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, June 27, 2014

Lightning Strikes Twice

One fun thing about this game is that the score can unexpectedly change at any moment. June was sailing calmly into the fail column, propelled mostly by the Jackite inventory shortages that I explained last week. On Tuesday, out of the blue, a $500 6-led cap order moved it up to the "meh" zone. On Wednesday, $900 worth of Bald Eagle kites with poles (dropshipped, naturally) kicked it up to awesomeness. (The eagle kite, btw, is a proven Canada goose repellent if you know of any golf courses or parks that need to solve that problem. Just sayin'.)


Total income: +33.2%
Total COGS: +109.5%
Payroll: +36.5%
Marketing: +177.9%
Net Income (Profit): -570.6% (-$1,118)

Year to Date

Total income: +13.5%
Total COGS: +24.6%
Payroll: -43.1%
Marketing: +11.6%
Net Income (Profit): +75.9% (+$7,186)

With the year half over, I'm unlikely to achieve the 21% increase that I had hoped for. But I'm up double digits from last year's awfulness. With a few more lightning bolts...who knows?

What's going on with the Cost of Goods Sold? Two things: First, at this time LY I put $400 worth of merchandise that the vendor never billed into inventory at zero cost. They eventually caught up with me so that gets reversed later in the year. Second, shipping expenses for dropships go into COGS rather than the usual office-expense line, and single-item shipping is far more expensive than bulk order shipping.  

I finally paid for tax preparation this month, an expense that I usually book in March or April. Those two things account for most of this month's hit to Net Income. My paychecks are so small that big percentage swings there don't really affect anything.

I can't afford to replace those 6-LED caps until my August credit card statement period opens on July 13. I probably won't lose any sales during the month that I'll be out-of-stock, but one never knows when lightning might strike. One does know, however, that it can't strike if one has no merchandise.

At the moment I have $1,000 in the bank against July charge bills of $3,400...and Monday is payday -- that's nice for me, not so nice for my company. I have about a month to close the $2,400 difference. It's going to be a long and unforgiving climb back to zero.   


"GRC*MFBEAUTY VITAMIN" has charged my business Mastercard $32.94 every month since March. I don't take vitamins and I'm not beautiful. I've changed my account number twice after dutifully disputing each new charge. I thought it was finally solved last month when they sent me this email:

We acknowledge your statement that you have never placed an order with us. Account number xxx-xxx-xxx has been canceled due to reported fraud. In addition, your credit card has been removed from file. There will be no further charges to your account.

Hah! Another $32.94 charge appeared on 6/24. And just to really piss me off, they're challenging the May chargeback, meaning that I had to actually pay the damned thing to avoid interest. Have I mentioned that I'm especially cash-poor at the moment? If there's any consolation, I know that the merchant pays a chargeback fee (typically $25) every time they lose...and the industry is biased for merchants to lose. This company is going to be out hundreds of dollars when all's finally said and done.

Yesterday they apologized again and offered to send me a check for $98.84 to cover all three charges. Since I've only paid out $32.94 so far (and that one's still in dispute), this bribe will actually put me ahead. Now I can stop disputing the charges and just pay them to put an end to this -- assuming, that is, that they don't pile on any new ones.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Summer Doldrums Already

As much as I enjoyed raking in money from all of the bird kite dropships in May, the falcons and hawks are now coming home to roost in a $1,400 nest. I was able to push that bill into July's credit card statement...but paying for May's merchandise in the slowest month of the year is going to be a challenge. The bill for my belated tax return preparation finally came, too. The old familiar cash crisis is back. 

Kite sales have apparently peaked a month earlier than expected. Jackite still hasn't replenished Create-a-Bird (costing me at least a couple hundred bucks a month) and now they're sold out of nearly all of their fiberglass poles, too. No more poles means no more dropships. While my credit card welcomes the relief, my checking account does not.

I've taken a whack out of one of the few variable expenses I can control: pay-per-click ads (even mentioning that topic is throwing chum in the water for the SEO sharks). Spending $30 per day on clicks when sales are averaging $65 is suicidal. I hope that cutting advertising won't prove to be a slower form of death.  

In spite of all this, I'm resolved to go through with my website upgrade during the week in July when I would ordinarily be on vacation. Out of all the "extra" expenses I've taken on this year, this is the only one that might increase sales.

Friday, June 13, 2014

What's a Word Worth?

Once Curio City's bread and butter, Panther Vision caps went stale sometime last year. There are too many competitors selling them now, including Walmart and Lowes. I obviously can't touch their prices, although I do trounce their selection. Keywords have been bid up to the $1 range and beyond -- way too rich for me. I top out at $0.65 for most products and try to stay under $0.50...preferably way under, whenever possible. Caps sold nicely last Christmas, and I hope they'll do it again this year, but I no longer expect any action from them outside of November and December. 

Why, then, did I sell four on Monday? Did a competitor drop out and boost my pay-per-click positions? Was it one of those random Google blips where my keywords organically bob to the top for a few hours? One customer answered "How did you find us?" with "Searching for something on Google", another declined to answer, another said "Referred by a friend," and the last said "You were linked in an online article or blog." OK, no pattern there. Two customers were in California, one in Maryland, and one in New Jersey -- again, no pattern. AdWords didn't take credit for any conversions (and Bing is worthless, as usual*). Yet, I sold a fifth cap on Wednesday.  

Incidentally, speaking of overpriced keywords...I can't advertise bicycle accessories at all because the relevant keywords sell for up to $4.25 per click. If you convert 2% of your clicks at the most common $2.25 price point then each sale costs $112.50. That's obviously just plain nuts.

*...so worthless is Bing, in fact, that I finally pulled the plug on it this week. In the past 30 days I spent $71.64 on 250 clicks that led, by Bing's own reckoning, to 0 conversions. Statistically, 250 clicks should have brought five to 10 sales. How on earth can they assign a quality score of 3/10 to a keyword like "lighted caps" or 2/10 to "Jackite kites"? I shouldn't have to spam keywords everywhere when I clearly have the relevant products at the proper URLs. Screw you, Microsoft. I'm done trying to game your algorithm. 

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