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, April 03, 2015

A World of Crap

The Boston Gift Show is still the Cavalcade of Crap. I dismiss the first two aisles (souvenirs) and the last two aisles (jewelry and crafts) sight-unseen. The rest of it is the same old vendors in the same locations selling new variations on the same old junk year after year. My chore is to find exceptions.

That took less than an hour. The Unemployed Philosophers Guild was there for the first time. I've bought personal gifts from them before, and some of their novelty kitsch would tie into other Curio City products, so I started to get worked up until their rep told me that they won't sell to online stores. That makes sense, since the UPG is itself an online store; why would they want me competing with them? Oh well. 

After eliminating the mainstream aisles I decided to give the crafts aisle a once-through because I couldn't justify calling it quits after just 45 minutes. The drawback to hand-made products is their lack of standardization. I can only tolerate minor variations from one piece to the next when people can't see each one, so crafts have to get over a high bar. One woman was selling fused glass clocks that would benefit from Switchables spillover (I'm always keen on products that can piggyback on existing advertising). But the lack of packaging killed it. Glass breaks in transit without proper boxes, and the artist wasn't interested in online sales. She wouldn't be sitting in a booth at that pathetic little gift show if she were making a good living selling to old-fashioned gift shops...but whatever. Her loss.  

To prevent a strikeout I looped back to a tiny booth that was showing two decks of Bicycle playing cards with Celtic art designs. I already do fairly well with Irish-themed Switchables and golf balls, and my Games category needs a shot in the arm. Since nobody is undercutting the price online yet it looks like a safe bet with small stakes. Selling 24 pieces a year at $12 apiece is my most optimistic expectation, so it's not likely to bring in more than a few hundred bucks at best. I'd need another dozen comparable products to noticeably move the needle.    

So I spent two hours commuting in order to waste an hour at a show where I met two people who didn't want my business, and wishlisted one minor new product. On the plus side, I used my wife's T pass and I got home in time for lunch, so at least I didn't have to spend any money. All I lost was my time and that has no monetary value. 


After telling me last week that she would order on Monday, the $1,000 kite lady fell silent, then cropped up again on Tuesday to promise her order by Thursday "at latest." It's Friday. I had to carry a Mastercard balance again, although I did whittle it in half by taking my CPA's fee out of the lockbox. I just paid $185 to renew my UPS Store address. Some damned thing always keeps me from getting ahead. Business was very poor this week, probably due to Easter and school vacation weeks, and I got three returns: One authorized, one unauthorized, and one purely out of the blue. 

Even if Kite Lady still comes through, $1,000 doesn't help as much as you'd think. 60% of it goes to pay for the merchandise and the free shipping that I offered. 20% goes to my paycheck -- Yay me, sure, but not so hot for my company. PayPal will scalp about 3% off the top. The $170 that's left isn't even enough to pay for my UPS box. And yeah, this is sour grapes; I do need the $1,000. 

My best shot at improving sales, the long-anticipated Metal Earth buildout, can't happen until late May at the earliest, and more likely the end of June. By then the customers disappear and I go dormant until Christmas revs up in September. 

I shouldn't even buy those playing cards, but what the hell.   

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