Friday, April 27, 2012

Out of the Frying Pan

April gradually overcame a terrible start. In fact, this week was downright good despite a software version upgrade that broke First Class shipping for a couple of days. Sure, cash flow is still a struggle…but so is life. Two or three more weeks on the high side of normal -- that's just five or six sales a day -- would make everything better.

The numbers:


Total income: -14.3%
Total COGS: -21.2%
Payroll: -36%
Marketing: -9.8%
Net Income (Profit): +315.3%

Year to Date:

Total income: -2.6%
Total COGS: +3.2%
Payroll: +9.5%
Marketing: +22%
Net Income (Profit): -277.3%

Interpreting the tea leaves: COGs and marketing costs should both fall farther than (or better yet, rise more slowly than) income, while payroll should exactly track income. Net income takes care of itself when the other numbers behave themselves. The YTD numbers are poor, but at least I made up some ground on the bottom line by cutting costs more than sales fell.

This week’s sales emboldened me to reorder Lexco cigarette cases after a shopper asked for the one size that I’ve been out of for ages. I’d rather have spent my scarce money elsewhere because these things sell very slowly, but I do like the bird in the hand. Lexco cases are clever, unusual, and just politically incorrect enough to be retro-cool. The 2-dozen piece minimum order was daunting in the face of all the other claims on my cash trickle, but two new models designed specifically for blunts tipped me over the edge. Even if tobacco smokers are still pariahs, marijuana smoking is on the upswing – and that’s the real market for these cases.

Besides the normal costs of doing business, I owe my developer money for the Sunshop upgrade. My UPS box (which is to say, Curio City’s address) is up for its annual renewal. I still “need” a new copy of Quickbooks. I have to scare up $100 to renew my trademark, ideally by the end of May. Advertising costs remain stubbornly high. And I’m making no progress on my new-product wishlist. But my credit card bills are paid through the next three weeks and I have $577 in the bank.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Tax Cut!

Our personal tax return, e-filed on Monday with just a day to spare, delivered an unexpected surprise: For complicated reasons, I overpaid our 1040-ES quarterly withholding. The consequent windfall (especially when I had feared that we might owe even more) lets me ease up a little this year.

Anne’s grownup paycheck provides most of our household income. Her company’s payroll department doesn’t consider our other income, so her federal withholding is lower than it should be. Convincing her to reduce her take-home pay is about as likely as convincing Mitt Romney that the Buffett Rule is a good idea. So for the past few years I’ve used my toy paycheck’s federal withholding to make up a little of the difference. I’ve taxed myself anywhere from 10-15% as our personal fortunes rose and fell, even though the federal withholding tables don’t oblige me to take one thin dime.

This year’s big refund emboldened me to cut my withholding from 12.5% to 10%. That’s right: I’m giving myself a 2.5% tax cut! That’s an average of $12.50 per paycheck, or almost a case of beer per month.

Adjusting my tiny salary by a couple of points is mostly symbolic. My paycheck only plays a bit part in the art of withholding. The amounts that I withhold from Anne’s teaching and freelance checks dwarf my own payroll withholding, and most of this year’s refund came from her freelance business showing a robust loss in 2011 (a feat that will be difficult to repeat this year). With next April a year away and the stakes low anyway, I’m going to take my extra $325 and stimulate the economy.

(This would make a nice segue into a diatribe about misplaced Republican faith in tax cuts, with a bonus dose of Bush bashing. But I don’t feel frisky enough for it today. Consider yourself harangued.)

And what about that serendipitous refund? Alas, there are no exotic vacations or luxury purchases in our future. I’ll stash most of it in hopes of replacing our roof before the fall rains come, and use some to chip away at Anne’s debt.

Friday, April 13, 2012

We Have a Pulse

I decided to pay myself on Monday after all. If Curio City gets to where it can’t even afford my dinky little paychecks, what’s the use of going on? I grossed all of $175 for two weeks. There are people who make that much in a day. Hell, Mitt Romney makes $175 in two minutes and he’s unemployed.

Business clawed its way back to the low side of normal this week, so maybe the three-week slump really was just Easter-related. Cash flow is still in intensive care but its condition has been upgraded from critical to serious. The Amex bill is paid with $218 to spare, and the two weeks remaining should be just enough time to raise another $902 for Mastercard (although it will be touch and go at the current rate of sales). I’m even fantasizing about bringing in a couple of new products next month.


I turned 55 years old today. I earn less money than I did when I was 25, but I’m just 10 years away from Medicare and 11.25 years from Social Security (assuming we can keep the Republicans at bay). Because benefits are based on my best working years, my Social Security checks will dwarf my Curio City paychecks. It’s easy to forget that I used to make more than four times what I earn now in salary alone, never mind benefits.

Ten years goes by in no time at all. That's how long I've got to make this company big enough to sell.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Give Me Mediocrity Or Give Me Death!

Knowing that it was coming didn’t make parting with $1,071 worth of payroll taxes, withholding, and sales tax any easier. After scheduling the payments I was down to $400 in the bank with $2,400 owed to credit cards by the end of the month. Sales need to be a little bit healthier than normal to fill the gap. But traffic and sales both fell by half a few weeks ago. If sales don’t rally in time to avoid credit card interest charges, I risk entering a death spiral. Being a corporation doesn’t shield me personally from credit card debt, so my tolerance is very low.

I don’t need a miracle. Just returning to normal will do. I wish there was a way to force that. Advertising costs are already way over budget so I can’t kick those up. I raised up earbuds  from a subcategory of Gadgets & Gizmos to their own top-level category, broadened my AdWords bids, and created a MS AdCenter campaign. Why earbuds, of all things? The keywords are extremely competitive (everybody seems to sell them) and the retail price is low. Worse, my main vendor has this annoying practice of bundling multiple variations into take-it-or-leave-it prepacks that prevent me from fine-tuning stock levels, and they habitually import just one production run and discontinue it when it’s gone. So why flog these things? Mainly because having over 25 styles on one landing page creates a pretty good chance of converting any shoppers that I can lure in. Plus I got an iPod last Christmas and the first thing I did was replace the ill-fitting buds that shipped with it, so I kind of like them. Results so far? None.

While I was shaking things up I renamed “Apparel & Fashion” to “Lighted Caps & Apparel” and moved it to the top of the list, and added lighted caps to my index page – they don’t fit the seasonal theme, but more exposure is good. A few ensuing cap sales vindicated those ideas.

I’m actually considering skipping next Monday’s paycheck. If I do take it, it will be my smallest since last July…which is good for cash flow and the balance sheet, but it sucks to be me, eh?

Incidentally, while filing my taxes I noticed that my state unemployment insurance rate fell from 3.64 to 2.99% of payroll. They just got around to notifying me yesterday, meaning I overwithheld $40-something in Q1.

Speaking of people with their hands out, a company impersonating the US government (the “United States Trademark Maintenance Service”) tried to trick me into shelling out $469 to renew my trademark. Although it’s an obvious ripoff, it reminded me that I really am supposed to renew my trademark at some point. Sure enough, the five-year anniversary is coming up, so I have to scare up another $100 by the end of May to retain ownership of Curio City.


As I strive to restore mediocrity, I see Quickbooks Pro 2012 on Amazon for $50 below Intuit’s price. Amazon’s reviews all complain that Intuit has again added more valueless bloat. People hate Intuit like cancer, but there’s no realistic small business alternative to QB and Intuit is prepared to coast on that fact indefinitely. I need to find another $135 this month if I don’t want an interruption in their so-called “service.”