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, August 29, 2014

Summer Numbers

August was another decent month. It might have been an excellent month had I not slammed on the brakes for a technology upgrade this week. Excel says that total income beat LY by $700+, whereas Quickbooks only recognizes $508, but it's a win either way. The numbers speak for themselves. 


Total income: +14.7%
Total COGS: +9.4%
Payroll: +21.8%
Marketing: +24.5%
Net Income (Profit): +499.6% (+$76)

Year to Date

Total income: +14.1%
Total COGS: +49%
Payroll: -33%
Marketing: +14%
Net Income (Profit): +46.6% (+$4,327)

Sales targets start to get tough next week. Christmas season starts in a month and there's still no cash in the till for new products.

The big news for August, of course, is Curio City's makeover. It took longer than I expected. I paid for the upgrade and turned off my advertising on Monday. The job wasn't completed until late on Wednesday. I've had only three sales all week, but one of them was substantial, so I didn't get slaughtered. I only lit my advertising up again last night. A test transaction went through without a hitch today, but I can't relax until I get my first real sale through the new website. Right now the crickets sound pretty loud.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Lipstick On a Pig?

Massachusetts enjoyed a beautiful, if late, summer: slightly drier and cooler than normal, it reminded me what my favorite season was like before global warming turned it into a sweat lodge. Curio City had a decent summer, too, beating LY's dismal numbers despite being on autopilot. Next week's numbers will reveal a solid August, if not a hot one.

I hate change in general, and I especially hate to perturb things that are ticking along nicely. Alas, with Christmas right around the corner it's time to take control again. Next week I'm finally going to hire Turnkey to upgrade Sunshop, as I've been threatening to do all year. That's a gamble in itself. I've always paid a contractor for upgrades in order to preserve the many customizations that have accumulated over the years, but Turnkey will do a plain-vanilla job for a lot less money. What scares me is abandoning the "Modern Black" theme that I've used for a decade in favor of a new standard template -- one that, most critically, is mobile-friendly. 

Depending on how long it takes to massage the new template to my liking, and on how fussy I am, business might plunge and turn August from another modest money-maker into a loser. When it's done, it will be the same old Sunshop underneath with a dramatically new look on the surface. The so-called "responsive theme" should more than make up for the hiccup as I'm able to court mobile users instead of trying to avoid them. When I finally get through this transition I can bring in some new products -- something that I haven't done all year -- just as Christmas starts ramping up.

It's going to be OK. Isn't it? Somebody please tell me that it's going to be OK.  

Friday, August 15, 2014

The Owl and the Peregrine

The neighborhood squirrels and birds love my vegetable garden. I always plant more tomatoes than I expect to harvest with a little bit of attrition in mind --"one for the mouse, one for the house." The internet says that the rhyme actually says "one for the mouse, one for the crow, one to rot, one to grow" but I don't like the implied 75% loss there. 

The varmints seem to be more aggressive than usual this year. Birds pecked holes in my early bell peppers and eggplants to reach the tasty seeds inside. I find a tomato or two on the ground with one bite missing every day (ATTENTION SQUIRRELS: If you're going to steal my fruit, please have the courtesy to eat the whole thing). I only have enough space to overplant tomatoes so there's a real danger that I won't get any peppers or eggplant or squash at all this year. 

What's a gardener to do? The obvious answer is off the table: Firing a shotgun in my town would bring a SWAT team down on me.

If I were to google solutions, I might very well trigger a Curio City ad for bird kites. I've sold hundreds of Osprey and Falcon kites specifically to protect gardens just like mine; many customers have testified that these kites are the one non-lethal solution that really works. They need more airspace than my small yard can offer, though. I could probably fly a small bird (Blackbird, Blue Jay, or Cardinal) but those aren't proven scarecrows. 

So I invested $30 in a solar owl on an online friend's recommendation. Hundreds of reviews on Amazon were split about 50/50 as to its effectiveness. After a couple of encouraging days the local squirrels wised up, and vegetables started disappearing again. 

Since they're laughing at my fake owl, I fell back upon the only other thing that's ever repelled squirrels: predator urine. Fox whiz is too expensive to guard the whole garden; tomatoes are still being chomped. Whether the piss pots will protect my other plants remains to be seen. As long as hunger trumps fear, I am not optimistic. 

And: Yes, the picture above is really of me and my $30 owl. 

Friday, August 01, 2014

The Few. The Proud. The Converted


Total income: +6.9%
Total COGS: -2.2%
Payroll: +37.4%

Marketing: +28.7%
Net Income (Profit): -68.1% (-$122)

Year to Date

Total income: +13.4%
Total COGS: +54.7%
Payroll: -36.7%

Marketing: +13.1%
Net Income (Profit): +44.6% (+$4,153)

Curio City ordinarily "closes" for a week of vacation in July (in which "closing" means putting all advertising on hold, posting delayed shipping notices on my home and new pages, and changing my order acknowledgment email to warn of shipping delays.) I'd hoped to widen my YTD lead because we couldn't afford a vacation this year. That didn't happen.

Oh well, it's just July. August's targets don't look terribly daunting, but August is really another throwaway month.


Trivia junkies might enjoy the June statistics that Google Analytics sent me:
3,799 unique visitors seems like a lot to me. 461 were returning and 3,338 came for the first time. 72% bounced away after seeing just the landing page. The average person spent 1:16 looking at three pages. 2,901 were from the US; the UK, Canada, Australia, and Germany rounded out the rest (I typically get two or three international sales a month).

Of those 3,338 first-time visitors, 2,124 came from paid Google clicks, 586 found me in organic Google search results, 224 came here directly with no referral, and 207 came from Bing and Yahoo organic searches. I turned off my Microsoft ads last month so there was no cpc traffic from Bing or Yahoo, which I doubt that Google measures accurately anyway. Twelve hundred unpaid visits is pretty good considering that I've never done any professional optimization.

Google only reported 22 "goal completions" -- or sales, as I like to call them -- for a dismal success rate of 0.7%. Maybe Google only measures the visitors that they sent me. Sunshop recorded 58 sales, or 1.5% of my total unique visits. I'd like conversions to run at closer to 2%, but I can live with 1.5% in the dead of summer. A "normal" rate is anywhere from 1-5%.

My strategy for increasing the number of visits and the conversion rate is simple and clear, but it requires money and the cooperation of my developer...neither of which I have right now. Maybe in a few weeks. 


Speaking of no money, I had to carry a $1,600 Mastercard balance into August with just $38 left in checking. There's very little hope of getting caught up as long as most of my sales are dropships; nearly every sale that I make increases my debt. It will take a Christmas miracle to make it all better, especially since I can't afford any new merchandise. It's weird to contemplate a final death spiral at the same time that I'm turning in black numbers.

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