When my son was in Cub Scouts, his Den Master was the manager of one of our local Kmarts. He gave me some amazing insights into the world of big-box retail including numbers of what the big-box stores in Jackson were doing in sales both overall and for toys.
It was an eye-opener, especially when I learned we were doing more in toy sales than both Kmarts in town combined.
Knowledge like that is game-changing. Knowing where you stand in your market, and what is happening to your market is critical to your success. Heck, just knowing if your market is even viable is quite important.
If you were a start-up looking to get into business, I would actually put this Tool ahead of Tool #1 – Core Values. Let’s go find a viable market before we even begin with the other stuff. As it is, if you’ve made sure your business lines up with your Core Values, the next step is to look at what is happening with your market. How big is the pie and how big is your slice of it?
CALCULATING MARKET POTENTIAL
The best way to find the potential amount of sales in your area for your industry is to follow this step-by-step formula.
- Find the total dollars spent in your industry in the US. Usually a quick Google search can find you this number. For instance, in 2015 the Toy Industry was $19.1 billion.
- Divide that number by the US Population. In 2015 there were 322 million people in the US. $19.1 billion divided by 322 million equals $59.32/person
- Multiply that number times the population in what you consider your Trade Area. For instance, we considered Jackson County our Trade Area. Population 158,000 people times $59.32 equals $9.4 million Market Potential
For years I did the calculations and stopped right there. It is a close approximation. But it isn’t accurate. I needed to add two more calculations to get a true picture.
ADJUST FOR HOUSEHOLD INCOME
We didn’t sell groceries. We didn’t sell commodities. We didn’t sell basics like clothing. I needed to adjust the Market Potential based on the local economy. The number I used was Average Household Income (AHI). Find out the AHI for your Trade Area and compare it to the national average.
Back in 2015 the national average was $55,775. Jackson County was $43,170 or 22.6% less. (The city was much lower, but I used the county because we considered the entire county our trade area.)
That adjusted our Market Potential down to $7.3 million.
If you sell luxury items, this is a critical step for understanding your Market Potential.
ADJUST FOR INDUSTRY DEMOGRAPHICS
You may also need to adjust your numbers based on a demographic specific to your industry. Since we started with total US sales and total US population to get a sales/person amount, you might get a number that is skewed for your area.
For instance, if you sell boats, your market is much bigger in Michigan, with the Great Lakes, or Minnesota, with ten thousand lakes, than it might be in Nebraska or New Mexico. You might look into average boat ownership per population and compare your Trade Area to the national average.
If you sell books, you might want to look at the educational level in your Trade Area compared to the national average.
If you sell toys, you might want to look at the youth population in your Trade Area.
This number may be harder to find. I was able to cross-reference the US Census to find that Jackson County had 6% fewer children than the national average. That dropped our Market Potential down to $6.8 million.
Notice how those two adjustments really changed our Market Potential?
CALCULATE YOUR SHARE OF THE MARKET
Once you know your Market Potential, it is easy to find your Market Share. Simply divide your sales by the Market Potential. In 2015 our sales were 15.7% of the Market Potential.
I used a spread sheet for all of these numbers. I put in the formulas for calculating percentage differences. All I had to do each year was find the raw numbers and plug them in.
The power of doing this math is two-fold.
Not only do you know exactly where you stand in your market at any given time, you also know how your market is changing.
WHERE YOU STAND
Walmart has 25% of the grocery market and around 10% of the entire retail market in America. As sobering as that may sound, at one point back in the 1950’s Sears had over 50% of the appliance market. That’s a mind-blowing number—especially when you consider where Sears is today.
The real Gold Standard for any retailer is to achieve 30% of your Market. It will likely take a perfect storm to get any higher than that. Back in the early 1980’s before we got a second Meijer, a Target, a Toys R Us, and a Walmart, we were pretty close to that mark. For most independent retailers the more likely expected number is 3-5%. Our 15.7% was a combination of store size and longevity in the market, along with all the other things we were trying to do right.
The interesting point here, though, is not in how many people shop with you but in how many people don’t shop with you. Almost 85% of our Market didn’t shop with us. That’s a lot of potential customers. If I wanted to grow my business by 10%, I only needed to convince another 1.57% of the 158,000 people in the county (2500 people) to walk through our doors. If you only had 5% of your Market, you would only need to convince another 0.5% of those people to shop with you to achieve 10% growth.
Trying to convince 2500 people is far easier and much different than trying to convince 158,000 people. You only need to find 2500 people who don’t yet know you, but share your Values.
The other critical piece of information you can gain is by doing this calculation year after year and watching how the numbers change. Is your Market Potential growing or shrinking? Is your share of the Market growing or shrinking?
We watched two critical numbers during the Great Recession. One was Average Household Income. One was Youth Population.
From 2007 to 2016 our Youth Population for Jackson County dropped over 40%. I drilled down into those numbers and saw even worse news. While national birth rates were dropping during that time, our birth rates were even lower than the national average except for one glaring segment—teen births. The city’s birth rates, thanks to this segment, were similar to national averages while county birth rates were well below average.
Average Household Income didn’t fare much better. At one point the AHI in the city limits was hovering around the poverty line at $27,000. Our closest customers had no money for toys. The outer areas of the county where the money was had no children. Not a good recipe.
Add into that mix, we watched the Sales per Person of toys in the US also decline from a peak of $75.17/person in 2004 to only $59.32 in 2015. People were spending their money on electronics like smart phones, tablets, and computers.
Over the years our Market Share didn’t change a whole lot, but our Market Potential did. In 2007 it was $11.9 million and we had 16.5% of it. In 2015 it was down to $6.8 million and we still had 15.7% of it (even though Amazon had become a major player in toys around 2011-2012).
The other barometer Market Potential and Market Share gives you is your own business’s health compared to the competition. While top line sales are nice, the true question you need to ask is whether your Market Share is growing or shrinking. You could be up 10% in top line sales, but if your market grew by 15%, someone else is eating your lunch.
If you have done your spread sheet and have several years of data to analyze, plot into the data when major competitors came to town or made major changes to their businesses. See how that affected your numbers. For instance, I can see that when Walmart opened in Jackson in 2005 our share dipped from 16.5% down to 15.9%. I can also see how we jumped back up to 16.4% the following year after the novelty of the new store wore off. I can also see how we dipped down to 16.1% in 2011 and 15.8% in 2012 when Amazon became a serious player in the toy market.
All of these numbers tell a story far more compelling than whether your store’s sales are growing or shrinking. They help you understand your business on a far greater and more important level.
If your Market Potential is growing, there is money to be made, but be cautious. The big guys are tracking that number, too, and might be looking to expand into your market. If your Market Potential is shrinking, you might need to look at moving, changing, or finding an exit strategy.
If your Market Share is growing, you’re doing things right. If your Market Share is shrinking, you have work to do.
That’s why you should make this your second priority to diagnose and understand.
PS Where does that 3-5% number come from? This comes from looking at average store sales for several different industries including toys, pet supplies, shoes, jewelry, photographic supplies, and flooring. While there are many outliers and the range is quite broad from large to small, the average store for most of these industries has enough sales to grab about 3-5% of their market. I use it purely as a benchmark for start-ups to be realistic about their business prospects in the first few years. Getting to 3% within two to three years is a realistic goal. If you’re in a town with a strong Shop Local movement that might be easier, but you might also have more indie competition. If there are no indie competitors, you have an unusually large store, and you’ve been the fixture in town setting the bar of expectation for over sixty years, your numbers should be much higher.
The reality, however, is that the number itself doesn’t matter nearly as much as what is happening with that number. Is it going up or down? If it is going down you need to find out why.