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, October 13, 2017

Lowest Common Denominators




A few vendors try to support their retailers and fight the evil discounters with minimum pricing agreements. You have to sign one to do business with them. If you violate it by selling below the minimum, they'll cut you off from future shipments. As someone who's seen way too many good products ruined by discounters' race to the bottom, I approve. 

Even fewer vendors actually enforce their Minimum Advertised Price (MAP) agreements. When one manufacturer's crawler found Curio City in violation on some of their products, I got a polite email reminder. Ordinarily I would grumble and comply, and that would be that. This time, though, I pushed back. I told the sales rep that I'm liquidating my inventory with an eye toward closing my store and retiring next year, so I won't be ordering any new stock. If you're serious about supporting your pricing, I will gladly sell you back your merchandise at the prices I paid for it. Otherwise everything is getting marked down to cost next week. Because I'm online-only, customers can't paw over my stock; it's all in mint condition, and most of it is still in its original shipping packs. And if most of the batteries are somewhere between low and dead, well...I'm sure you guys must get batteries wicked cheap.

After some behind-the-scenes discussion, they agreed to take everything back, dead batteries and all. That was a much better response than I had hoped for; some of those products have even been discontinued. I just paid UPS $80 to ship out three large, overstuffed cartons. I should receive a check for $950 in a couple of weeks. I processed it as a sale so I'll get 15% of that as payroll; the rest will take a healthy bite out of the ol' Amex bill, which has been stuck at $2,500 for two months now. 

This represents the first bridge that I've burned beyond repair. Even if I change my mind and decide to resuscitate Curio City next year, I can't do business with this vendor again. 

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Despite that stubborn debt, I just raised my pay from 10% of net sales to 15%. That's still 50% below what I used to pay myself, and I need more money in my pocket right now -- Blue Hills jobs are too irregular and I never know when the revenue will arrive (one small check is currently 45 days overdue). I also want Kraken Enterprises to show as little profit as possible when tax time rolls around. Sales are so small that the 50% bump makes very little difference to the bottom line anyway. So...abracadabra, bitches! If I ever do get out of debt I'm going to set payroll back up to 20%.

Friday, September 29, 2017

When Numbers Lie





September was Curio City's first loser month in quite some time, and yet it beat expectations for three reasons: 

(1) The first week should have been September's strongest. Instead, it took Turnkey four days to fix the shipping module that the latest USPS rate change broke. $835 of this month's $390 shortfall happened that week -- which is to say that I might have finished up by $445, all else being equal.


(2) I've been advertising on both AdWords and Google Shopping for years. I write my own ads and select my own keywords on AdWords, but a couple of years ago I turned bidding over to their algorithm. I had gradually winnowed out product groups until I was only advertising kites. This month, I finally shut those ads down, too. AdWords produced five sales in August at a cost of $33.85 per sale, costing me $170 to bring in $350. Hypothetically, this month's sales might have been higher by that amount, but in reality kite season peters out in September anyway, so all I can really say is that I saved some money and forfeited a few sales. Shopping, OTOH, is entirely computer-generated from a product data file that I upload each month. In August it brought in 21 sales at just $5.46 apiece.

As an unexpected bonus, junk phone calls fell off dramatically after I shut down AdWords.  
 
(3) As sales remain unexpectedly strong, I am slowly running out of appealing products to sell, and most of what I do still move is heavily discounted.

Anyway, here are September's numbers according to QuickBooks. Three Blue Hills projects that have been billed out, but not yet paid, threw the stats seriously out of whack -- especially payroll, since that's where 90% of Blue Hills revenue will go. 

September


Total income: +121.8%
Payroll: -79.8%
Marketing: -73.2%
Net Income (Profit) vs LY: +963.2% (+$3,566)
Actual Profit/Loss: +$3,195

2017 YTD


Total income: +70.1%
Total COGS: +8.5%
Payroll: +229.2%
Marketing: -28.1%
Net Income (Profit) vs LY: +355% (+$8,300)
Actual Profit/Loss: +$5,962

Excel says that Curio City came in $389 behind LY. With a day and a half to go, that could still shrink to nothing. 

October is historically one of the sleepiest months of the year as Christmas sales don't really start cooking until Halloween. Expectations are low.

Friday, September 22, 2017

I Can't Complain

Oh, sure I can...but I won't. The cathartic "Things I Hate" post that I've been picking away at will stay personal because:

1. It doesn't say anything I haven't said before;
2. Nobody likes a whiner;
3. It boils down to one word: "People"; and
4. Nuisance calls have dropped off noticeably since I shut down AdWords a few weeks ago.

This Monday's Curio City payday was so small -- $48.79 for two weeks, before taxes -- that I didn't even bother creating a check. I'll fold it into my next payday instead. I'm sure this has nothing to do with #4 above.

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MIT approved my invoice for the work that I did in early August. When that check lands, I will have earned twice as much this year as I did last year...with three months left to go. It's still chicken feed by normal people's reckoning, but having a lot more chicken feed is a big deal to me. 

A web publisher dangled a regular, 15-hour-per-week editing gig in front of me. It's the second time this year that he's approached me and then backed off after an initial conversation. I haven't worked regular hours in at least 13 years, so this would be a big deal to me, too. I won't give up near-complete control over my schedule unless the job feels right, and this one's "on-call" requirement beyond the regular hours makes me nervous. He's also under the impression that one can edit seven to 10 1,000-word articles in three hours. I can proofread that quickly, but nobody can properly edit 1,000 words in 20-25 minutes. I probably put him off when I said that it takes an hour to copy edit 1,000 words if fact-checking is included; that's realistic (in fact, I just spent 2.25 hours giving a 1,700-word article the full treatment), but I don't think it's what he wanted to hear.  

I'd sacrifice some of my autonomy to turn Blue Hills into a reliable paycheck, but I won't make a vaguely defined commitment or exaggerate my productivity. After a few emails he said that he's thinking about hiring a staff editor instead, and left with it "I'll be in touch," so that's the end of that...for now. If he does come back for a third round, I'm going to make sure it happens on my terms. 

Friday, September 08, 2017

The High Finance Life of a CEO



Every year we pass the date of our own death without knowing it. We're approaching exactly one year until Curio City's demise, although I don't know the exact date yet. I have to renew my SSL certificate by Sept. 16, and even though that's only $35, I don't see myself doing it again a year from now. Next year's SSL expiration date will probably be Curio City's, too.

A year is not long at all in some ways, and a very long time in other ways. Circumstances could convince me to keep it going beyond then (or to shut it down earlier). If this Christmas leaves me with a lot of stock still hanging around, and if it still brings in more money than it costs to sell it, then I might persuade myself to flog it through one more Christmas after this one. As long as I'm turning dead merchandise into money and generating a regular paycheck, it makes sense to keep going -- especially if I can restore payroll to its former level after I get out of debt. In my wildest fantasy, Curio City might even buy me a new phone or laptop before it goes toes-up.

Payroll's going to have to up its game, though. Between losing First Class shipping rates for five days and having to issue a large refund, Curio City turned in its worst week in 10 years. As of this morning this week's paycheck is $8.06 (before taxes!), and I had to put in more hours than normal to pack up four international shipments. That's not even a pack of smokes.

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