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.
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.
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.