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Author: Phil Wrzesinski

Phil Wrzesinski is a Retailer, Speaker, Author, Golfer, Singer/Songwriter, and Klutz Kid who enjoys anything to do with the water (including drinking it fermented with hops and barley), anything to do with helping local independent businesses thrive, and anything that sounds like fun.

How Much Would You Pay?

Have you ever walked through a store, saw a display, and thought, “Wow! Someone would actually pay that much for that?” Of course you have. We all have. It is the internal pricing game we all play called …

“How Much Would You Pay?”

Unless you’re the only option in town, pricing is a game of finding that sweet spot in price that matches the answer most people would pay for your product or service. The better you determine that price, the better your sales and profits.

And before you think that lowering the price is the only way to go, remember that some people will look at a really low price and think, “What must be wrong with it?” You can cheapen the perception of your products or services by pricing them too low.

I knew a guy who sang at events. He was getting tired of the gigs. He asked me if I thought it was smart of him to double his price so that he would get fewer gigs and still make around the same amount of money. I told him to expect the opposite to happen. I was right.

His bookings doubled with the doubling of his price because people figured if he charged that much he must be really good. In other words, his earlier price was too low. Fortunately, the extra bookings along with the higher price re-energized his career.

I call this concept Perceived Worth. It is something we all do when shopping. We look at an item and determine its Perceived Worth (PW). Then we look at the price. If the price equals the PW and we’re in the market to buy it, we place it in the cart. If it is too high or too low, we hesitate. We won’t make the purchase until we can justify the price discrepancy.

If we don’t need the product, our PW for that item is zero, and we move on, but we’ll still play the Pricing Game to see if what we would expect to pay matches the price.

I NEED YOUR HELP

I tell you this because I would like your help on the PW of a service I have been asked to perform.

You may recall a couple weeks ago I gave you five Self-Diagnosis Tools to help you take a critical look at your business. Those tools were:

I was asked what it would cost to hire me to come to a business for three days to perform those five diagnostics.

I would like to know what you think the Perceived Worth would be to have someone like me do a complete diagnostic evaluation of your business using those five criteria.

I would visit your business for three days. I would need access to your financials (Balance Sheet and Profit & Loss plus your Average Inventory at Cost). I would need to see what Advertising you have done (and any contracts you’ve signed for advertising). And I would need a couple hours of your time over the three days to answer questions here and there.

At the end I would write up an evaluation showing where you were doing well, where you needed attention, and recommendations for what to work on next, including a priority of where to put your resources first.

Two Questions:

  • What would you EXPECT to pay for such a service?
  • What would you be WILLING to pay for such a service?

I am curious to see your responses. You may send them to me via email or PM, leave a comment on this blog, or comment on Twitter, LinkedIn, or Facebook.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS Even if you don’t own a business I am curious to see your response. I am trying to gauge whether there is a viable market for this service or not. I’d love to know what people perceive such a service to be worth. There are no wrong answers.

A Tale of Two Cashiers

It was the best of cashiers, it was the worst of cashiers …

I did something foolish. I went out shopping on Saturday, December 15th last year. Yep, that Saturday. One of the two or three busiest days of the year. My staff and I used to love those Saturdays at Toy House. We were always pumped up and ready to have all kinds of fun with the crowds of people.

Not this gal.

I waited in line as expected. Placed my items on the belt. Waited some more. When it was finally my turn I said to the cashier a joyful, “Hello. How are you?”

In the most monotonous, apathetic voice she could muster, she answered, “I’m here.”

That was it. She didn’t say anything more until she had rung up all my purchases and asked, “Mperks, bottle slips, or coupons?”

No “Hello.” No “Thank you.” No “Fine, thanks.” She didn’t even say those phrases I really hate at checkout like, “Are you ready to check out?” or “Did you find everything?” Heck, by this point I would have taken any kind of interaction. She didn’t even say, “No problem,” when I thanked her for ringing me up.

Any excitement I had for the upcoming holiday was quickly Grinched out in her doom and gloom. I walked back to my car somewhat deflated and dejected.

Fast forward to yesterday. Same chain, different store. I was greeted with, “Hi, how are you today? Looks like you have a pretty good shopping list here.”

By the time she had finished ringing me up, we knew each other’s names, I knew some of her past work history. I knew why she was working where she was and what she “just loved” about working for them. We talked about my purchases. We laughed about the shopping bags that wouldn’t separate from each other easily.

It was a generally pleasant conversation that ended with, “Thank you for coming in. Hope to see you again.”

I’ve shopped this chain all my life and never once been asked to come back like that. 

According to a John Gattorna study published in 2008, the leading cause for customers to switch stores isn’t product or price. It is indifference. Here are his numbers:

  • 4% Natural attrition (moved away, passed on, etc)
  • 5% Referred to a competitor by their friend
  • 9% Competitive reasons (e.g. price)
  • 14% Product/service dissatisfaction
  • 68% Perceived Indifference

If the “I’m here” cashier had worked for me, she would no longer be “here”. If you can’t be happy and enthused for the busiest time of the year, you don’t belong in retail. At the same time, I would be doing everything in my power to encourage more conversations between my cashiers and customers like the “Hope to see you again,” cashier. I actually do hope I see her again.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS Notice how I didn’t mention anything about their efficiency or skill with the actual cash register and bagging? I have had horrible baggers, slow movers, and cashiers not trained well enough to know even the simple procedures at this chain. But the two that stood out the most were both because of their attitude. 

PPS One of the cashiers was a Baby Boomer. The other was a Millennial. Guess which was which?

Another Phrase You Need to Quit Using

One downside to being a speaker for the retail industry is that there aren’t a lot of speaking opportunities in December. (It is also an upside in that I had a lot more time around the holidays, but I digress.) With all that free time, I took on the project of replacing the cabinets in my friend’s kitchen. He had a broken cabinet, plus wanted to do some simple remodeling and moving of appliances. It was a fun project.

One day shortly after finishing that project, I happened to be walking through the cabinet section at Lowe’s with my girlfriend. We were talking about some of the cabinets we might have chosen for the project.

A sales clerk approached us and asked, “Are you finding everything okay?”

“Yes, we are. Thanks.” I cringed as I said it because it rolled off my lips without a moment’s hesitation. It was as knee-jerk a reaction as “Just looking,” or “I’m fine. How are you?”

The annoying thing is that I often asked that same question of customers at Toy House. I often got the same response. Until I learned a better way.

We all know not to ask a customer, “Can I help you?” Now asking the customer, “Are you finding everything okay?” is the new no-no.

Why? Because the knee-jerk response kills the conversation with the finality of a Clint Eastwood Smith & Wesson.

OTHER WAYS TO OPEN

There are a whole bunch of other ways the salesperson could have opened the conversation.

He could have used a question about the product we were admiring …

“Are you admiring that set for the color or the style?” I would have answered color. My girlfriend would have answered style. And we would be talking.

He could have led with a feature …

“Have you seen the new soft-close drawers on that unit? You have to try it.” I would have opened a drawer and he would have had the opening (both figurative and literal) to talk to me about features and benefits.

He could have used a personal statement …

“You’re looking at my favorite style. I’ve been dreaming of remodeling our kitchen with those. What style would you put in your dream kitchen?” We probably would have talked for several minutes.

He could have even led with his name …

“Hi guys. I’m Carl, your kitchen remodel expert.” I would have responded, “Hi, Carl.” I might have even taken his card.

The point here is that there are many ways Carl could have opened a conversation that might have led to a sale. Big sales like kitchen cabinets rarely just happen out of the blue. They take time and effort, and a relationship you build with the customer first.

“Are you finding everything okay?” implies that the customer is in control, you don’t really want to help unless absolutely necessary, and a relationship isn’t even on the salesperson’s mind. The customer really only has to give you one of two responses—Yes or No. If she says Yes, you’re out of the game before you even got in. If she says No, there still is no guarantee she’s going to ask for your help because she still doesn’t know or trust you.

Half the time she will lie and tell you Yes when she means No just to not have to deal with you.

The next time you and your staff get together for training, work on alternate openings to “Are you finding everything okay?” and strike that phrase from your vocabulary. It will help you convert more customers into relationships which will lead to more sales.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS Sure, I wasn’t in the market for cabinets that night. The salesman didn’t know that. And with that opening he was never going to find out. The opening of the relationship is not only crucial to making today’s sale, it also sets the foundation for a long-term relationship and customer loyalty. For more ways to meet and greet your customers, check out the FREE eBook The Meet-and-Greet: Building a Long-Term Relationship with Your Customers.

The Heart of Customer Service is the Heart

I did a presentation for the City of Mason this morning. Not their businesses, their employees—DPW, Police, Fire & Safety, Bill Payment Desk, Clerk’s Office. Debi Stuart, the City Manager, hired me to talk about Customer Service. Debi recognizes that even a city office and government employees need to be constantly working on offering better services and better service. She is transforming their government into a model that every city should follow.

My usual Customer Service presentation is to take a look at every interaction a customer has with your business through the eyes of the customer to see what she expects, what you’re actually doing, and how you can raise the bar. Unfortunately with five departments, three distinct customers for each department, and several different types of interactions per department, we didn’t have the time to explore each of those interactions.

(Yes, I did say three distinct customers—the Citizens, the Business Owners, and the other Departments within government. Make sure you are identifying all the different customers you have for your business.)

Because of the time limitation, instead we focused on feelings and emotions with goal of getting the “customer” from Grumpy Cat to Happy Cat.

When you stop and think about the average citizen’s interactions with the different facets of government, more often than not, the citizen’s default mode is Grumpy Cat. If I tell you that you have to go to the Department of Motor Vehicles (or SOS office here in Michigan), you instantly go Grumpy Cat.

If you are pulled over by the police, have to call for a firetruck or DPW, or have to go in to pay a bill, you are a far distance from Happy Cat. The goal of customer service in most of these situations is to change the customer’s feelings. (Okay, maybe you won’t change their feelings for the better if you have to arrest them or write them a ticket, but there are still better ways to handle those interactions.)

This approach is no different than it is for a retail or service-based business.

Your goal is to make the customer happier than they were when they first entered your business.

And you have to do this while making them part with their money.

George Whalin was the first to teach me that a sale only happens when the customer decides she wants the product more than she wants the money. The customer only gets there, however, when she feels that her life will be better with the product. That is an emotional response.

The heart of Customer Service is your ability to touch her heart and make her feel better. Products are simply the means we use to make our customers feel better. We weren’t in the business to sell toys. We were in the business to make people happier (“We’re here to make you smile.”)

  • If you sell shoes, you’re doing it to make people feel better about their appearance and/or their health.
  • If you sell jewelry, you’re doing it to connect people to each other, to build lifetime memories and moments of nostalgia.
  • If you sell pet supplies, you’re doing it to bring joy and comfort to people.
  • If you sell cameras, you’re doing it to spark creativity, preserve memories, and bring joy.

This morning we looked at the emotions of the typical customers each department interacts with the most. Then we looked at how to change those feelings from Grumpy Cat to Happy Cat. I could already tell that this was going to be an easy transition for the employees of Mason based on the answers they were giving me.

Wanna live in a small community where the government really does care about the citizens and shows it through their interactions with you? I’d recommend you look at the City of Mason, MI.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS It was an interesting exercise looking at the emotions of the different customers for each department. For instance, some people who interact with the police are Angry while others are Relieved. Identifying the emotions and looking at each one differently, however, gives you the chance to explore how to make that particular customer feel better. Have a discussion with your team about emotions and what it takes to make people happier. When you get into the mode of looking at the customer’s emotions, you will find yourself adapting to their needs more quickly and easily, which will help you change their hearts. We had Listen, Show Empathy, and Treat Them as People (because they are) as our responses quite often today.

Stay in Season or Drive Them to Amazon

I was in Target two days ago. They have a huge selection of swimsuits front and center. Tonight and tomorrow we’re going to get 3-5 inches of snow. Sunday is going to be 12 degrees Fahrenheit with a minus 5 windchill.

Unless you’re going to Florida, no one in Michigan is thinking about swimsuits. Heck, with the holidays only a couple weeks behind us, most of us don’t even want to imagine trying on a swimsuit right now.

Earlier this week my son went to Target also. He was looking for earmuffs. No luck. Plenty of swimsuits, but only a small section of hats and no earmuffs at all.

He spent the next two-and-a-half hours driving around town looking for a pair of earmuffs.

He found a $2 pair at CitiTrends, but the quality matched the price. He walked two malls, visited several stores, including three big-box stores, and came home empty-handed with cold ears. And he’s a Generation Z!!

Only after exhausting all the brick & mortar stores he could think of in town did he go online to Amazon to order.

That’s the point. When you drop this season’s goods to make way for next season’s goods, you lose a lot of in-season sales.

When do many people shop for a swimsuit? Three times:

  • When they are planning a trip somewhere warm
  • When they try on their swimsuit for the first time and it doesn’t fit.
  • When their swimsuit is ruined because of a spill, a tear, or a split seam.

Two of those are smack dab in the middle of the season, not months before.

When do most people shop for mittens, gloves, and earmuffs?

  • In the fall for Christmas gifts
  • When the first cold snap hits
  • When you’ve lost or destroyed your current pair

Those last two groups want desperately to find a pair in a brick & mortar store. Yet, many of those stores let them down.

Most of my competitors were already sold out of their sleds by this point in the year. With 3-5″ snow predicted for tomorrow, I would be making a killing selling sleds today, and another killing replacing everyone’s old sleds that break tomorrow. All because my competitors aren’t staying in season.

You can put the spring stuff out if you want. Just don’t put away the winter stuff—unless you want to drive your customer base to Amazon.

There are far more people still buying in-season than trying to get a jump on shopping for the next season.

Just sayin’ …

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS I had that problem two summers ago when I was teaching sailing. I wore a swimsuit every single day. I had two to get me through the season. One died on me in the middle of the summer and the other got snagged on some rigging. It was July and I could only find one store that still had swimsuits in stock. They all had winter coats, though, and probably plenty of earmuffs. In July!

PPS My son said he would have gladly shopped local but couldn’t think of a single local store to try. As it is, we forgot one store—a regional sporting goods store—until just after he had checked out online. The second point of this post is that his generation is supposed to default to shopping online. Don’t believe that for a second. They only shop online because you make them.

Don’t Make the Simple Things Difficult

I borrowed my buddy’s Ford Transit Van. You’ve seen these vehicles. Big, tall, lots of seats, or in my case, lots of room for hauling stuff when the seats are removed.

When I got to my first destination a warning light came on telling me the tire pressure was low. It didn’t say which tire, but no problem, right? I’ll just check them all at a nearby gas station.

Unfortunately the tires on this vehicle required 86psi and $1.50 later I found out the little silver box at the far side of the gas station parking lot didn’t have the power to get me more than halfway there.

Again, no problem. My Honda dealer where I take my Pilot for service has air hoses right inside their service bay drop off. The Ford dealership is right by my house. I assumed they would have the same.

At 4:15 pm I pull into the Ford dealership’s service bay. No hose. I get out of the van and head to the service desk just in time to watch three people walk out of the room, leaving me all alone.

I look for a bell. No bell. So I wait.

Five minutes later I am joined by a lady with a white Ford Taurus. We stand there wondering where everyone went. She mentions the lack of a bell. Just then a guy in a Ford shirt walks in with his head down, goes over to the desk where I am standing, picks up a brochure and starts thumbing through it. I didn’t want to disturb him while he was deep in thought, so I waited to speak.

I never got the chance.

Without ever looking up—as though he was trying to avoid eye-contact—this guy took the brochure and a stack of papers off the desk and walked out of the room. He was gone before either of us could utter a word.

At 4:23 pm another guy walks into the room and starts shuffling papers. I say, “Hello,” for fear he might walk out before speaking, too. “Hello. What can I do for you?”

“I just need to get air for my tires.”

“Oh, you need to go around the corner to the other side of the building to our tire department.”

“Oh, okay.”

As I head to the van I see him exit the room, having never acknowledged the lady with the white Taurus.

I pull the van around the corner. There are several bays, but none that you enter like the service bay, so I find a parking spot and enter an office/waiting area. There is a gal at the counter with the employee.

The employee has the customer sign several papers and they leave together with paper floor mats and a mirror hanger with her service number. I wait.

The employee returns, starts shuffling papers, places them in a folder, then places them in a filing cabinet, not once looking up at me or even acknowledging my existence at the counter. I wait patiently. At least—unlike the service area—someone is actually there.

At 4:35 pm, after doing something on her computer, she finally turns to me and asks brusquely, “What do you need?”

It took every ounce of restraint by now to not blurt out, “Someone who gives a shit?”

Instead, I explained I just needed air in the tires of my van.

“I don’t have an open bay right now. Have a seat and we should have one open in the next hour.”

“No thanks.”

I drove the van down the road to the Honda dealership.

At 4:42 pm I pulled into the service bay. Brad looks at me quizzically in the Ford Transit Van and says, “Hi Phil. What are you doing with this vehicle?”

“I’m borrowing it from a friend. Had to move some furniture. I just need some air in the tires.”

“Give me one second to finish up with this customer and I’ll be right there.”

I knew how to pump air, so while Brad finished with the other customer, I grabbed the hose. I was on the second tire when Adam, one of the other service folks, came over to check on me.

“Hey Phil. Are you trying to take our jobs here?” he joked.

Two minutes later the tires were all filled to 86psi. Brad, Adam, and I had a nice laugh about my trials down the road at Ford. I thanked them. They thanked me. And I drove away.

Wait, did they just thank me for coming in to their building to get free air? Yes. They. Did. And they were upset that they didn’t get to inflate the tires themselves.

The Ford dealership …

  • Didn’t greet me.
  • Didn’t have a way for me to let someone in service even know if I was there.
  • Didn’t acknowledge my presence on three occasions.
  • Didn’t have an easy solution to an easy problem.

I left twenty-two minutes after I arrived without solving my problem.

The Honda dealership …

  • Greeted me immediately (and by name)
  • Told me when they would help me
  • Allowed me to help myself
  • Had an easy solution to an easy problem.

I left five minutes after I arrived with problem solved and some friendly banter on the side.

Which dealership would you rather visit?

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS I told this story to a friend of mine who drives a Ford. He started defending the dealership saying it was probably just a perfect storm of timing. I told him he was probably right, but they still lost a potential customer because of their inattention and poor attitude. Whether you like it or not, you are often defined by your worst moment—at least on Yelp. If you greet customers and keep the easy stuff easy, you’ll have far fewer “perfect storms.”

PPS I actually liked driving the Transit Van. In fact, I’ve driven several Ford vehicles in the past. I left Ford when this same dealership screwed me over with no remorse on a service call twenty years ago. Doesn’t look like things have changed. Brand loyalty only goes so far.

Self-Diagnosis Tool #5 – Marketing & Advertising

My favorite class segment in the Jackson Retail Success Academy was always the Marketing and Advertising Segment. One portion of that segment was dedicated to Media, Myths, and Money. We would discuss all the various forms of media and how/when to use them properly. We also discussed several myths about advertising. One of the biggest myths was this …

Advertising will fix your business.

No it won’t.

If your customer service sucks, advertising will only draw in more people to find that out and tell their friends to beware.

If your product selection sucks, advertising will only find you more disappointed and empty-handed customers.

If your market isn’t big enough to support your business, advertising will only drain your coffers faster, and hasten your demise.

That is why, of all the Diagnosis Tools, this one is last.

Abandoned Boat on the Pond by the House

Think of your business like a boat. Your Core Values are the hull and body of the boat. Your Market Potential is the size of the body of water. Customer Service is the driver of the boat. Inventory is the engine/oars. Advertising is the launching of the boat. Would you launch if you knew you had a leak, didn’t have a driver, or had an engine not working? Of course not.

You need to make sure your boat is rock solid and ready to go before you launch. (Check out Tool #1 Core Values, Tool #2 Market Potential, Tool #3 Customer Service, and Tool #4 Inventory Management if you think your boat has even the tiniest of leaks.)

Advertising will not fix your business, it will only speed up what was going to happen anyway. If your boat is leaking, advertising will just sink you faster.

DEFINE THE TERMS

First, let’s understand the difference between “Marketing” and “Advertising”. Marketing is everything you do to attract customers to your store. Advertising is a subset of Marketing. It is the paid marketing you do through a form of media.

MARKETING

Marketing includes your building, your signage, your front door, the “Open” sign on your building, the events, activities, and classes you hold inside and outside your building, the networking you do by joining clubs and being involved in your community, the free publicity your garner, etc.

One of the first steps in this self-diagnosis is to list all of the ways outside of Advertising that you are Marketing your store. For some ideas of different things you can do, check out the FREE eBook Main Street Marketing on a Shoestring Budget.

You should have a healthy list of ways you are marketing your business outside the realm of traditional advertising. Fortunately most of these ways cost more time than money. If you don’t have enough customers—the whole reason you’re marketing your business—then you should have the time.

Once you have that list, see which Core Values are evident in each activity. All of your Marketing efforts must be aligned with your Core Values to be most effective. If there is anything you are doing that doesn’t speak to your values, change it or drop it for something else.

ADVERTISING

The next thing to do is to look at your paid advertising through the same lens as your other Marketing efforts. Pull out all of the ads you ran last year. Look closely at the message you sent. Ask yourself these six questions …

  • Does it look or sound like an ad? Chances are good that it does. Did you know our brains are hard-wired to ignore advertising? Maybe you should create something that doesn’t look or sound like an ad to keep from being ignored.
  • Does it tell a story? Stories are more interesting, get people to pay attention, and are more memorable than facts and figures. Your ad needs to tell a story if you want it to work best.
  • Does it make only one point? The person seeing or hearing your ad will only remember one point at best, so only give her only one point to remember.
  • Does it speak to the heart? Emotions always trump logic. Always. What emotion does your ad invoke?
  • Does it speak to your tribe? Does it align with your Core Values? If you want to attract better customers, speak more directly to those people who share your values and ignore everyone else.
  • Does it make your customer the star? Ads about you will be ignored. Ads about your customer and what you can do to help her will gain her attention.

The message is more important than the media. Here is another big myth in Advertising …

You must reach the right people.

Nope, nope, nope, nope, nope. You can reach all the right people but if you don’t say the right thing, all is for naught. Also, everyone you reach is potentially the right person because even if they aren’t your customer, they know someone who is your customer.

It isn’t who you reach that matters. It is what you say to the people you reach.

Get the message right and everything else will follow.

(Note: to help you choose the right media for your business, go to the Advertising Media Reference Guide and check out your options.)

BUDGET

The last thing to check is your budget. How much should you spend on Marketing? Notice how I said Marketing, not Advertising? Part of your Marketing is your location. If you spend a lot in rent to be in a high-traffic area, you don’t have to advertise as much as the guy under the bridge on the wrong side of the tracks. The Cinnabon store at the airport doesn’t spend a penny on Advertising. He just bought a fan to blow that cinnamony goodness out into the terminal. That’s his Marketing Budget.

There are many formulas for calculating a budget. The one I like best came from Roy H. Williams, aka The Wizard of Ads. He suggests you take 10-12% of your Gross Sales as your “Total Exposure” budget. Then multiply that by your Percent Markup (this is different than Profit Margin – the formula looks like this Percent Markup = (Gross Sales – COGS)/COGS) to adjust for your pricing and profit. Then subtract your rent from that number to find out what you should spend on Advertising.

For many businesses, however, that leaves a budget close to zero as rent is often 10-12% of your budget.

I will tell you to push that upper limit to 15% of Gross Sales, but only if you can find that money without taking it out of Payroll. If push comes to shove, Great Customer Service is always more important than Advertising. It is what drives your boat.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS There you go … Five tools for evaluating your business to see where you need to improve as you sail into 2019. Take a critical look at all five in order and you’ll find your silver bullet for success. If you don’t think you can be those critical eyes because you are too busy trying to drive the boat yourself, call me. I’ll come do an analysis of your boat using all the criteria in these five Tools and show you where the boat needs work.

Self-Diagnosis Tool #4 – Inventory Management

I used to like math. It lost me when it added the timber industry into the equation (logs and natural logs and all that calculus stuff). I got jaded because I could never figure out how to derive those trees into the answer the professor wanted.

I found, however, all that algebra I had to learn to get to calculus has actually been quite useful.

Today we’re going to put it to use to diagnose how well you are Managing your Inventory. Fortunately it is simple algebra, stuff your POS system might already do for you, and stuff you can easily program into an Excel spreadsheet once and not have to do it all the time.

Stick with me, because the numbers are fascinating.

First, here is the list of numbers we’re going to calculate:

  • Profit Margin
  • Turn Ratio
  • Gross Margin Return on Inventory (GMROI)
  • Accounts-Payable-to-Inventory Ratio
  • Current Ratio
  • Cash-to-Current Ratio

Here are the numbers we need to find from our reports to calculate the above numbers.

  • Gross Sales – This can be found on your year-end Profit & Loss Statement (also called an Income Statement)
  • Cost of Goods Sold (COGS) – This can be found on your year-end Profit & Loss Statement
  • Total Current Assets – This can be found on your year-end Balance Sheet
  • Total Current Liabilities – This can be found on your year-end Balance Sheet
  • Cash on Hand – This can be found on your year-end Balance Sheet
  • Accounts Payable – The money you owe to your vendors. This can be found on your year-end Balance Sheet
  • Current Inventory at Cost – This can be found on your year-end Balance Sheet
  • Average Inventory at Cost – You will likely have to calculate this unless your POS system has a report that will give you this number. Take your Current Inventory from each monthly Balance Sheet, add those twelve numbers together and divide by twelve.

Go get those numbers. I’ll wait.

PROFIT MARGIN

Profit Margin is your profit as a percentage of the retail price. The formula looks like this:

Profit Margin = (Gross Sales—COGS)/Gross Sales

Do this math and your results will likely be between 45% and 55%. That is a typical range for an indie retailer.

Obviously the higher the number, the better. If you are at or above the higher end of this range, good for you! There might be some room to push that margin a little higher, but for the most part, that area of your business is in good shape.

If your number is at the lower end of that range—and your rent/mortgage costs for your building are at 10% or higher of your Gross Sales—then we need to seriously look at how to raise that Profit Margin. Otherwise you won’t have enough money to properly pay for things like Payroll and Marketing.

I developed a simple, intuitive, easy way for any retailer to be able to raise their prices in the right way—one that doesn’t kill sales, but actually maximizes them. Most stores who adopt this pricing strategy see both increased Profit Margin and increased unit sales at the same time. Download the FREE Pricing for Profit eBook and see where and how to raise those margins.

TURN RATIO

Turn Ratio is simply a number that tells you how often you turn over your entire inventory in a calendar year. To do this calculation, you only need two numbers. The formula looks like this:

Turn Ratio = COGS/Average Inventory at Cost

The range for this number varies quite widely from 2.0 to 8.0. If you are a seasonal business such as a toy store, a garden center, or a gift shop in a summer tourist town, your number is often quite lower (2.0 to 5.0). If you are a store without a true season such as a pet store or baby goods store, your number will likely be higher (3.5 to 6.0). If you are a commodities store (i.e. grocery) your number will be much higher (5.0 to 8.0).

This is a tricky number to use by itself for diagnosing your business health. For instance, just being at the high end doesn’t necessarily mean you’re doing well. You might be losing potential sales because your inventory is too light. One misplaced order or one vendor who is out-of-stock could cripple your next month’s sales. Being at the lower end of your range isn’t necessarily bad, either, if you are able to get favorable terms from your vendors.

Often we’ll look at this number in conjunction with another number. For instance, if your Profit Margin is low, you can offset that by turning over your inventory faster (make it up with volume).

GROSS MARGIN RETURN ON INVENTORY

One number often used in conjunction with Turn Ratio is GMROI. GMROI tells you how much money you made for each dollar you invested in inventory. The formula is:

GMROI = (Gross Sales x Profit Margin)/Average Inventory at Cost

A typical indie retailer is likely going to have a GMROI between 200% and 400% meaning for every dollar you invested in inventory, you made $2 to $4 in return.

One reason we look at this in conjunction with Turn Ratio is because of Profit Margin. If your Profit Margin is really high, that lowers your Turn Ratio, but increases your GMROI. So if GMROI and Profit Margin are healthy, we know your Inventory is probably okay, even if your Turn Ratio is a little low. But if GMROI and Turn Ratio are both low, something needs to change.

There are only three ways to affect GMROI:

  • Increase Gross Sales (without decreasing prices – you might want to revisit Self-Diagnosis Tool #3 Customer Service)
  • Increase Profit Margin (see above)
  • Decrease Average Inventory at Cost (see “Dead Weight” below)

ACCOUNTS-PAYABLE-TO-INVENTORY RATIO

(Also called “Payables-to-Inventory Ratio”)

This is an interesting number to throw into the mix because it tells you how much of your inventory is already paid for, and how much is being financed by your vendors. The formula looks like this:

AP-to-Inventory Ratio = Accounts Payable/Current Inventory

A typical indie retailer will likely have an AP-to-Inventory Ratio between 20-35%. The higher this number, the more favorable the terms you are getting from your vendors. Being at the lower end of this ratio means either you have unfavorable terms (or no terms at all—common in certain food service industries) or too much dead weight in your inventory. If your vendors are all offering Net 30 or better terms and your Ratio is low, then it is definitely dead weight in your inventory.

One interesting phenomenon this number helps point out is when terms are incredibly favorable. For instance, some of my vendors would offer me December Dating. I could stock up heavily in January and not pay until December 1st. The upside was getting my large store stocked quickly and thoroughly. The downside is that my Average Inventory at Cost would be extremely high, putting me at the lower end of the range for both Turn Ratio and GMROI. But my AP-to-Inventory Ratio would be outstanding!

(Note: if your industry does not offer terms, you need a higher Profit Margin and Turn Ratio to offset this.)

CURRENT RATIO

This number comes straight off your Balance Sheet. The Ratio shows whether you have enough Current Assets to pay off all your Current Liabilities. The formula looks like this:

Current Ratio = Current Assets/Current Liabilities

Depending on when you do this calculation, your number will vary. If you are a 4th Quarter store and you run this number on January 1st, you’ll likely have a Current Ratio in the 2.5 to 3.5 range. other times of year it might be down around 1.5.

Most banks use that 1.5 as the bellweather mark. You need to be there or higher to be considered healthy.  Anything below 1.5 is too low because even the banks realize you won’t be able to liquidate everything in a pinch.

This number by itself is only part of the Inventory Management analysis.

(Note: if your Current Ratio is too low, you can look at a couple options to make it better. First, raise your prices and sell more goods to pay off those Liabilities. Your Current Assets include your inventory at cost, not at retail. Second, look into a long-term loan to pay off some of those Current Liabilities.)

CASH-TO-CURRENT LIABILITIES RATIO

Your Current Assets include two numbers—Cash and Inventory. This Ratio is similar to the previous one, but only looks at your Cash in relation to Current Liabilities. The formula looks like this:

Cash-to-Current Liabilities Ratio = Cash/Current Liabilities

Again, this number varies widely depending on time of year. If you just finished a successful Christmas season and are loaded with cash, your Ratio might in the 70-80% range. If you ran that same number on December 1st when your Inventory and Current Liabilities were at their highest, that number could be 10-20%.

Think of those two ranges as goals to shoot for depending on the time of year and your season. (Note: if you are in an industry without a “season” you’ll likely always be closer to the 20% mark and that’s okay.)

The key to this number is to look at it in conjunction with the Current Ratio. If your Current Ratio is good but your Cash-to-Current isn’t, then you have too much inventory. If your Current Ratio is bad, but your Cash-to-Current is good, then you don’t have enough inventory.

If both are bad, we have some serious work to do.

IDENTIFY THE “DEAD WEIGHT” AND THE “MUST-HAVES”

All of that math is done to help you understand whether your inventory is in balance or not. Retail is a balancing game. If you have too much inventory, you don’t have enough cash. Without cash you cannot pay your people to sell your excessive inventory. If you have too much cash, you might not have enough inventory to make the sales you need to continue your growth and keep your customers happy.

Most inventory problems happen when you are unable to manage the two ends of the inventory spectrum—the fastest and slowest moving products.

DEAD WEIGHT

Your “dead weight” in your inventory is the stuff that isn’t moving. You’ve paid for it, but it isn’t making you any money. It just sits on the shelf and sucks the life out of you. You have to find it and turn it into cash as quickly as possible.

Think of it this way …

If you spend $60 on a product and put it on your shelf, that space on your shelf has now cost you $60. That shelf space needs to make you money. Right now, however, it is costing you. The hope is that you’ll sell the product for $120 and make $60 for that shelf space, but the longer it sits, the more you stay in the red. Once you realize that item isn’t going to sell, mark it down to $60 and get back to even. Then find something else to put in its place that will sell and make you money.

You need a system for identifying these slow movers. I used the following criteria:

  • Didn’t sell through by Christmas
  • Hasn’t sold in 3 Months
  • Damaged box
  • Old style packaging
  • Don’t like it
  • Have a better version coming

That was the stuff I needed to move out. Every year in May and June my team and I would pull all these items off the shelf, mark them half-price, and then have a HUGE sale on the third Thursday in July. Turn it into cash.

Whatever system you choose to use, make sure you have one that identifies the dead weight and turns it into cash quickly.

MUST-HAVES

The other end of the inventory spectrum is the “must-haves”, the stuff you never want to be without.

  • If customers come in asking for the product by name, it is a must-have.
  • If your store is known for selling this item, it is a must-have.
  • If you sell more than one a week, it is a must-have.
  • If the item is something you always sell and the customer needs it right now, as in they’ll drive all over town until they have it, it is a must-have.

When cash flow is poor, this is where the inventory dollars need to go. Don’t worry about profit margin. Worry about keeping your core customers happy. If you are constantly saying “No, we don’t have it,” your customers will eventually stop asking.

There are several models for what percentage of your inventory should be changing to new product each year (or season). Rather than worry about percentages, let’s just put this into priorities. When you are looking to place orders, your priorities should be:

  1. Must-Haves
  2. New Products
  3. Everything Else

The vast majority of your customers are going to ask for two things:

  • Do you have a specific item?
  • What’s new?

Inventory Management is about making sure you have a positive answer for both of those questions.

DOS AND DON’TS

If you’ve made it this far, I’m going to leave you with some simple tips that will help you improve your cash flow.

Here is my Do List:

  • Do measure those numbers above. Together they tell a story. What gets measured and managed improves.
  • Do ask for Extended Terms from your vendors (but be sure to reward those vendors by paying those bills on time).
  • Do buy less but buy more often. Smaller orders placed more frequently will always improve cash flow. If a vendor has great terms at a trade show, see if they’ll take your huge order and split it into two or three ship dates to spread out your payments.

Here is my Don’t List:

  • Don’t buy anything you don’t want. Never pad an order with something you don’t fully believe in selling. It never works out well.
  • Don’t run out of the Must-Haves.
  • Don’t out-buy your terms. If it is Net 30, try to buy 30 days worth of product (not always possible, but incredibly effective when you do it right).

Whew! We’re at the end of this Self-Diagnosis Tool. Realistically, however, this is just the tip of the iceberg for Inventory Management. There are some more details in the FREE eBook Inventory Management for 4th Quarter Stores. (I also have one specifically for the Pet Store Industry.) I also recommend you look at Merchandising Made Easy. sometimes it is your displays that are turning good merchandise into dead weight.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS If the math is driving you crazy, find a high school kid getting all A’s in Calculus. Show him this. He’ll find the math to be incredibly easy and can set up your Excel Spreadsheet so that all you have to do is plug in the numbers.

PPS Sell off your seasonal merchandise. Don’t carry it over. Without going into all the details, you’re better off marking down your seasonal merchandise at the end of the season and turning it into cash than carrying it over into next year. The math says it is the right thing to do.

PPPS One last number I might look at is Shrinkage—the amount of inventory that disappears, unaccounted for. If you’re using a POS system, your shrinkage is the discrepancy between what your computer thinks you should have in inventory and what your physical inventory actually shows. Read those FREE eBooks on Inventory Management for more info on what causes shrinkage and how to control it.

Self-Diagnosis Tool #3 – Customer Service

My favorite Smile Story was actually told to me by a customer, not my staff. Dawn had three grandchildren coming to visit her for five days. She wanted to have a different gift to give each child each day they were there. Fifteen gifts in all. Lakisha said, “I’m on it,” and led Dawn all around the store.

A few weeks later Dawn called me. “Phil, I have to tell you that gal of yours was fabulous. My grandkids loved the gifts. My grandson, he’s seven, turned to me and said, ‘Grandma, these gifts are better than if we had picked them out ourselves!’ Thank you, thank you, thank you! And thank Lakisha, too!”

That’s the phone call every store owner and manager dreams of getting.

If you’re regularly getting that call, you’re doing the right things with your staff and with your customer service. Go back to Tool #1 Core Values and Tool #2 Market Potential or wait until tomorrow for Tool #4 Cash Flow.

If you’re not getting that call at all and would be totally shocked if you ever did get a call like that, read on.

NOT AS UNMEASURABLE AS YOU THINK

Many people say Great Customer Service is not quantifiable, therefore it cannot be measured. I disagree. There are numbers you can run to see whether you and your sales staff are doing right by your customers.

I showed you two ways to measure your Customer Service in the post The Right Measuring Cups – Repeat & Referral Business and Units per Transaction. They are good starting points even though neither of those is completely perfect.

Sometimes your Referral Business is because of a product you sell that is hard to find. Sometimes it is because of some Over-the-Top Design element in your store your current customers tell their friends they have to see. I knew a jeweler who had a $30,000 diamond ring, way out of the league for that sleepy summer tourist town. She had tons of traffic right up until the day that ring finally sold. Once the ring was gone, her Referral Business dried up.

Sometimes your UPT grew because the hot item that year had several accessories or attachments. The following year the hot item had all those things included so your UPT fell.

I would still start there and see what you learn.

OTHER PLACES TO LOOK

If I were to come in to your store to do this diagnosis, here are some places I would look to get a handle on your levels of customer service.

  • Team Member Handbook – Do you have one? What does it cover?
  • Training Videos – Do you have them? If not, how do you handle new employee training?
  • Continued Training – How often does the staff meet for training purposes? What are you covering? How do you measure results?
  • Your Store Policies – Are they Customer-Centric or Business-Centric? Who do they protect?
  • New Hire Process – How do you find new employees? I want to see your Help Wanted Ads, Job Descriptions, and Interview Questions

If you don’t have a Handbook, you should make one. Write out all your policies. Write out all your philosophies. Write out how you will measure their employment. Have an HR professional and an HR lawyer proof it to make sure it is legal. Then give a copy to everyone and use it as your guide. It puts everyone on the same page and helps eliminate confusion from different team members saying, “That’s not how I was taught to do it.”

Training Videos are another way to make your staff training consistent and thorough. They don’t have to be fancy or even perfect. You can shoot them fast and simple on your phone, post them privately to YouTube, and provide the links to your new hires. If you don’t offer Training Videos, how else can you ensure that training is consistent and thorough? One way is to have the same person do all the trainings. Another is to include a checklist of everything to be covered. No matter which method you use, there also has to be a final check. One person who will verify what the new hire has learned and send him or her back for further training if necessary.

Continued Training is a must. Back in third grade I may have learned how to golf, but I’m still a few million hit golf balls shy of going pro.

“An amateur practices until he can do it right. A professional practices until he cannot do it wrong.” (source unknown)

One way we measured the results of our continued staff training was through Smile Stories. Every staff meeting began with Smile Stories where my team would share the different ways they made customers smile. Those stories not only reinforced the culture and the goal of the store – “We’re here to make you smile!” – but they also encouraged the team to actively seek out opportunities to make customers smile.

Store policies should be Customer-Centric, meaning they are in place to protect and help the customer. Liberal return policies, easy layaway plans, helpful services that make less work and less thinking for the customer are the hallmarks of Customer-Centric policies. If you limit what forms of payment or how much someone has to spend to use a credit card, you’re telling the customer that your nickels and dimes are more important than them. Once your product is no longer exclusive or hard-to-find, they will leave for someone who treats them better.

If you have aligned your business with your Core Values in a market with a lot of Potential, and are taking care of your customers the right way, you should see your Share of the market steadily climbing upward. Rarely does a company get through all three of these tools without recognizing areas that need shoring up. Start working on those.

Tomorrow we do math. (Just giving you fair warning.)

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS If Cash is King, why does it fall all the way down to fourth on the Self-Diagnosis priority list? Because all the cash in the world won’t help you in the long run if your business model is flawed. Those first three priorities are all about your business Goals and Strategies. Buying and selling product is simply a means to the end. Notice how I didn’t say, “We’re here to sell you toys!”? Our goal was much bigger than that. Sometimes your Cash Flow problem is because you aren’t attracting the right customers (Core Values), don’t have enough customers (Market Potential), or are driving customers away (Customer Service). Make sense now? Get those three areas right first. Then you’ll know if your Cash Flow problems are truly Inventory Management problems.

Self-Diagnosis Tool #2 – Market Potential

When my son was in Cub Scouts, his Den Master was the manager of one of our local Kmarts. He gave me some amazing insight 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 out the potential amount of sales in your area for your industry is to follow this step-by-step formula.

  1. 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.
  2. 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
  3. 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.

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, we get a number that might be 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.

CHANGING MARKET

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). 

COMPETITION

The other barometer Market Potential and Market Share give 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.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

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.