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 26, 2016

Another February Down

The most depressing month of the year is finally over. A person of my age shouldn't wish the time away, but seasonal depression always makes me want to either hibernate or hit the fast-forward button from Halloween through February. This batch of numbers isn't exactly a feel-good tonic. The best thing I can say about February is that I kept my advertising costs down...but since sales fell by a larger percentage, even that's not really good news. 


Total income: -10.6%
Total COGS: -18.8%
Payroll: -21.2%

Marketing: -4.8%
Net Income (Profit) vs LY: -34.6% (-$30)

Actual Profit/Loss: -$117


Total income: +0.1%
Total COGS: -0.1%
Payroll: -2.9%

Marketing: -27.6%
Net Income (Profit) vs LY: +71.7% (+$544)

Actual Profit/Loss: -$215

The YTD profit number will turn deeper red after I pay my CPA -- the last big annual expense I have to meet before I can start digging out of debt. Technically, I haven't paid my excise tax yet, either -- the payment is queued up for March 15 and the money's there to cover it, but it isn't reflected in these statistics. 

The odds of gaining any ground against LY's strong March look slim.

The Metal Earth dropship arrangement that I've been writing about has brought in one $10 sale so far. Not that I'm turning my nose up at ten bucks, but it's not looking like a game-changer at this early stage.


Super Tuesday is coming right up. If you're among the throngs who will vote on March 1 (as I am), be sure to vote for anybody but Trump if you're a Republican, or support Sanders if you're a Democrat or an independent. With the number of delegates in play, this could very well be the last chance to prevent a Trump presidency -- if he wins the Republican nod and Democrats are foolhardy enough to nominate Clinton, then Trump's victory in November is assured.  

Friday, February 19, 2016

Happy Smegging Holidays

With Valentines Day and Presidents Day falling back to back, last weekend predictably sucked: Shutouts on Friday and Monday bracketed all of $20 worth of sales over four days. So when someone with no name or callback number left a voicemail on Monday night complaining that my website was borked, I scrambled to investigate. Everything looked hunky-dory, but I was anxious anyway. Surely I'd have a sale waiting on Tuesday morning.


Well, OK then. This was supposed to be one of the year's worst weeks, but I really need at least some cash trickling in. Reluctantly, I stepped up my advertising. Spending more money when there's nothing coming in doesn't seem wise, but what else can I do?

Maybe it worked. After a couple of hours I landed a $150 sale -- more than enough to cover the $90 return that finally arrived at the same time. At least that's not hanging over my head anymore.

An hour-long phone consultation with Bing Ad Services (Microsoft) Tuesday afternoon yielded some potentially valuable tips, but it all has to start with making a snippet of Javascript appear on all of my pages. Bing's now-defunct tracking code only appeared on the checkout page. I don't know which PHP file should get that code and my plea for help on Turnkey's forum fell on deaf ears, so Bing is still turned off.

Oh well...today my long-awaited Metal Earth dropship arrangement is supposed to begin. I will soon know if it's going to amount to anything. A couple of Metal Earth sales last week gave me grounds for some cautious optimism.   

Friday, February 12, 2016

If You Really Loved Me...

My corporate excise tax is paid. Well, not exactly paid...but $456 is parked in savings (where it'll rack up 10 or 20 cents in interest), and both the transfer back into checking and the payment to the state are scheduled. Next I need to pay off my Amex bill and make the minimum payment on my Mastercard. Then the Secretary of State wants $109 for, um, whatever vitally important service the SecState provides. Then comes the biggest single expense, paying my CPA, whose fee exceeds my own year-to-date take-home pay. After he's paid I can finally start chipping away at my ever-mounting credit card debt; it will take at least 2-3 months to slay that. Last, but not least, I'd like to have the new Sunshop version that adds some spiffy new features. I'm two versions behind this major update, so I have to hire my contract IT guy ($200-ish) rather than use Turnkey's quick-n-dirty $75 upgrade. It will be summer by the time I can afford that. 

Scraping together all of that money for nothing always murders the already-moribund first quarter. I should really pay all of this tax-related stuff out of my Christmas receipts instead of blowing everything on operations. I probably say that every spring...but by the time November rolls around I can only think about spending whatever it takes to service Christmas.

Valentines Day turned out to be even more of a non-holiday than usual this year. Ordinarily the general increase in people shopping spills over on me a little bit, even though I don't have anything for them and don't court them. What should have been February's best week (which isn't saying much) is actually running more than 50% behind LY. 

Clearly, love is dead.

I might need to step up my advertising game after this holiday weekend. I've been keeping my spend below $15 a day while still making my sales targets...up to now.  

Friday, February 05, 2016

Puzzling Models

I keep saying that I need to find a reliable new product line, like Switchables and bird kites are and Panther Vision caps used to be. Some experiments (like chrome auto emblems) fizzled and I haven't had a major new score in years. I can't shake the feeling that the solution might already be in my cellar: Metal Earth models. (What, you thought this was going to be about fashion?)

I love these things because they're uniform, lightweight, easy to ship, and indestructible; they have zero defects and no batteries to wear out and require virtually no storage space; and their vendor is easy to order from. My customers usually buy more than one model and some become repeat customers; a wide range of subjects appeals to nearly everyone. In the last 30 days my Product Listing ads bought 210 clicks (out of 20,000 impressions) at 15 cents apiece, and I could get a lot more with a higher bid. Yet all of those clicks only brought two conversions. Spending $32 to generate two sales of a product that can sell for as little as $6 doesn't cut it, and the 1% conversion rate is only half of normal.  My more expensive Search Network ads get so many hits that I can't even afford to turn them on. Shoppers seem to be interested year-round and there's more search traffic than I can handle...so why do they only ever sell during Christmastime? 

I had thought that people only regard them as gifts. Everyone thinks that somebody else will like them, but very few people ever buy them for themselves. There's certainly some truth to that, but it doesn't explain the ocean of search traffic. 

None of my pages appear in the first 10 pages of organic search results. Why does Google hate my pages? They show up when I search on "Metal earth curio city", so they're obviously being indexed. Metal Earth pages aren't any different in kind from Switchables pages, and those rank pretty well, so I don't think there's a technical fault. If there is, I don't know what needs fixing, much less whether my rudimentary technical skills could handle it within the limitations of my shopping cart. As much as I'd love to get at least some free traffic, the dearth of organic search doesn't explain why paid visitors aren't biting. My competitors' pages don't look any better than mine do, to me...but I'm a lousy judge of what appeals to people. 

Maybe I'm just being out-competed. The competitors who rule page one of a search include such 900-pound gorillas as Amazon, Target, Wal-mart, Game Stop (are they really still in business?), and Thinkgeek, all of whom can afford to undersell me and/or give away free shipping or have splashier websites. I can't compete with those big boys, and in any case one of Curio City's guidelines has always been "stuff you won't see at Wal-mart." So maybe this product line just isn't right for me in spite of its considerable appeal. 

Finally, my selection could be better. I only carry about half of the 150 models that are available, I lack many of the newest and most popular designs, I can't keep up with the steady pace of new releases, and I don't have nearly enough money to fix any of that. The $600 that I already spent on models this month hasn't brought a single sale, February sales are always crap, and my tax deadlines get closer every day.  

In spite of all this, my gut says that I should keep flogging it. At worst, those dollars aren't dead, they're merely resting. I'll recoup the investment next Christmas. And I do have one ace up my sleeve. In a couple of weeks, Souvenirs.nyc is going to start selling 36 Metal Earth models that have (some very loose) New York City connections. That store is strictly a dropshipper, and I'm the guy who's going to fulfill their Metal Earth orders. I think that I can do it profitably, possibly while driving some traffic to my own site. Curio City will be essentially invisible in this partnership, but observant customers can see the name on the shipping label. The fellow behind Souvenirs is really good at marketing and Web optimization -- my weakest suits -- while I'm pretty good at order fulfillment and inventory control. This partnership might be the kick in the pants that gets Metal Earth off the ground, or at least generates enough cash to expand my selection. 

By the way, I haven't completely given up on those chrome auto emblems that I linked in the first paragraph. They're a lot like Metal Earth in that they only sell around Christmas and my selection is too small, and they have the same storage and shipping appeal. I've wanted to expand those for a couple of years now, but there's never enough money. And that won't change while I concentrate on Metal Earth.  

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