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, March 28, 2014

Here's the Black; Now Gimme the Green


Total income: +27.8%
Total COGS: +41.1%
Payroll: +33.2%
Marketing: +15.1%
Net Income (Profit): +62.1% (+$761)

Year to Date

Total income: +8.3%
Total COGS: +14.8%
Payroll: +3.2%
Marketing: +8.1%
Net Income (Profit): +39.1% (+$666)

Kite season is here! I not only demolished LY’s sales…I’m just $74 shy of squeaking out my sales plan for the month. It’s not all lollipops and unicorns, though.

·         Most of the profit increase (actually a loss reduction…real profit never shows up before November) will evaporate after I pay my accountant’s tax prep fee. That expense is a few weeks late this year.
·         A lot of those sales were Jackite dropships, meaning that I’m selling merchandise I haven’t paid for yet. I’d rather sell stuff I already own.
·         COGS (the Cost of Goods Sold) rose a lot more than sales did, in part because shipping charges cut into my markup on dropships.
·         As much as I appreciate all of the nice big kite sales, my routine, bread-and-butter small sales have dropped off noticeably. Eight $250+ days is great; 13 sub-$50 days is worrisome.

The numbers might have looked even better had a mysterious technical glitch not shut down credit card processing for a day or two before I caught it. My credit card processor (CDG Commerce) gives me access to either the Quantum Gateway or the Quantum Transparent Gateway. When you submit a credit card order, the “regular” gateway takes you away from my site and pops up an ugly plain-white CDG confirmation page. You click a button to return to my checkout confirmation screen. The transparent gateway eliminates that extra screen. I used the transparent gateway for five years until it simply stopped working for no apparent reason last week. 

It took a few hours of fumbling to figure out that I can still accept cards through the regular gateway. The superfluous confirmation screen isn’t a big problem because the customer has already clicked Process Order by the time they see it. It’s not like they can back out. I’m a worrier, though – when something stops working, I need to know why. Technology can be a lot of things, but “mysterious” isn’t one of them.

When you’re a one-man business, nobody cares about your problems except you. It took two days of nagging just to get somebody to take ownership of the mystery. Once you finally get a support person’s interest, he’ll usually run it to ground. I say “usually” because they still haven’t solved it and they stopped sending me progress updates two days ago. I think they've given up.

Meanwhile, three charges from last week never found their way into my checking account. CDG just fixed that today, citing a “technical issue”. Seriously? This should be routine stuff. This is what your company does. I have reluctantly decided to ditch CDG next week. I hate to perturb systems that are working, and this one worked fine for five years. But they’ve been plagued with errors ever since they started implementing “improvements” a few months ago. 

Oh, and with all of that crap going on I blew off the Boston Gift Show.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Will I Or Won't I?

Will I attend this year’s Cavalcade of Crap or not? I don’t have any money to spend for the reasons that I explained last week; my open-to-buy (such as it is) reads negative $1,143 and I already need to place some reorders. The Boston Gift Show is usually a waste of time and $5 in T fare. Walking the mile from South Station to the Convention Center in Monday’s brutally cold weather is an added disincentive. 

Meeting the Corn-n-Tater bag guy last year reminded me that I do find something worthwhile once every few years. That product brought in nearly $1,000 before it died with 95 pieces left in my cellar. It might have done much better if the owner’s marketing push hadn’t blown up spectacularly. I haven't heard from him since then and I’m not entirely sure that he’s still in business, to be honest.

I won’t decide until Monday morning. Odds are that I’ll go. But I won't like it.


Somebody bought dinner at Pizza Hut, movie tickets from Fandango, and some cosmetics from Cindy Crawford with the Citizens Bank Mastercard that I only ever use to buy merchandise. This is the second time that card has been compromised. It should be pretty easy to identify the thief based on those transactions, but I don’t think banks even try. Fraud is just a cost of doing business.

Friday, March 14, 2014

It's Always Something

Massachusetts’ Secretary of State got his $109 “annual report” fee a few days before the deadline. Hours later an email from my CPA corrected my assumption that I had another month to scrape up the $456 state minimum tax; it’s all due on March 17. Suddenly, my taxes are paid and my bank account is $565 lighter. Fortunately, March business has been so strong that I’ll still be able to pay my credit card bills.

Paying my CPA will be my first April priority; that will finally slay the tax beast for another year. The second priority is going to be a lot more challenging: Microsoft is cutting Windows XP loose. My five-year-old computer will have a big "hack me" sign taped to its back after that deadline passes. I’d like to spend $800-ish on a new Win 7 laptop that will serve me for four or five years, but I might have to settle for a barebones machine for half that price and plan on replacing it sooner. We’ll see if sales hold up and just how dire the security threat looks. I will most likely need some new software, too; Quickbooks 2009 is getting a little long in the tooth.

If Microsoft didn't have a gun to my head I’d upgrade my website first. The "responsive theme" will make it more mobile-friendly and that could improve sales. It only costs $75 up front, but customization and support could add hundreds to the price tag, and sales often tank for a few days after a software upgrade. That pushes it into May unless I decide to postpone the computer and take my chances with the bad guys for a month or two. 

In June I can knock off the last capital expense on my list: A new office chair. Staples has a good selection in the $100-200 range. I don’t want to skimp on this since my butt spends 75% of its waking hours parked in this chair. A $200 expense in June, when sales typically peter out, is substantial. 

If all of that spending is in the rearview mirror by July I can finally start bringing in a few of the Spring products that started crossing my desk in February. Even though I won’t have any money for merchandise until July, I will still attend the annual Cavalcade of Crap (or the Boston Gift Show, as it prefers to be called) in a couple of weeks. 

The computer and the chair, plus the smartphone that I already bought, will doom 2014 to being another year with no profit…but at least I’ll have a phone, a computer, and a chair that won’t need replacing next year!

Friday, March 07, 2014

Pinning This Down

I get more referral traffic from Pinterest than from Facebook even though I’ve put a fair amount of effort into the latter and scarcely even looked at the former. I created a Pinterest page a few years ago when marketing mavens insisted that everybody should. Whenever I subsequently logged into Pinterest I saw a motley collection of my products that other people had “pinned” to their pages. I couldn’t find my own still-blank pages and had no clue what to do when I finally did stumble across them. 

Last week I finally made good on my recurring threats to rectify that. Aimless flailing eventually turned up a button that would convert my page to a business page – which I thought I already had done, but the button’s presence implied otherwise. The Pinterest interface started to make some rough sense after the conversion. I pinned a few St Patricks Day products and beat a retreat.

Lo and behold, Pinterest started sending daily “Getting Started” emails. I don’t grok social media in general because I’m not social, but step-by-step instructions are my speed. Unfortunately they started with the assumption that you know why you’re there in the first place, they didn’t go into very much detail, and they ended too soon. I was still mostly on my own.

I figured out how to edit and populate a board. A long-ago marketing story recommended creating tightly topical boards, so I made one specifically for St Patrick’s Day and another for Easter. Pinterest recommends adding at least one new pin every day to give people a reason to follow your page. I don’t know what to add apart from my own products…maybe that’s the key to this whole thing. I could try pinning some whiskey drink recipes and beer recommendations, for example, although it’s already too late for St Patrick’s Day sales. 

Easter’s harder because I’m not a Christian. As a businessman I want to appear strictly neutral toward religion if I have to acknowledge it at all, and it's very hard to stay secular about Easter without offending believers. I usually sell quite a few dove and create-a-bird kites to churches for use in their Easter pageants, so I posted those and left it at that. 

“Rich pins” apparently turn one’s pins into full-blown ads with price, quantity on hand, brand, and a whole bunch of other fields. Implementing that is way over my head.

AFAIK nobody has pinned anything from my new pages yet. I accidentally deleted the link to the page that showed all of the products that other people had pinned, and I can’t find it again. That’s a step backwards. Pinterest is confusing, I’ll give them that.

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