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Adjusting the Sails

I learned how to sail at YMCA Storer Camps. I knew how to canoe and kayak (I even did an eskimo roll in a kayak on the New River – bucket list!) I knew how to use a paddle to get just about anywhere, but I had never learned to harness the wind.

That’s me in 1986 on the UM Sailing Team at a regatta at Notre Dame

Sailing looked easy enough. You just let the wind do all the work.

Andy, my instructor, taught me otherwise.

The wind is a fickle thing, always changing speeds and directions. A smart sailor has to constantly scan the water looking for those gusts of wind that might change your tactics.

Sailing may not be as muscle-bound as paddling, but it is just as much work. You are always trimming the sails and adjusting your course. It may look like a leisurely way to get across the lake, but the good skipper is working the tiller and main sheet all the time, making course corrections as the wind changes.

This Sunday I am going to be teaching Retail Math to a bunch of toy store owners. For many, this will be their first real instruction on the accounting side of running a retail operation.

Most people dread math. But reading reports is a lot like reading the wind. Reports can tell you where the gusts are happening. Reports can tell you if you’ve adjusted your sails properly. Reports can tell you if you’re heading in the right direction.

Many retailers think a Profit & Loss Statement (also known as Income Statement) and Balance Sheet are simply for the accountant to figure your taxes at the end of the year. They are much more powerful tools than that. They can tell you when your inventory is too high (or low). They can tell you when your expenses are out of line. They can tell you when it is time to raise your prices. They can tell you when you can pay yourself more money.

At the very least, you should be studying these documents once a month and making course corrections. If you aren’t already reading and understanding these reports, start running these two reports monthly. Learn how to read them. Then as the years go by, start comparing the current month to that month in the previous year. The more I read the wind, the better I get at predicting its next move. The more you read and know your reports, the better you will be at adjusting your business profitably.

Wind speeds (traffic in your store) change. Wind directions (fads, hot products) shift constantly. When your boat is on an even keel (inventory well-balanced) and your sails are trimmed properly (expenses in line), you will be sailing at your fastest (most profitable).

Scan the water (reports) and your business will sail much more smoothly.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS There are many metaphors for sailing. One of my favorites is … The pessimist curses the wind. The optimist hopes it will change. The realist adjusts the sails. You can’t adjust your sails, however, if you don’t know what the wind is doing. Check out the link above to learn how to read those reports and use them to your advantage. The math happens whether you know how to do it or not.

Words of Wisdom From 1969

Here is another gem I found buried in a file, long forgotten. My grandfather and founder of Toy House, Mayor Philip H. Conley, penned these words in June 1969, two months before hiring my dad as his new manager.

I don’t know if this was penned to put his thoughts on paper for my dad, or if it was just something that struck him one day. I do not know if it was ever read again after that day (the file I found it in was pretty darned old). I don’t even know what one of the terms means (neither did my mom or dad). He refers to “marking capacity” and “markers”. I believe those were people who put price tags on boxes like my sister and I did as young children. He also refers to “jobbers”. I know that term. Those were the wholesalers or distributors of that day. I do know there are some nuggets in there that ring so true I’m calling them universal.

Here is his June 1969 manifesto in its entirety…

Business is a matter of balance.

Good business – successful business can be achieved as good government can be achieved using a system of checks and balances.

Balance as it applies to our business, there must be a balance between the number of customers, parking, inventory, shopping carts, sales people, stock people, marking capacity, office capacity, square feet selling space, square feet of stock space, store hours, checkout capacity, and giftwrap capacity. An excess of any of these factors creates too much expense for an efficient operation. A deficiency of a factor immediately creates an excess of all other factors – this is very bad for a profitable operation. Management’s responsibility is to maintain balance.

Enough free off street parking is an obvious example. Enough shopping carts is not so obvious. If people have to wait for a cart, then their parking space becomes non-productive , floor space, sales persons, inventory, etc. all become non-productive. Very wasteful, very expensive. We must realize that the customer may be on a time limit, therefore his waiting time must be subtracted from his shopping time. And, too, waiting is most aggravating and will result in a bad attitude for the customer.

Without customers, there is no business. If a customer is not satisfied after he is in the store, there is no sense in advertising to get him in the store.

Any time a customer is not satisfied with merchandise purchased in our store, he may return it for a credit, refund, or exchange. This matter should be handled more quickly than the original purchase.

Inventory balance is most difficult for us to achieve.

Excessive inventory is wasteful as it requires too many markers, too many receivers, too much work capital, too many sales people, too much stock space, and too many markdowns. If not balanced, this is the greatest cause of business failure.

An accounts receivable policy should be set up and adhered to with all being treated alike.

Inventory turns is the number of times your total inventory is sold per year. If you subscribe to the theory that you need only a 90-day inventory, then you should turn your inventory four times a year. Food stores may turn their inventory 40 or 50 times a year. Specialty stores turn theirs considerably less. This is the nature of the business. “If you can’t find it somewhere else, go to the specialty store and pay their higher price.”

Buying direct, although at a better discount, tends to create overstock conditions. In just buying dollars alone, your better price reflects at the most an 18% savings. However, your first markdown is usually 50%. I have not referred back to the other excessive expense factors. Buying direct, except under strict control, is dangerous.

In business the obvious is not always true!!! Example: “You’re nuts to buy from a jobber when you can get from us for less.”

Jobbers have been hurting for the past several years because so many operated on buying at the best price and selling at the lowest price hoping to move mountains (and doing so) of goods. (At a profit????)

So jobbers have been financially weak which is reflected in many ways.

  1. They do not carry a complete selection.
  2. The services of a competent salesman are not available.
  3. Their plant facilities do not allow for an efficient handling of vast quantities of goods.

Historically, three or four jobbers could not supply our needs. Their selections were never broad enough. We many times were forced to go direct to satisfy our needs for a “spread” of goods as well as supplying the needs of our customers, i.e. Monopoly money, Carrom refills.

Direct suppliers and jobbers giver preferential treatment usually to the largest customers. But not necessarily sometimes to the most regular – frequent – steady – GOOD PAY buyer. Over the years loyalty is pretty much a thing of the past.

No one seems to assess the market today. In years gone by, it was wise to spend time assessing how much could be sold profitably in the market and then budgeting the business accordingly. No one ever realized how large this nation’s ability to consume really was.

Business is a matter of keeping all relevant factors (and there are untold, unseen ones) in balance.

-Philip H. Conley

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS The more things change, the more they stay the same. This June I’m going to be speaking to the toy industry about how to keep things like inventory and cash flow in balance. If you would like me to speak to your industry, I have some insights that go way back.

How Will You Measure 2017?

The New Year is here. Your New Year’s Resolutions are gone. The inventory has been counted. The mail carrier is complaining about all the catalogs weighing down his bag. You’re trying to make sense of what just happened in 2016. (Or just trying to forget what happened in 2016.) 2017 is here whether you’re ready or not.

The only real question you need to answer right now is…

How will you measure 2017?

Will it be by growth in top line sales or bottom line profits? Will it be by management of cash flow or expenses? Will it be by the number of days you actually take off? Will it be by the number of human resource headaches you have (or don’t have)?  Will it be by “likes” and “shares” and “comments” on social media?

You get to choose. You have to choose. You have to decide where to put your limited energies and resources. If the bottom line is good, you work on cash flow. If the money is good all around, you work on HR. If the staff isn’t giving you any hassles, you work on PR and social media. If all of them need a hand, decide which one is most critical (hint: cash flow) and go there.

PICK A PROBLEM, SET A GOAL

The key is to determine what you want to measure and – most importantlyhow you’re going to measure it. It is that second part that gives you the  map to guide your decisions for the year.

Most businesses fail to set specific goals. They set vague ones like “grow profit”.  Then they forget all about those goals the very next morning as the day-to-day running of the business takes hold. But if you say “grow profit by $5,000” then you know you need to increase sales, decrease expenses, and/or increase profit margin. If you say, “grow profit by $5,000 through better control of expenses” you have an even clearer path.

The more specific your goal, the easier to plot the course. The more you make it known and talked about with your team, the more accountable you (and they) will be. The more you reward the team for reaching the milestones you set throughout the year, the more they will help you.

Roy H. Williams said it best, “What gets measured and rewarded, improves.”

The more specific you make your goal, the easier it is to draw a map that will get you there.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS Once you’ve set your destination, do yourself a favor. Print it out and paste your goal somewhere in the back office area where you will see it daily. Tell your staff the goal and ask for their input on how to get there. Talk about your goal in every single meeting. Research new ways to reach your goal. Set up milestones to measure your progress. Hold yourself accountable to your goal. Reward yourself and your staff as you reach each milestone along the way.

PPS Not sure how to set your goals or need help with your map? Send me an email. As always, I’ll do whatever I can to help.

Our Version of the 1%

Lately everyone has been talking about the 1%. In politics that might be the ultra-rich. You either are them, hate them, or on your way to becoming them.

In retail the 1% I want to talk about is your unsaleable merchandise.

We ended our closing with only 1% of our inventory remaining. Yeah, pretty good when you consider during our closing we sold 17% of our merchandise at full price, most of the rest at 20% off, and only went to 40% off those last few days when the inventory got below 10%.

Here are two lessons you can take from this.

NO BUYER IS PERFECT

No matter how well you think you have your finger on the pulse of your customers, you will make some buying mistakes. That’s a freeing thought. You know you won’t be perfect so don’t try to  be perfect. Take a few risks. Try some new things. Some will work, some will not. 1% you won’t be able to give away. That’s not the end of the world.

You might have jumped in on a fad too late (or even too early). You might have gotten seriously undercut by a rogue retailer online or a vendor dumping the remaining stock through a discounter. You might have simply liked a product more than your customers did. It happens to even the best buyers. There will always be inventory that just won’t move at regular price, and there will be inventory that just won’t move at all.  In fact, make it a game every year to figure out what your 1% will be. Have your staff vote right before the busy season on what they think are the flops. Offer a gas card or local restaurant gift card to the winner.

DON’T SIT ON OLD INVENTORY

Knowing you will make mistakes, you have to have a system in place to recognize the slow movers early on so that you can get them moving out the door. The game is actually a fun way to engage your staff as they will be checking to see if their choice is “winning”. One interesting effect of this is that your staff, by paying attention to those perceived flops, will actually help you sell that merchandise.

Your point of sale system is your best set of eyes. Any POS system worth the money you spent will at the very least tell you what items are old and not moving. Be cold and ruthless with that inventory. Don’t invest any emotion. The sooner you recognize bad merchandise, the sooner you can turn it into cash and move on.

When you have to sell off everything you own like I just did, you see the stark reality of your buying decisions. Fortunately, since we had a process for recognizing bad merchandise and moving it out each and every year, we weren’t stuck with a lot of product at the end of our day – only 1%. I can live with that.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS Remember all those free displays your vendors gave you that you’re no longer using? You can sell those, too, and make up the money you lost on your 1%. In fact, a fixture/display sale is a good combination to have when you’re moving out the mistakes. It takes some of the sting away (and gives you back some room in your warehouse). Manage your inventory and cash flow and you could be part of that group on their way to becoming a 1%er.

In Retail it is All About Location

Let’s get the elephant out of the room right away.

How can I write a blog about being a successful retailer when I closed my retail store? I can sum that up in three words…

Location. Location. Location.

Yes, we were having a tough time with cash flow. That’s the usual culprit behind any store closing. Much of that was due to our location.

Location Issue #1

The population of Jackson has been stagnant at best the last several year. The youth population, however, has shrunk considerably over the last several years as birth rates declined for all groups but teens, and school enrollment is down huge since 2007. On top of that, average household income in the city fell from around $35K per household to $27K per household (well below the national average of around $56K).

I have constantly talked about paying attention to your Market Share. To know your Market Share you first have to know your Market. Ours has shrunk over 40% since 2007. Fortunately, our share of that market only dipped a little. We still had our piece of the pie, but our pie had turned into a tart.

Location Issue #2

We own and occupy a large building on the north edge of downtown. We have been a large toy store for decades, carrying toys, hobbies, baby products, sporting goods, scouts, and more. When the market could bear it, we had a ton of inventory, but scaling back inventory to match the needs of the community meant less efficient use of space and less of the “impact” of being that large store that had everything.

We discussed converting to a smaller store, more in alignment with the population and income, but that would have led to many long-time customers lamenting that we just weren’t the store we used to be or the store they remembered. Better to close while the memories were still positive.

Location Issue #3

I am a big believer in downtowns. Call me naive but I still believe downtown shopping districts can be successful. It takes dedication from the shop keepers, the landlords, and the city leaders to make it work. It takes smart policies, united fronts, and strong relationships to make it work. We have some of that in Jackson, especially among the retail owners. We also have a city council dedicated to improving the streets and sidewalks and green spaces in our downtown. Unfortunately, that also means a ton of disruptive construction. Two years of it! (and counting.)

Our city leaders are not retailers and don’t understand how construction affects retail. They saw an opportunity to get roads fixed and attract new development (all good things), but didn’t see the consequences to the existing retailers and restaurants. When you are trying to dig out of a cash flow hole, having the busiest street in town – the one that goes right by your building – be restricted from three lanes to one with backups that stretch for blocks for an entire spring and summer is not a good recipe for success. At one point we had so much construction downtown that one detour actually led you to another street closure dead-end, and only if you had local knowledge would you know which alley would get you back to open road.

In a couple years, our downtown is going to be new and fresh and repaved and ready for business. But the last two years were pretty tough on the businesses already here, especially for us as our market declined.

Yeah, Amazon is a deal-changer for many retail categories. Yeah, our own vendors are making decisions that hurt the indie retail channel. Yeah, customers are as fickle as ever and have power like never before. None of those are insurmountable. You can still compete. Even as we closed, we were holding our own for our market. We just didn’t like the direction our market was heading.

If your market is your problem, you can do one of four things, Move, Close, Change or Wait. We chose to close.

Now you know.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS I’ll discuss the other three options and what would make them attractive in future posts. Right now I have to go let the big elephant in the room out to roam the savanna.

My Big Fat Email Subject Line Mistake

Your subject line is the most important part of your email. Period.

Get it right and your email is a success. Get it wrong and nothing else matters. I learned that the hard way yesterday.

We’re doing a big promotion on Election Day. Something new. The subject line in my email read…

“Election Day ONLY – 20% Off all Gift Certificate Sales! See inside for details…”

The first two people I talked to about the promotion asked the same question. “Do we get 20% off the purchase of a gift certificate or 20% off purchases made with a gift certificate?”

I went back and read the content of the email. It clearly states that you get 20% off the purchase of a gift certificate. How did they get so confused? Then I read the subject line again. I saw the error of my ways. It wasn’t as clear and concise as it should have been. I left room for interpretation.

TWO LESSONS

First, before you send an email, understand that many people will only ever read the subject line. They get so much email that they scan subject lines and hit the delete button. Therefore your subject line has to get your point across clearly and quickly with no room for doubt. Clever and cutesie subject lines leave too much room for interpretation. There should be no doubt about the purpose of your email. There should be only one interpretation of your subject line.

The best way to make sure your subject line is tight and to the point is to ask for help. Ask someone outside of your bottle to read your subject line and tell you what it means to them. Try to ferret out all the possible meanings. Then rewrite it to eliminate any confusion or misinterpretation.

Second, if you can’t make your point in the subject line, perhaps because it is too nuanced or complicated, then make sure your subject line has enough enticement to make people want to open the email. According to MailChimp, the average open rate for email from retailers is about 22%. In other words, 8 out of 10 people likely won’t open your email. You have to give them a reason.

Make it clear. Make it concise. Make it work for the 8 out of 10 that don’t open emails. Make it legitimate and not sounding too spammy. Make your subject line get people to want to open your email.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS In case you’re wondering why I am doing a promotion like this for the store, here are the reasons…

  1. I get a huge influx of cash right when I need it most to help stock up for Christmas.
  2. Customers who redeem gift certificates often spend much more that what the gift certificate was worth.
  3. I get my customers to commit to shopping with me now before some shiny bauble from someone else catches their eye later.
  4. I get to promote Election Day as an important day.
  5. My Transactional Customers get a great deal!
  6. About 10% of all gift certificates go un-redeemed, so I’m really only giving away a small bit of margin.

You Don’t Make it Up in Volume

(Warning: this post contains math. Proceed with caution.)

“We lose a dollar on each one we sell, but we make it up in volume.”

Yeah, we all know that isn’t right, but there is a mistaken belief that if you lower your prices, you can easily make up the lower margins through higher volume.

Warehouse Melissa and Doug 2

Let me show you why that doesn’t necessarily work.

First, we have to make an assumption together. Your business has fixed costs that do not change as your sales change (utilities, rent, etc), and your business has variable costs that go up as you do more volume (credit card fees, payroll, freight, advertising, etc).

Agreed? Good.

DOING THE MATH

Here is some simple math…

You have an item you purchase for $10 and sell for $20. Let’s say you sold 24 of this item last year. That gives you a gross profit of $240 (24 units x $10 in profit per unit = $240 gross profit).

But you have the grand idea to lower the price 10% to $18, figuring you’ll make it up in volume.

 

To get the same $240 in gross profit, you now need to sell 30 units (30 x $8 = $240). That’s a 25% increase in units sold. With more units sold, however, your variable costs will go up. Maybe it is advertising because you had to spend more to get the word out about your lower price. Maybe it is extra sales people needed to help boost sales. Maybe it is more credit card transaction fees.

Realistically, just selling 25% more units won’t even break even because of the rise in variable costs. You’ll probably need closer to 30% more in units sold to cover your 10% discount.

Do you think 10% Off is enough to sell that many more units?

GOING LOWER

Okay, maybe 10% isn’t enough to move the needle. Let’s go 20% Off and sell them for $16!

Here’s the math…

40 units x $6 = $240.  Yes, you now need to sell 67% more units just to get the same gross profit! More than likely, as your variable costs go up, you’ll probably need to sell about 70-75% more units to truly break even.

How about 30% Off?

60 units x $4 = $240. If you go to 30% Off, you better be able to sell 250-300% more units to make it up in volume.

That is a lot of extra traffic you’re going to need to draw, and a lot of staff you’re going to need to handle those sales.

GOING HIGHER

When you do the math, making it up in volume isn’t the answer. But ask yourself this question…

If I raise my prices a little, how many sales might I lose?

A 10% price increase could handle a 17% drop in units sold and make you the same amount of gross profit.

See? Those math classes in high school can pay off!

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS Yes, you can raise your prices. With the way insurance premiums, taxes, utilities and other expenses keep rising, you have to find ways to make more money just to stay in business. But just a straight increase across the board isn’t the strategy. Download my FREE eBook Pricing for Profit in the Free Resources section to see smart ways to raise your prices (that won’t cost you a single unit sold).

 

Changing Your Thinking on Coupons

I’m not a fan of coupons. There. I said it.

If you’ve downloaded my free eBook Main Street Marketing on a Shoestring Budget, you know I prefer giving away gift certificates with no strings attached – instead of coupons – to attract new customers.

I also fear that using coupons too much trains your customers to wait for the next coupon before they shop.

Lastly, I believe coupons are more geared toward the Transactional Customer than the Relational Customer (the latter whom should be your primary target in your advertising and marketing).

With all that said, coupons done right can be a valuable part of your tool box.

Retail Toolbox

DOING COUPONS THE RIGHT WAY

As I told you yesterday, the real key for coupons is to make them Rare and Special. Rare so that people jump on the deal when it happens and aren’t trained to wait for the next one to make their next purchase. Special so that the customer isn’t anticipating the next coupon and is more likely to act on the current one.

Rare and Special will increase your ROI because they will get more people to act on the current coupon. Your other big issue is delivery. How do you get those coupons into the right hands?

  • Newspaper Inserts – this is the preferred method of the big bog stores because they have the economy of scale for printing and delivering to get the best rates, and they don’t care who gets their coupons
  • Direct Mail – you can buy a list (and hope it is okay) or build your own. One takes money and has little return. One takes time but has a better return.
  • Postal Zip Codes – you can target zip codes instead of direct addresses for a little less per piece than direct mail
  • Email – easily the cheapest, easiest to share, but also most easily duplicated

Let’s look at that last one a little more closely…

KNOW YOUR GOAL

If your goal is to limit the coupon to “one per customer”, email can be tricky because it is easy for a customer to print out multiple copies and use them herself or give them to her friends. That’s the big question I always get about sending coupons via email. “But how will I track if a customer uses more than one?”

I always ask back, “Does it matter if a customer uses more than one?”

Your goal for any coupon should be to Drive Traffic and Increase Sales. That is what coupons do best. Where is the harm if a customer shares your coupon with others? Where is the harm if the customer makes multiple trips using multiple coupons? Don’t both of those Drive Traffic and Increase Sales?

If your goal is to Increase Profits, then a coupon isn’t your friend in the first place. Coupons won’t help your profit margin (I’ll show you the math later why “lower your price and make it up in volume” doesn’t really work), but they can increase your traffic and cash flow and give your sales staff the chance to increase average ticket sizes and items per transaction.

CHANGE YOUR THINKING

If you send out a coupon via email, you have to consider two things…

  1. It will be shared
  2. It will be printed/used multiple times

If your goal is to Drive Traffic and Increase Sales, sharing and printing multiple copies are both GOOD things. In fact you want to encourage that.

Encourage your email list peeps to share the coupon with as many people as they can. It increases your reach to people who might not yet know you and it gets your fans to promote your business for you. In fact, take it a step further and encourage social media sharing, too. Your goal should be to get the coupon to as many people as possible as cheaply as possible. That’s how to get the best ROI.

Encourage your email list peeps to use the coupon early and often, too. Every trip they make means another chance to deepen your relationship with them and turn them into fans. (If you sell a commodity item like food that people are buying weekly, simply put a tighter time limit on the coupon to keep the coupon Rare and Special). The reality is that you won’t get that many multiple trips. Unless your offer is incredibly compelling and you’re giving away half the store, the likelihood that a customer is going to shop your store twice in one week is fairly low to begin with.

Email is the cheapest way to deliver coupons. It also is one of the most powerful ways to get your fan base to help you reach more and more people. You just have to change your thinking from one of scarcity (“limit one per…”) to generosity (“use it early and often and share it with the world…”).

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS My final tip is to keep the coupon as simple as possible with as few rules and exceptions as possible. The easier it is to use, the happier your customers will be.

Don’t Marry Your Inventory

Yes, you bought it. But not for the long term. Your inventory is more like a one-night stand. Love it and leave it. Love it and sell it. Love it and let it go.

Today I am kicking a lot of my inventory to the curb. The Just for Fun Sale starts at 9:30am. Products that I loved were not loved quite so much by my customers. That’s okay. We marked them down and are going to find them all good homes.

Most of this stuff has been here less than 18 months, some less than a year, some came in just last fall. If I ordered a case of six of something and could only sell two during the busy holiday rush, those other four pieces left behind aren’t going to sell without some help.

Before we got a POS system, I would hear the wedding bells of buyers telling me, “That’s a must-have, Phil. We need to stock up on those.” After the POS showed we only sold 1 of the 24 pieces on hand over the past two years, the wedding vows would be echoing, “But I love this item. It just needs time to sell.” Or I would hear the classic toast of, “I can’t afford to mark this down…”

Don’t marry your inventory. Love it and let it go.

Makes it easier when you count your inventory, too. Missing a few items? Shoplifters got some goodies? Do the math. How much is missing? If your shrinkage is less than 1% of your sales, you’re doing pretty darn good. Years ago the National Retail Federation stated that annual shrinkage is around 3%, with employee theft being the biggest part of that, followed by customer theft and employee errors (either at the cashwrap or at the receiving end).

You are going to be shoplifted. You are not immune to theft. Put in all the cameras and security measures you want. Won’t stop it completely. Wal-Mart has cameras and other security measures and still about $500,000 goes missing per store. It is just the cost of doing business. If that cost is less than 1%, then you’re doing things right. Don’t lament the loss.

Inventory is a means to an end. Its sole purpose is to move out the door one way or another and find its long-term lover, so that you can replace it and move on. That lover is not you. You are just the go-between, the rebound guy, the pimp.

Don’t marry your inventory. Go find it the love of its life – at whatever cost – and move on.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS Your end game is to get the customers to love the product more than you love it. Plain and simple. The most profitable way is better merchandising. Give the product good exposure on the shelf, a sign, a spotlight, or whatever it takes to make the product shine. But if that doesn’t work, dump it and move on. The sooner the better.

How Much Cash is Enough?

(Warning: This post includes math. If you wish to stick your head in the sand and stay away from all things math, do so now.)

This is a big question at the end of the year for pretty much all retailers, especially us seasonal retailers. We’re flush with cash from the big Christmas season. We’re thinking we want to give ourselves a nice bonus, possibly pay down a loan, or even bonus the employees who worked so hard.

We just want to make sure we have enough cash for the upcoming year. But how much cash is enough?

You need to calculate two numbers – Current Ratio and Cash-to-Current Liabilities Ratio.

To do that, you need a Balance Sheet from January 1st. Your accounting software can easily print that for you. (If you don’t have any accounting software, take some of that cash and invest in Quickbooks and a class on how to use Quickbooks – it will pay for itself in one year!)

On your Balance Sheet locate these three numbers.

  • Current Assets
  • Cash
  • Current Liabilities

The Current Ratio is calculated like this:

Current Assets divided by Current Liabilities = Current Ratio

The answer will typically be shown as a number like 2.9. A good rule of thumb is to have a ratio of 1.5 or higher. Typically seasonal businesses at the end of their season will have a ratio around 3.0 or higher. If your number is around 3.0, that’s pretty good.

The Cash-to-Current Liabilities Ratio is calculated like this:

Cash divided by Current Liabilities = Cash-to-Current Liabilities Ratio

The answer will typically be shown as a percentage like 75%. For some businesses you would ideally like between 10-20%. But for seasonal businesses entering their slower season, you will want much more, as much as 70-80%. If you are a seasonal fourth quarter business, 75% is a good number to have right now.

Separately, the two numbers only tell part of the story. The key is to look at both together. If both numbers look good, then your only real worry is deciding what to do with the extra cash. If both numbers are weak, then you have some tough decisions to make to try to raise some cash and get cash flow under control.

But when one is weak and the other strong, there are a number of issues at play.

If the Current Ratio is strong but the Cash-to-Current Liabilities is weak, then you likely have too much inventory. That may be on purpose because you got a good buy or are planning an expansion or are growing inventory for the upcoming season. Or it may be that you bought too much last year and are carrying excess inventory. It might be time to have a sale.

If your Current Ratio is weak but Cash-to-Current Liabilities is strong, you need to start writing orders and building up your inventory.

The math isn’t that hard to do. The results, however, tell you a lot about the health of your business. Don’t ever be afraid of the Math.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS If you are a summer seasonal business go pull your Balance Sheet from the end of your season and do those calculations from there. If you are not a seasonal business (doing 40% or more of your annual business in one quarter), then you don’t need the big build-up of cash so those numbers can be much lower. Just keep an eye on them each month.