“Have you ever noticed that everyone wants to be normal but no one wants to be average?” -Roy H. Williams
Did you hear the one about the statistician that drowned in a river with an average depth of three feet?
In business, everyone wants to know the averages, the average cost of rent, the average sales per square foot, the average level of inventory, etc. Averages are interesting. They can be a nice benchmark, but they can also be misleading, and sometimes downright dangerous.
Take, for example, average inventory at cost (a number you should all be tracking). If you were an average toy store doing around $500,000 a year in sales, your average inventory at cost would be around $100,000. But if you are that same toy store, your Thanksgiving to Christmas sales will likely be around $200,000, or pretty much all of your inventory if you only had the average on hand. As nice as it would be to sell to the walls, so-to-speak, you know you can’t sell it all. You also know you need some inventory in January for birthdays and post-Christmas.
Just trying to keep your store at the average will kill your holiday sales. You’ll need a lot higher inventory to start the busy season and much lower inventory the rest of the year. Rarely will you ever have the “average” amount of inventory on hand.
Another problem with that average is that $100,000 worth of toys looks a whole lot different in a 2,200 square foot store than it does in a 1,100 square foot store.
The bigger the store, the more creative you may need to be with your merchandise to keep the store looking stocked and full. The smaller the store, the more creative you may need to be with your merchandise to fit it all in. Sometimes your store space dictates your inventory levels more than just sales or industry averages.
Averages are a nice starting point, but it is worth exploring all the reasons you might deviate from the average, and be okay with those reasons.
For instance, my payroll at Toy House was a significantly higher percentage of our expenses than the average toy store. But I could afford that because my rent was significantly lower. Our sales per square foot was extremely low compared to the average, but that was because we had wide aisles to allow for shopping carts, four cash registers lines, a large gift-wrapping area, and a stage with seating/playing area—in other words, a lot of square footage not used for showing merchandise. Our average ticket, thanks to shopping carts and toy demos however, was significantly higher. Each deviation from the norm was on purpose and with a purpose.
I do many talks about the financials of independent retailers. Whenever possible I try to use an average store for that industry. But I remind everyone in attendance that these numbers are average and they should be striving to be spectacular. If all your numbers are average, you haven’t found the place to stand out and make a name for yourself.
In retail, there isn’t a prize for being normal.
PS The upside to averages is that they give you a quick check of the health of your business. If you have a number way off from the averages and you don’t know why, that might be a good place to focus your time and energies on changing. The downside is that you don’t ever want to be an average store. You are destined for greater than that.
PPS Rent per square foot and sales per square foot go hand in hand. You need to be selling at least 10x more per square foot than what you pay in rent (if your profit margin is around 50%). That’s a far better benchmark than average rent or average sales per square foot for your industry. Those averages tell you nothing.
That is why statisticians also use range and deviation. Also, there is a difference between mean, mode, and median. Statistics are great, but you need to know how to use them.