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, February 06, 2015

Imaginary Milestones

Excel says that Curio City passed $500,000 in lifetime planned sales recently. Skim to the end, where I wax philosophical, if you don't like numbers. To me, generating statistics is the fun part of a business, inasmuch as "work" and "fun" can ever coexist. 
Last December brought my total planned sales to $506,000 since 2007 (as far back as reliable records go). Actual life-to-date (LTD) sales reached $434,352.
The spread between plan and reality isn't huge because I adjust the plan as we go along. In the earliest years, before I knew what to expect, I hoped for explosive early growth that would gradually settle down as the business matured. I pulled these numbers out of thin air:

·         2008: $ 85,500
·         2009: $128,000
·         2010: $160,000
·         2011: $176,500
·         2012: $185,000  
·         ...and that's as far out as I could see.

If I'd hit those marks, I'd have been earning $37,000 plus profits by 2012 -- not exactly Mitt Romney-level wealth, but adequate for someone who had never earned much more than $50,000 working for The Man. 

Reality had other ideas. Actual sales for the same period:

·         2008: $51,803
·         2009: $59,905
·         2010: $61,816
·         2011: $64,566
·         2012: $63,665 (first-ever decline)
·         2013: $50,528 (first major decline)

I didn't earn $40,000 in 2012. I made a little over $12,000, and didn't quite clear $10,000 last year. Two things got in the way: The realities of trying to compete in a brutal and ever-changing marketplace, and the Great Recession. 

So these scaled-back "realistic" plans made up this post's $500,000 milestone:

·         2008: $51,330
·         2009: $64,753
·         2010: $68,891
·         2011: $67,998
·         2012: $69,408
·         2013: $69,408
·         2014: $65,211 (that's 1% over 2011's high-water mark)

It's obvious now that Curio City will never crack $100,000 in annual sales, and that means that I'm never going to earn $20,000. The funny thing about expectations is that we adapt to our circumstances. I've come to regard $15,000 as a respectable definition of success. 

Now here's the philosophical part.

A rational actor would stop plumbing Curio City's depths year after year and instead pursue a more lucrative future as a minimum-wage drone. After all, minimum wage just went up to $9. That's $18,720 a year based on a 40-hour week. But a real rational actor can rationalize, right? So here's my rationale: 

·         First, 10 years of working at home with no boss has destroyed my tolerance for wage slavery and simultaneously obliterated my credibility as a slave; I never thrived in traditional work environments and would have a harder time tolerating regimentation now.
·         Second, Curio City doesn't suck down 40 hours of life most weeks. I work hard during Q4 and slack off during the dog days of Q2. I probably average 20 hours a week over the course of a year. Twenty hours at that same $9 would only bring in $9,360, and that's less than the $9,930 that Curio City paid me LY. When minimum wage tops out at $11 in two years it will still only be good for $22,880, or $11,440 for half-time work -- and that's within realistic expectations for Curio City pay.
·         Third (and most important), my wife's happy in her career. She earns enough to buy us both a modestly comfortable lifestyle and my ample free time gives me the freedom to be a housewife. I only need to earn enough money to keep myself in beer and tobacco. I don't want things that I don't need, and there's nothing else that I need. This arrangement suits both of us fine, most of the time.
·         Finally, I'm getting close to the exit ramp. In a year and a half I could theoretically tap into my retirement accounts without penalties. In three years I could take early Social Security benefits. I'm just seven years away from Medicare. And full retirement age is less than nine years out. As fast as the years fly by, those goals are almost upon me. Maybe I'll keep Curio City going through retirement, or maybe I'll fold it, but it will be nice to have those options. 

Making $434,000 in nine years is really dismal for a retail business, but it's pretty remarkable for some old guy selling stuff out of his cellar. It's bought me a lot of beer and tobacco, anyway.

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