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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, November 04, 2016

Breaking Stained Glass

Switchables sent out this email this week:

The glass company in America that we currently purchase our raw materials from to make Switchables, has recently closed their doors. The EPA has stepped in and recently regulated the furnace emissions in the six companies in America that make stained glass. This EPA regulation not only caused the closing of the company we buy our glass from, but it also has raised the prices considerably from all other companies.

Once our manufacturer was faced with this news, they decided to double our prices. Doubling our cost, along with the closure of our Glass Manufacturer, has necessitated us into facing a major decision. As of December 15th, 2016 Switchables will no longer be able to continue in the wholesale venue.

That sounds like the blame-the-government spin that conservatives habitually put on misfortune. But this time it's true. If you Google "epa crackdown stained glass" you'll find dozens of news stories chronicling local business closures and job losses. Government regulation really is ravaging the US stained glass industry, and Curio City might be collateral damage. 

As a liberal, I want to convince myself that a marginally cleaner environment is a worthwhile tradeoff for losing a minor industry. Switchables could have remained in business had the owners not already been eying retirement. Maybe they couldn't sell the company because of the industry upheaval, or maybe because the owner was the talent behind their designs. But as I contemplate losing my second-largest vendor and most of my repeat customers, I can see what drives otherwise-decent people to become Republicans. Thanks, Obama!

Switchables have been steady and reliable sellers since I found them at the Boston Gift Show 10 years ago -- one of the few success stories to come from the Cavalcade of Crap. I've sold 1,200 fixtures and thousands of covers. Last month they comprised fully 25% of my sales; this week they're nearly 100%. Losing them is going to hurt, and hurt badly. If you're a regular reader you know that I've been struggling all year; this could be the knockout punch if I can't find a comparable replacement by next spring. Basically, I'm depending on Jackite now, and they were less than dependable this year; if they stumble again next year I'm finished. 

Last year I bet that Metal Earth would become my Next Big Thing. It didn't. I brought in over $1,000 worth of models and sold about $1,000 worth, just breaking even while expanding my selection. This year I doubled down; $2,500 of my $10,000 debt is tied up in Metal Earth. That's a bet-the-company gamble. Sales so far: $20. But I only started advertising them a couple of days ago because they draw a lot of (expensive) clicks that convert at a very low rate. If I sell $2,501 worth over the next four weeks that will be a win.

I've written before about why they're the perfect product from my perspective. Now if only my customers would fall in line. These models only sell during Christmas, and it's impossible to keep up with the line's growth. The 116 models that I have in stock represent a substantial fraction of what's available, but dozens of new ones appear each year. Deep-pocketed stores will always have a better selection than I do...and, because I can't afford to restock my inventory between Christmases, I'll always have trouble getting the best sellers. These might be too mainstream, with too many competitors, for me to become a player. 

Meanwhile, the Switchables emergency compelled me to spend $900 beyond what I had thought was this year's Christmas buy. I should have enough stock to coast for six months or a year. Selling them down without spending to replace them will be a short-term boon, at least until the most popular covers are gone; I'm raising prices to match the MSRP, so the markup is well above average. It's anybody's guess what will happen once word gets around to the customer base. Will they strip the shelves in a desperate frenzy, or will they shun a loser line?


Just to set the record straight (because I'm compulsive that way): Last month ended as the third-worst October ever, not the worst; fully half of the month's sales came in the last week, and fully half of those came in the 36 hours after I posted the numbers. It actually finished with a $57 profit despite the meager top line. Still not good, but not as bad as it looked.


I'm taking a pay cut, from 20% of net sales to 15%, effective with my next paycheck. Ordinarily, I earn two to three fat juicy paychecks per year. This year they'll be 25% less juicy, with the difference going to debt relief. I'm going to cut another 5% when the holidays are over. If all goes swimmingly, I'll be able to pay off my debt and restore my salary by next November. At least, that was the plan before the Switchables disaster. 

The editing opportunity that I mentioned earlier hasn't come through yet, so it's an open question whether I'll be able to replace my lost Curio City income. It wouldn't take much. If it flops I'll have to get a part-time job. The good news is that minimum wage goes up to $11 per hour next year, and that's at least 4x as much as Curio City pays me during the non-Christmas months.

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