 on my credit card for merchandise that he hadn’t paid for yet (although he did give me his payment info), and Panther would not have been amused by a last-minute switcheroo – they would have had to refund that $2,000 and process another $1,800 order, incurring bank fees at each step. As I see it, the customer lost out because he waited too long to commit. He thought that he had committed when he gave me his credit card info, even though I chose not to use it yet (to avoid $160 in bank fees for two orders and a refund). Maybe I misled him, or maybe didn’t express his intention, or maybe I simply misunderstood him. There’s no way to pinpoint the miscommunication because it was all verbal.
This is why I always prefer to work through email. I’m not good on the telephone and there’s no record of what was said.
In the end he ordered his 4-LED caps and I got my big sale (albeit for the cheaper caps), but neither of us are happy and I stand to lose a good repeat customer. I should send him a contrite email after he gets his caps and has some time to cool down. He’s the customer, so this is my fault whatever the actual facts.
I wonder if Panther’s container arrived today as they expected.