Friday, January 27, 2012

About Stuff (Part One), and January Numbers

“Find awesome new merchandise” topped last week’s list of goals because when you come right down to it, that’s the foundation of everything else that I do. Last year I didn’t find any new hit products. I’ll confess that I didn’t try very hard because, frankly, I hate shopping. Friends referred both of my two most successful products to me. This year I will try to think like a consumer, and read some product reviews and blogs. I’ll also browse some wholesale sites that have borne fruit in the past.

Notice that I said “find” and not “buy.” I don’t have any money for new products. The numbers at the bottom of this post will make it clear why I can't even come up with $1,200 for my CPA and the Commonwealth right now. For the time being, I can only compile a robust wishlist to consult when my statutory obligations are finally met.

Since this is January numbers week, I’m only going to look at winners today. Next week I’ll examine the mediocre and some notable losers.

One-hit Wonders aren’t part of a larger line. In fact, they’re usually the only item I carry from their vendors. Setting aside things that I can’t get anymore and things that surged once due to some random act of media leaves these:

Mini-briefcase business card holders. SKU 16 means it was one of the first products I ever bought. I’ve sold nearly 1,000 of them at a healthy markup without spending one dime on advertising. That’s a big win all around.

Whisky stones. They did benefit from a Boston Gift Guide mention a couple of Christmases ago, but would have made this list even without that turbocharge. A customer recommended them to me after seeing them elsewhere.
5-LED clip-on cap lights. These are an inexpensive way to achieve the same function as Panther Vision lighted caps. They haven’t sold so well lately, but their history of success rivals the mini briefcases.

Fuzz scarves  just barely make the list. I honestly don’t remember what made them so popular a few seasons ago. This year sales died back to mediocrity -- probably because of the mild winter -- but it’s a perennial seller that will undoubtedly endure for as long as the winters remain cold.

DayClock Classic. Another of my very earliest products and my first big hit, this will show up on next week’s list of losers as well. I am down to one left and I won’t be reordering, but it had one helluva good run.

USB Anything. For a year after my first random act of media propelled the USB Computer Fan into sales history, any USB gadget was solid gold. The USB Computer Vacuum and Light are still on the bestseller list today. All of these are cheap Chinese imports of quality that varied from one shipment to the next (only the light was really much good); in fact, half of my last batch of fans was defective. All of them delivered very nice markups. Due to flagging sales and dubious quality, all of them will be discontinued when my current inventory runs out. But, like the DayClocks, they had a long and illustrious run. 

Landing two or three more one-hit wonders would go a long way toward boosting the bottom line – or at least preventing its erosion; everything has a limited lifespan. Do they have anything in common? They range from $6 to $40, so price isn’t a great predictor, although inexpensive obviously always outsells expensive. They are all functional in some way. They are all unusual (hard to find), or at least they were when I adopted them. They are all uncomplicated and easily explained. They are all compact and lightweight. And they are all playful. The USB stuff turned out to be a fad, but I didn’t know it at the time. These all contributed to my working definition of what makes a Curio City product.

A few winning product lines are Curio City’s true workhorses. Finding just one more of these would ensure a successful year.

Panther Vision, of course, has long been the goose that lays the golden egg. LED caps define the kind of product I would love to find: Practical, clever, high quality, lightweight, reasonably priced, and with universal appeal. Bulk purchases occasionally spike my numbers. If these ever tank, I'm toast.

Bird kites looked like a mistake at first. The Canada Goose (SKU #1) barely budged at all. That changed when I found some YouTube videos a couple of years ago and figured out how to embed them in my pages. People use bird kites as scarecrows, as decoys, as stage or stadium props, and occasionally as toys. These are a prime example of a product that needs to be demonstrated, and of video’s ability to do that. Bulk sales are rare, but at $25 and $40 the price points are high enough that even single sales make a healthy contribution.

Golf balls are my last unequivocally stellar line. A couple of styles (especially Animal Print golf balls) have cracked the bestseller list, mainly on the strength of institutional sales, but the many slower-selling designs also carry their weight. Having found this vendor at the Boston Gift Show (a.k.a. the Cavalcade of Crap) is the main reason I keep going back year after year.
I’ve tried many other lines. I’ll look at a few of those near-hits and complete misses next week.Now on to the unpleasantness of January’s numbers.

I wanted to say “It’s not that this year was so bad so much as that last year was especially good”…but that’s not even remotely true. It was my worst January since 2007, leaving me $1,100 behind LY and $1,400 behind plan. There’s not much chance of making it up, either. February’s usually the second-slowest month of the year…I’m up against an unusually strong March target...I don't see any weaknesses in LY's numbers until July.

January & Year to Date:

Total income: -24.8%
Total COGS: -17.5%
Payroll: +29.0%
Marketing: +4.1
Net Income (Profit): -788.1%

There’s simply no good news in any of those numbers. Marketing should fall at least as much as income; instead it increased, so I can’t blame the lost sales on advertising cuts. COGS should decrease more than income, so that’s another fail. Payroll is only up because changing paydays from Friday to Monday placed an extra one in this month. I don’t know why January only delivered 86 of the expected 100+ transactions. Tired products? Unidentified new competitors? My increasingly dated website? Or just a run of bad luck? Yeah, I’m going with that one. The economy’s finally pulling out of recession, so I can’t even blame that.