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.
Friday, January 09, 2015
(Almost) Everything Is Awesome
I almost planned this year $1 higher than 2011, Curio City's high water mark. What made me think 2015 might bring a 23% increase after sales declined for the third consecutive year in 2014? Pure hubris. Yet I can't shake an unfounded, unfamiliar, and wholly uncharacteristic feeling of optimism.
The US economy is heading into a banner year that will finally include everybody. Interest rates are still low (making investors happy) but expected to start rising slowly (making savers happy). Inflation is nonexistent; indeed, deflation is a risk if energy prices keep falling. Stock markets are stumbling right now but crashing energy prices make everyone except oil companies and their investors happy...and I can't muster any sympathy for them. Yes, those of us who are fortunate enough to have retirement accounts will see some paper losses in our index funds, but they're hardly panic-inducing. The job market is starting to absorb marginalized workers, and wage growth must inevitably follow -- 20 states raised their minimum wage last week. Corporations have mountains of cash to readily finance expansion. Consumer confidence is up. This is about as good as it gets.
With a presidential campaign getting started, the new Republican Congress isn't likely to derail it with unnecessary austerity measures. They will want to claim some of the credit that people refuse to give to Obama. Conservative posturing won't end, of course, but Boehner is whipping the Tea Partiers into submission now that he no longer needs their votes. I don't expect to see major policy damage over the next two years, so the boom could last that long.
So yeah, it's "morning in America" or whatever. I've said before that my business is too tiny to follow macroeconomic trends...so why should 2015 be any different?
That's the "unfounded" part. Since setting an unachievable plan is a fast way to smother optimism, I went with a more prosaic LY + 12.5% -- half of what I'd ideally like, it's still double-digit ambitious and quasi-realistic. 2014 was running ahead of 2013 by double digits until it crashed in October, so this year just needs to track that without the crashing part in Q4.
How to do that? I don't have a specific secret plan. I do have some tuneup ideas, though:
Make shopping easier, especially for smartphone users. I've already killed the giftwrap option that imposed an extra click on every product. I got rid of a couple of categories and removed duplicate entries that made them look bigger than necessary (Google frowns on that anyway). I'm going to write tighter descriptions without any keyword stuffing, because mobile visitors don't want to read. Then I'll stop discounting my keyword bids for mobile traffic.
Google rewards sites that are optimized for smartphones by displaying a little thumbs-up icon to mobile browsers. I tested my site and found that it qualifies for that sign of approval.
Have better stuff to buy. I neglected product development last year. I'm going to focus on it this year, to the extent that cash flow will allow. Tax obligations are holding me back right now, but I'm going to risk another big Mastercard bill as soon as a new statement period begins next week. Most of that will merely replenish tried-and-true items.
While I'm on that subject, please observe a moment of silence for SKU 16, the Mini Briefcase Business Card Holder. One of my opening products, it secured the #2 bestseller slot by selling nearly 1,400 units over the past nine years -- without a dime of advertising. Now I've got three left. When I tried to reorder last week, the wholesaler had changed its SKU number and raised the price by two bucks. The product is now only available in case lots with custom imprinting. They won't sell "blanks," so no more individual unit sales. R.I.P., little product. Replacing you will be among this year's challenges.
Have more of it. If Jackite ever replenishes the Create-a-Bird, that alone could bring in an "extra" $1,000 or more this year. Every time I talk to them they reassure me that they're in production. Switchables is introducing a lot of new designs to replace some of the many that they discontinued; that might be worth a few hundred extra bucks. Expanding and deepening the Metal Earth line is going to be expensive, but it could pay off big.
As long as I'm saying goodbyes: Iggy, my feline friend for the past 16.5 years, is dying of cancer. The vet gave him 3-6 months and I consider that optimistic. He hasn't been pleasant company since he lost his hearing and developed dementia last year, but I'll still miss the little guy. He doesn't mean to be a needy nag. Before age and illness crushed his spirit Iggy was the most agreeable, even-tempered being you could hope to meet. After we euthanize him, I'll be without a cat for the first time in 40 years, and truly alone at home for 10 hours every day. Anne fears that isolation will drive me insane. (shrug) It could happen.
Meanwhile, the mounting vet bills cast this summer's vacation in doubt. We gave up the Berkshires last year due (in part) to Iggy's declining health, so I'm not pleased about losing a second one to the cat. His illness and death are going to cost well over $1,000 when it's over.
Not everything is awesome.