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, July 29, 2016

July Numbers (Already)

A couple of bulk sales unexpectedly put July in the plus column.


Total income: +10.6%
Total COGS: +12.6%
Payroll: +12.9%
Marketing: -12.3%
Net Income (Profit) vs LY: +34.2% (+$119)
Actual Profit/Loss: -$228


Total income: -6.6%
Total COGS: -5.5%
Payroll: -7.5%
Marketing: -2.2%
Net Income (Profit) vs LY: -13.9% (-$273)
Actual Profit/Loss: -$2,236

The negative profit means that my debt probably increased by more-or-less that much. Excel tells a somewhat happier story with income running $411 ahead of LY to land at 3rd best of 11 years. With a day and a half left to go, it only needs $46 (almost a sure thing) to take the #2 slot and $313 (it could happen) to be #1. 

Last August presents another formidable target thanks to three bulk kite sales and one bulk golf ball sale. I don't expect to match that. But then, July should have been a loser, too. It all comes down to these random big sales. 

I was resolute and canceled Constant Contact after 10 years together. They tried to talk me out of it until I quoted their own FAQ to the representative: " Our specialists will not pressure you to keep your account." It's kind of sad after all those years, but the $240 that I'll save goes straight to the bottom line.


Once upon a time, Panther Vision caps were the heart and soul of Curio City's business. Nowadays they're all but dead. Winter beanies kick some ass, but of course those only sell during the winter. Reviving caps would make a huge difference. Since mobile users now comprise roughly half of my traffic, I rewrote the page to address them. Shoppers using proper computers generally appreciate the thoroughness of my wall-of-text; those who don't can easily scroll through it. But cell phone shoppers don't read, and navigating a complex web page is a bitch, so I gave them instructions at the top of the page and moved the wall of text to the end. If I see any uptick in lighted caps I'll extend that approach to other products, and I might even delete the wall of text entirely. But I'm a stubborn old man; I believe that most shoppers appreciate getting as much information as they can find.    

Friday, July 22, 2016

Slimming Down While Bulking Up

I had two bulk order inquiries this week, and another big kite order arrived out of the blue. The first pilgrim bought half of the Switchables fixtures that she'd asked about. The second one balked when he saw the shipping charge for golfballs. July's going to be a good month on the income side -- which is surprising in light of light routine business -- but the profit side will be slim. The bills for the merchandise will hit next month. My software undercharged the osprey kite guy for next-day shipping by $25, and I have to pay both inbound and outbound freight for the Switchables order, which also got free shipping and my discounted bulk price. In an effort to salvage the golf ball sale, I told that guy about the free shipping coupon, so that's another hit if the order comes through. 

I keep saying that it's all about cash flow and profits are an afterthought, but that's only true while cash flow stays positive. Cash flow keeps the bills paid...except when it doesn't. Then you get negative cash flow, or "debt" to the layman. Profitability is how one pays off debt. If there's no money left after the bills are paid, there's nothing to throw at debt. 

Don't get me wrong; a healthy top line is a beautiful thing. But as long as the bottom line stays red my debt keeps going in the wrong direction. I'm stomping on costs as hard as I can...but since I'm a natural-born cheapskate there's not a lot to stomp on.   


Mailchimp's reports look just fine; in fact, they have some advanced reporting options that I can't use without implementing some scripts. I had expected an open rate of at least 50% from my stripped-down, recently-vetted mailing list. Actually got only 58 unique opens out of 157 sent (36.9%) and just 10 clicks. I hadn't expected very many clicks from this test newsletter, but you can see why they aren't worth $20 per month -- that would have been $4 per click at Constant Contact prices (assuming six newsletters per year). As for results...one person used the free shipping coupon and one (a family member) unsubscribed. I found that rude, even though she has never bought anything, nor ever will...but I suppose I don't need low-quality addresses cluttering my list or people reading my newsletters just to humor me. 

My developer says he'll have time to tackle my task list next month. I'll work on reviving email marketing after that.  

Friday, July 15, 2016

Osprey Versus Falcon

A peregrine falcon and an osprey go into a very large aviary. Who flies out? For the past 10 years, falcon kites and osprey kites have sold almost exactly one-for-one. The two kites are identical except for their printed graphics. The osprey took a comfortable lead when the falcon went out of stock earlier this year, and it hasn't looked back. I haven't sold a single falcon since they came back a month ago; meanwhile, I've been selling about 10 ospreys per week. I really have no idea why the osprey won that battle. My product description gives the osprey a slight edge in deterring seabirds (especially gulls), but that shouldn't be enough to deliver a knockout. Most shoppers don't read the description anyway.

On the remote chance that an undecided shopper is reading this: choose the raptor that's native to your locale.


I bulldogged my way through the Mailchimp interface and cranked out a basic little test newsletter that should hit mailboxes tonight. If the chimp's delivery and reporting look adequate then I can cancel Constant Contact next week. Theoretically, my recently pared mailing list should get pretty close to a 100% open rate; realistically, I still hope for better than 50%.

I've approached my developer about re-implementing the newsletter signup box on my checkout page (and squirreled away some money to pay him), but so far he's playing hard to get, as developers are wont to do.

Friday, July 08, 2016

Working In a Coal Mine

This week is noteworthy for what didn't happen: Today should be the second day of my traditional summer vacation. We opted not to take a vacation this year after dental bills siphoned off thousands of dollars. Besides, we didn't want to abandon two young cats who have never been alone for more than a few hours. On the plus side, Curio City could pick up a few hundred dollars of revenue by not shutting down, and that would put an extra $40 or $60 in my own pocket (there's no such thing as "paid time off" for a one-man business). On the minus side, profitability will take a $75-100 hit from not suspending those ads. 

I'm not really fond of vacations anyway, and we are going to celebrate our anniversary with a four-day weekend in August. 

You'd think that would give this July a leg up on LY, but not really. A $600 golf ball sale and a $300 Switchables sale plumped up last July. This July will come up short by around $400 without at least one similar lucky strike.  

Golf balls used to be a solid summer staple. Then, a few years ago, my supplier launched a new consumer-direct website. They also raised their wholesale price from $5 to $5.50 on half of their designs, making me choose between raising my retail from $9.99 to $10.99 or swallowing a smaller markup. Since profitability is already on the ropes I went with the price hike...and for good measure I raised the price on all styles to give myself a little extra markup on those that still cost the original $5. The vendor held the line at $9.95, which search engines had already recognized as lower than my $9.99. Their shipping charge is also lower than mine and a buck or so below the actual cost of shipping. I still sell a few golf balls here and there, but not like I used to. Because of their cost advantage, a vendor who decides to sell direct will outcompete retailers every time. 

Switchables, OTOH, are as random as always. I'll sell scarcely any for a couple of months and then enjoy a nice run on them over a few weeks. These hiccups come without any pattern, but they do happen fairly reliably.


I successfully imported my 157 "good" email addresses from Constant Contact into Mailchimp yesterday, and tentatively started the long and tedious process of learning a new interface and creating a newsletter template. Learning new things at my age is bullshit.

Friday, July 01, 2016

Fly with the Ospreys

June was shaping up to be a few eagles short of LY when an order for 15 ospreys with poles and all the trimmings swooped down to make this the second-best June ever and just a few eagles short of 2008's record. After I called to verify validity I actually did my happy dance...and I hadn't even known that I had a happy dance. I'm ordinarily not a happy sort of person and I'm not sure I like that feeling. I reminded myself that it ain't all sunshine and lollipops; as a dropship, I need to pay for the merchandise. 

Jackite still doesn't have any eagles and they're nearly out of poles, too. Falcons are finally back, but that won't make a big difference because they're more or less interchangeable with ospreys. I don't know if their problem is cash flow, inventory control, understaffing, management, or some combination thereof, but it's small consolation that running out of so much inventory during their peak season must hurt them a lot worse than it hurts me.


Total income: +32.1%
Total COGS: +38%
Payroll: +27.7%
Marketing: -20.4%
Net Income (Profit) vs LY: +134.8% (+$1,008)
Actual Profit/Loss: +$260


Total income: -9.3%
Total COGS: -8.4%
Payroll: -12%
Marketing: -0.9%
Net Income (Profit) vs LY: -27.4% (-$443)
Actual Profit/Loss: -$2,059

So a $1,453 sale ought to take a bite out of the debt, no? Well, no. Watch me make it go away: $742 buys and ships the merchandise. $291 goes into my pocket. PayPal skims $51 off the top. Advertising consumes a budget-busting 20% of gross (the same percentage as payroll); while this sale did not in itself cost me $291, that's how it has to be allocated. Miscellaneous overhead like taxes, web hosting, telephone, internet access, professional services, etc. sucks down another 6% of gross (very roughly; I pulled that number out of my ...hat), or $87 of this sale, leaving a negative $9 profit. Yup: statistically speaking, I lost $9 on the sale. (June's advertising spend actually came in at just 10.5% of the unusually high gross, which changes this sale's bottom line to a positive $129 -- that's how much it will contribute to debt reduction.)  
You can see how the game is rigged. Payroll and advertising are the only two expense items I can really control. I won't cut payroll because (a) paying myself is the whole point of Curio City, and (b) I refuse to pay Google more money than I pay myself. I'm always whittling away at advertising, but that's a battle of nickels and dimes, and too many of those cut into income. 

On the income side, you can also see why that extra discount/free freight offer that tempted me last week was so tempting. Alas, caution won and I passed it up. The Internet is too competitive to allow raising prices. My 50-cent handling fee brings in $500 a year. Some of my product weights are set an ounce or two too high to yield small shipping overcharges.  It's all about the nickels and dimes.    

All of that spin aside, June was a great month. Two more huge sales like that one would turn the year around. It could happen.

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