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, February 28, 2014

February's Cold Numbers

I don’t know how much foul weather affects online sales, but I’m pretty sure February’s unrelenting cold and storms didn’t help.  

Total income: +2.3%
Total COGS: +2.6%
Payroll: +14.9%
Marketing: +7.2%
Net Income (Profit): -58.8% (-$156)

Year to Date

Total income: -2.4%
Total COGS: +2.2%
Payroll: -4.2%
Marketing: +5.2%
Net Income (Profit): -51.7% (-$248)

The first two weeks of February demolished LY and even met my ambitious plan. The third week – school vacation week -- was a bit slower than expected; people don’t shop when they aren’t at work and their kids are underfoot. I still expected a strong month until this week inexplicably fell flat. There’s black ink, yes, but not the sea of it that I expected a couple of weeks ago. Average-to-good sales for the remaining day and a half could still turn that last number black, and March’s targets aren’t too scary.

My unplanned smartphone purchase comprises the whole decline in year-over-year profit and boosts Verizon into the rarified club of entities that profit from Curio City, along with Google and my payment gateway.

Only Switchables are really selling. Paradoxically, that might be due to supply problems; if I’ve currently got an unprecedented 14 styles on backorder then more successful stores must be in even worse shape than I am. 

Paying for my annual report, corporate registration, and tax preparation are March's goals. They were February's goals, too, but I no longer have the luxury of missing them.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Forward Into the Past!

Staples advertised the Samsung Galaxy S4 for a penny because the S5 is due out next month. My wife insisted that I get a Galaxy because that’s what she has – and what do I know about it? -- so I’ve been watching the price ever since Best Buy offered it for free over Christmas. One cent was close enough to free; I finally leapt into the 21st century with a newly-obsolete smartphone!

Staples turned that 1-cent telephone into a $231 Amex charge. The mobile phone business ranks right up there with car dealers and mattress salesmen for opaque accounting and must-have add-ons (Case! Screen protector! Extra memory! Accident insurance!). After all rebates and refunds are applied, and not counting the ink cartridge that I tacked on, that $231 shrinks to $91. But Amex isn’t going to see it that way.

How does Massachusetts get away with collecting sales tax on the nominal $600 retail price? Staples listed a $49.99 retail with a $49.98 credit on the receipt. Even though I only paid a penny, I can understand paying tax on its true $50 value. But $600? Come on. Has anybody ever really paid $600 for this phone? AFAIK the state doesn’t tax the pre-discount prices of any other merchandise.  

Verizon’s going to get a cut, too. Our phone bill increases by $35 a month after some hocus-pocus with the account. Curio City’s phone bill just went from $15 to $50/mo.  

Of course, now I’m $231 farther away from paying the corporate registration and tax prep fees that were this month’s goals. The phone was at the bottom of my list of needs for this year. But hey, it was only a penny!


Google says my top social referrer last month was Pinterest, followed by Facebook, Blogger (that’s you!), Naver (?), and Ning (??). That reinforces last week’s conclusion that I really have to invest some time in understanding Pinterest, as much as I cringe every time I think about it.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Like It Or Lose It

Is it time to abandon Facebook? This video blog post (on the bottom of that page) recently accused Facebook of suppressing unpaid posts. Only 10% of the author’s 118,000 followers ever see his stuff. Unless you actively engage with my content by liking or sharing it, Curio City will quickly disappear from your news feed -- unless, that is, I bribe Facebook to promote my posts.
The accusation and Facebook’s dissembling isn’t new, but my numbers back it up. If you’re reading my blog after clicking a Facebook link, you’re among the 15 of Curio City’s 196 subscribers who will see this post. My wife won’t see it because she doesn’t visit Facebook very often and she’s stingy with the Like button. Even I have to scroll way to the bottom of my personal news feed to see my Curio City posts. If I want my other 181 followers to see my posts –people who clicked Like for that reason – I have to pay the Facebook. 

Facebook is a terrible advertising platform with only a 0.5% click rate. Nobody goes there to shop. They hold our posts hostage because they can’t sell advertising. Sites like Cracked.com and I Fucking Love Science stay in people’s news feeds by adding tons of unique and interesting content every day to get clicks to their own sites, where they’re selling advertising. That would be pointless for me since my store is a store, not a humor or news site, and I don’t sell ads.   

I used to ponder killing my email newsletter because it’s no sparkplug, either. Email looks a lot better now that Facebook is suppressing posts. Last week I sent out 402 emails. Eighty-five unique opens gave me a 22% success rate, ahead of the 18% industry average but below my own 26% history. The 12 resulting clicks (14%) matched the industry-wide benchmark but fell behind my own 21% track record – granted, it wasn’t my best newsletter ever; I cranked it out in one morning and made the mistake of putting Valentines Day in the subject line, which automatically turns a lot of people off. The two sales that I got from those 12 clicks is a great conversion rate. Constant Contact costs me $16/month and I don’t use it every month, so it’s not exactly cost-effective. On top of that, I lost money to coupon redemption. But there is value in merely appearing in people’s inboxes every now and then…and I’d need something like 1,200 followers to reach 85 people on Facebook. 

Back to my original question: Is it time to abandon Facebook? No, since it costs me no money and very little time. Reaching 15 people for free is better than nothing. My occasional “likes” and very rare “shares” can put a post in front of 30 or 40 people. And every business needs a Facebook page for credibility, even if nobody ever visits it. It’s time to stop thinking that Facebook = marketing, but not time to abandon it completely. 

With Facebook constantly getting worse, I decided to see if the Pinterest page that I made two years ago is still there. Lo and behold, people have pinned nearly 100 of my products with absolutely no encouragement from me. The value of that is questionable; the four different people who pinned the Peace Sign Veggie Peeler generated exactly zero sales. I don’t think I can delete or hide pins by other people, and I get lost trying to navigate my own page(s). But I have a feeling that investing time in this will pay off a lot better than Facebook if I can hold my nose long enough to figure it out. Maybe next week I’ll put some hours into Pinterest. 


The post office denied my $8.99 claim against a “2-Day” Priority Mail package that took 16 days to reach its destination. As far as they’re concerned, they met their obligation by delivering it at all…and that’s technically true, since Priority times aren’t guaranteed. (I’ve already written about my opinion of the USPS’s estimated delivery times.) I appealed with documentation showing that the replacement shipment cost me a $14.50 loss. 

Their verdict on my e-filed claim came in a paper snail-mail letter. They will undoubtedly deny my appeal the same way. The USPS hates email.


This week I sold my 500th Create-a-Bird kite. Some people buy them to fly as-is; more buy them as a craft project for children; but with Easter looming, most will be stage props in church plays. At half the size of the Dove kite (135 sold, btw), Create-a-Bird is best for small indoor stages. 


And finally, I sold four more Tunes for Two splitters, doubling my sales to $82.89 -- still a loser, but not as big a loser.

Friday, February 07, 2014

The Fortune for Tunes is Four

The first Newsday-inspired Tunes for Two order arrived at 10 am Monday. I immediately launched into full holiday mode -- same-day shipping, delivery-time countdown on the News page, and a Valentines-specific welcome message on my main page. Then I sat back and waited for the orders to flood in.

They didn’t. 

At 2 pm I dropped the price back down to $9.98. Simple sleuthing that I should have done a week ago showed it selling for as little as $5.86 on Amazon. How can they even do that? Either they're liquidating old stock or selling stolen merchandise. I paid $6.31 apiece including inbound freight. Other competitors are selling it in the $8 range; my page didn’t even register on Google’s first search results page. Anybody who googles the product name rather than typing my URL into their browser – which is nearly everyone -- is going to buy it someplace else.

I ultimately sold three more pieces at the discounted price. Final tally: 36 pieces bought for $227.12; four sold for $42.93. So much for the big score. Oh well, at least I have a lifetime supply of these things for future Valentines Days. I might make my cost back eventually. There aren’t any batteries to go bad in storage, competitors will drop by the wayside as they sell out and the product ages, and next year I’ll start it off at $7.98.

The related TV spot that they recorded on the 5th won’t air until the 10th, so that’s completely pointless.

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