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 28, 2015

August Numbers On the Brink

Excel had this August running $32 ahead of LY as this week began. One year ago, Sunshop got a version upgrade and I switched to the "responsive" template that I'm still using. That change set off a big drop in sales and a corresponding chance to make up a little ground this year. Normal sales this week should have put August $200-300 in the black, and indeed I'm $83 to the good right now. So what does QuickBooks say about that?


Total income: -2.2%
Total COGS: -0.6%
Payroll: -1.4%
Marketing: +22.4%
Net Income (Profit) vs LY: -31.5% (-$68)
Actual Profit/Loss: +$148

Year to Date

Total income: -7.3%
Total COGS: -4.5%
Payroll: -6.5%
Marketing: -7.5%
Net Income (Profit) vs LY: -14% (-$233)
Actual Profit/Loss: -$1,897

This is why I can't have nice things. The next day and a half might still deliver the 92 bucks that would nudge QuickBooks' top line into the black, but I'm going to call it a win based on Excel's version of reality. 

Long-time readers might remember my surprised disappointment when the aforementioned template change dragged all of September down; sure, change is usually for the worse, but I was looking for a small bump from the new mobile-friendly look anyway. Well, what goes around comes around: Last September's slump makes this year's target numbers look easy.

Looks can deceive, though. This September has its own set of challenges that I'll complain about next week.  

Friday, August 21, 2015

Back Into the Penalty Box, Microsoft

Over the past 30 days I paid Microsoft $114 for just five conversions on Bing/Yahoo, or $22.81 per sale. That's about $225 in revenue. $23 to land an average $45 sale is just too much, and a couple of rounds of slaying the most overpriced and underperforming keywords didn't make enough difference. I'd rather keep the 114 birds in hand than go for 225 birds in the bush, so Microsoft AdCenter is suspended again. I'll fire these ads back up again to capture Christmas traffic after I get back from Michigan next month.

For comparison's sake, I paid Google $580 over the same month for 39 conversions worth $1,672, or $15 per sale. Not great, but better. Ideally, advertising would run 10% of gross, or $4.50 per conversion; historically, anything under 15% ($6.75) is good. Fifteen bucks looks like it's way off the scale, but not all of my sales come from paid clicks. When you factor in my unpaid traffic, advertising totaled 17.6% of sales last year. Google is obviously indispensible, and Microsoft is not.

I need to reorder a lot of stuff that I let deplete over the summer and start bringing in Christmas, and I need a lot of money to do that. This was one of those frustrating feast-or-famine weeks: $110 on Sunday, $350 on Monday, $0 on Tuesday, $288 on Wednesday, $0 again on Thursday, $0 so far today. Every time it looks like things are breaking out, they fizzle.

Taking off six days off in September is a terrible idea, but one's niece only gets married once (one hopes), so I should never have to take time off in the fall again. Rather than "close" the store as I do in July, I'll check in daily and try to do everything except ship orders while I'm away. I'm only vulnerable for the first few days, when people will be expecting delivery before I can even ship.

Friday, August 14, 2015

Christmas in August

It's time to knuckle down; an LED Peace Sign Tree Topper sale this week kicked off Christmas already. I used to do a lot of business with that item's vendor -- so much, in fact, that my account got horribly bollixed up one year after they double-shipped one order that contained billing and picking errors. When the dust finally settled I had a free carton of 24 tree toppers. Ordinarily I'm honest to a fault, but reopening their reconciliation process was too painful a thought to entertain. Now I'm down to my last 14, which will almost surely sell out in the next few months. They stopped making tree toppers a couple of years ago and I'm going to miss it after selling 100 of them altogether. 

That vendor keeps selling more and more of their stuff in assortment prepacks, which means I can't reorder the specific variant (color, size, etc) that people are buying without also buying the ones that they aren't. It's no big deal to bricks-and-mortar stores, where shoppers can only see what's in front of them. Online shoppers, however, can see the out-of-stock variants because I have to display them all together. Since this vendor openly disdains online retail, I disdain most of their products.   

Meanwhile, it's the annual tax-free weekend for Massholes again. Sales tax is a small nuisance for Curio City so this policy doesn't help me in the slightest; if anything, it drives a few potential customers into bricks and mortar. 

The Commonwealth will lose $25 million as shoppers mob stores to save a whopping 6.25% on crap that they already intended to buy anyway. But everyone likes to stick it to the taxman and it gives retailers another ginned-up "holiday" to market. There's no question that it produces heavy traffic, and I'll confess that I'll be doing my part; every year Anne and I save a few bucks on something that we needed anyway. This year we need to replace the dehumidifier that died a few weeks ago. Curio City's warehouse (i.e., my dank, unfinished cellar) will be noticeably drier for it. In fact, Curio City would pay for it if my cash flow were positive...which is isn't, alas.

Friday, August 07, 2015

In Living Color

I neglected Curio City almost entirely last week, even deciding not to return some voice mails (pro tip: If you're going to leave a message, tell me what you want. I'll assume that you're a salesman if you just leave your name and number and say "call me"). As soon as we got back from a week's vacation, a painting crew descended on our house for a week. After they finished up I had to catch up on two weeks of deferred gardening, then finish up some painting that I couldn't pay the professionals to do. 

Despite the distractions, I managed to ship all of the week's orders on time and even sold $300 worth of bird kites to a Wisconsin vineyard. Curio City can manage without me for a few days here and there. 

The rocking chairs and table on the porch look brand new, and our faded wooden front door now sports our burgundy accent color (matching the porch ceiling). Those little projects took me as long as it took the crew to paint the whole house. 
And it's still not Curio City's time yet. It will take me another three or four days to prep and paint the back and front porch floors and steps. Maybe I can get down to business toward the middle of next week. 

The only thing that's really booming is spam. It's only gotten worse since the last time I complained about it; I'm averaging 35 junk emails a day now. The latest trends are hot Asian girls who want to meet me and divorce attorneys...do you suppose they're connected?

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