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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, December 19, 2014

Good Bets and Bad Bets

Excel's "Net Sales +/- LY" column shows black ink on 11 out of the first 13 days of this month, often by $100 or more...and yet, this December's final number will still be the worst since 2007. Why? Lots of nickel-and-dime sales and no big scores. Every December since 2007 has brought at least one bulk sale over $1,000; this year had none. Each of the past three years peaked with a $5,000+ week; this year's high water mark was $3,800. (Blame the decline of Panther Vision caps for that. I just don't have anything else that people buy by the dozens.) On top of that, Christmas ended right on schedule on Dec. 15 this year, whereas it dragged on for a week past that LY. Five of the most recent seven days came up short by hundreds of dollars a day -- I "lost" $500 on Monday alone. I'm still getting a Christmassy 8-10 orders a day, but they average an un-Christmassy $20 -- enough to keep me hopping without making much money.

One thing's for sure: That last-minute Santaur order was a smart gamble. I sold a total of 54 altogether, and I'd easily have doubled that if I hadn't run out three times. Being entirely without function and kind of bulky for its price, Santaur doesn't fit my definition of an ideal Curio City product. But when I accidentally stumble upon something whimsical that people want, I'm happy to take their $800.    

Unfortunately, I made too many bad bets. The "long tail" -- the 80% of products that deliver 20% of sales -- didn't wag at all this year, especially in the previously reliable Kitchen and Party (shot glasses, ice cube molds, etc.) categories. Things like the Buddha Butter Dish, the Pizza Boss 3000, and even last year's hit Manatea -- all proven performers -- sold no more than 0-2 pieces, and some new things that looked like surefire winners (like All About the Benjamins) didn't sell a single piece. None of these products will ever be bestsellers but ordinarily I expect to break even on them, or a little better if I'm lucky. This year they were a money sink to the tune of a couple thousand bucks. It's the first time that my shotgun approach failed completely.

In spite of these complaints, I'm right on the verge of turning a profit for the year. In fact, I'd probably be in the black now if I hadn't written off a couple hundred bucks worth of dead merchandise this month. While a small loss would be good for my personal income tax bill, a small gain would stroke my ego (and could even tip this year's total compensation over the magic $10,000 mark).

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