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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.

The Thirty Questions to Find Your “Silver Bullet”

I got suckered in once. Long before the phrase “fake news” came into existence, back in the days when Norton and MacAfee were the only names in anti-virus protection, my computer started slowing down.

Then up popped an ad for a free diagnostic test of my computer, guaranteed to clean it up and take it to speeds the factory settings never could. I downloaded it and immediately all these warnings came flashing on the screen telling me I was infected and needed to download this fancy, official-sounding fix right away before I lost critical data.

Yeah, you can probably guess the rest.

I took the computer to a local shop who cleaned several viruses and Trojans off the hard drive and got me back to my normal, plodding, limited-by-my-service-provider-not-my-computer speeds.

We’re all looking for that quick-fix, aren’t we? That guaranteed, take-you-to-the-next-level tool that will transform your business? That’s why scams like that computer virus one worked so well. We all keep thinking there is that one silver bullet we’re missing that will make all our ills go away.

Here is where I’m supposed to tell you there isn’t a silver bullet. Eat less and exercise more, right?

The truth is there is a silver bullet. And a bronze one. And a gold one. And a titanium-plated, platinum-infused, diamond-encrusted, gold-leafed, emerald-cut, space-aged aluminum, time-released-capsule one.

The problem is that every business needs a different bullet. In retail there is no one-size-fits-all bullet.

You might be struggling with cash flow while your neighbor down the street needs help with a better marketing message. The store on the next block has a customer service problem, while the store across the street is in a market with too many competitors.

What retailers really need is a good diagnostic tool to help you identify the true problem(s). Unfortunately your business isn’t like an automobile where you can plug it in and see what’s wrong.

You can hire a consultant, but unless they have a background in understanding independent retail, they might not be able to diagnose your true problem either. You can try to do it yourself (I gave you a few Measuring Cups to use in an earlier post), but it is often hard to read the label from inside the bottle.

Since I am the DIY guy of retail, though, I want to show you the approach I would take to diagnose where your business needs work so that maybe you can find the demon holding you back. If you were to hire me, I would look at your business in this order …

  1. Core Values – Is your business aligned with your Values? If not, how and where can we change things?
  2. Market Potential – Where do you stand in your market? Who are your competitors? What is your share of the market? Is it shrinking or growing? What local factors influence your market presence?
  3. Customer Service – How much of your business is Repeat and Referral? How much training do your front line people have? What skills do they have? How well do they greet, meet, and interact with customers? How are their “closing” skills? What services do you provide? Do your services lean customer-friendly or business-friendly? Do you meet and exceed expectations?
  4. Inventory Management – How is your cash flow? What is your Profit Margin, Turn Ratio, Accounts-Payable-to-Inventory Ratio, Cash-to-Current Ratio, etc? What are the “must-haves” and how was your stock position on those items last year? Where is the fat that needs to be trimmed from the inventory? What systems do you use to keep from over-buying?
  5. Marketing & Advertising – What is your Marketing Message? Is it consistent across all platforms (including the in-store experience)? How can we make that message more powerful and effective? Where are you spending your marketing money? Are there cheaper, better alternatives for reaching the people you want to reach? Are there collaborations that make sense? Are you harnessing all the free publicity available to you?

Notice the order of things. Most businesses come to me saying they need help with their Marketing because they aren’t getting the traffic they want. Yet sometimes the problem is their business isn’t aligned with their values so they aren’t attracting the right types of customers. sometimes the problem is there aren’t enough customers in their market to sustain their business. Sometimes the problem is their service is so bad, those who do visit are telling friends to stay away.

Better Marketing won’t fix those other problems or help the business.

If you want to run your own diagnostics, there are several hyperlinks to articles and blogs related to the thirty questions posed above.

If you want to hire me to run your diagnostics, I’m going through that list in that order until we find the first problem.

There is no single silver bullet to fix any and all retailers, but there is a bullet to slay the specific demon holding you back. I encourage you to run your diagnostics on your own to see if you can isolate your problem. When you do find it, send me an email and I’ll help you brainstorm several solutions to solve your problem on your own or with help.

There is a bullet for you, but it’s buried in the haystack next to the needle.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS I hired a consultant once. He compared my Turn Ratio to Walmart’s and told me my problem was inventory control and that I needed to go to “just-in-time” inventory where I had at most a one-week supply of inventory on hand. My dad hired a consultant. He compared our prices to Kmart and Toys R Us and said our prices were too high and then pitched a total revamp of our sales floor into a circus theme (not sure what that had to do with prices). If you’re going to hire someone, make sure they have extensive experience working with indie retailers. Make sure they have a list like this one, too, that spells out what they’re going to evaluate.

PPS Sorry for the mixed metaphor at the end. It sounded good in my head.

Save It for a Rainy Day

In the summer of 1989 my parents did something quite unique for an independent, single-store retailer. They bought a fully-integrated IBM computer system including POS and inventory control. It was a state-of-the-art IBM AS/400 with three hard drives and almost a complete Megabyte of storage. The unit was larger than our copier machine. My parents had to build a custom countertop in the office to fit the beast, run a bunch of new wiring to our six new cash registers and five new workstations, and outfit the closet in the office to hold a dot-matrix printer that printed on green-bar paper.

Our version was over 3x this size!

All in all they spent about $180,000 on that system including the software and support. (That’s the equivalent of about $368,000 in today’s dollars!)

They had the money back then because A) they had been saving, and B) it was the 80’s and everyone was making money in retail at that time.

Let’s talk about A) a little more. Savings. Cash Reserve. Rainy-Day Fund. Do you have one?

By most accounts 2018 was one of the strongest holiday seasons ever. Several retailers have told me this year was “better than expected.” That phrase usually means more money in the bank to start the new year than usual.

You have several options ahead of you for what to do with that money including:

  • Expand your footprint: Maybe you have been eyeing a larger space or better location, or buying instead of renting.
  • Expand your inventory: You could buy more now to maximize spring and summer sales, expand into a new category, or to grow your store’s capacity overall if you feel like you’ve been under-inventoried.
  • Pay down your debt: Almost always the best option. Getting out of debt and getting rid of high monthly bills—especially during the slow months—makes a whole lot of sense.
  • Pay yourself: If you haven’t been paying yourself a salary, I would suggest that you start doing that right now. If you have been paying yourself a salary, you could use this for a bonus for you and the team.
  • Upgrade your systems: New registers, new software, new tech are all solid investments (and not nearly as expensive as they were back in 1989).
  • Upgrade your infrastructure: Is it time for new shelving fixtures or a new floor?
  • Save it for a real emergency or need: Maybe it is best to just sit on it for a while. Economic trends tend to go in cycles and we never know how long this cycle will last. Plus, you never know when a real financial emergency might hit.

These are all valid uses for the extra cash you earn in an up year. They are all easily justifiable, too.

If you’re in this predicament (a nice one to be in, for sure), can I offer you some suggestions? If I were to prioritize them, I would list them this way:

  1. Save it for a real emergency.
  2. Pay down your debt.
  3. Upgrade your system.
  4. Expand your inventory.
  5. Pay yourself.
  6. Upgrade your infrastructure.
  7. Expand your footprint.

Since Cash is King in retail, having cash reserves in the bank is the most critical element to your long-term success.

Paying down debt is good because it lowers your monthly payments and helps with cash flow month-to-month, but it doesn’t help you when something unexpected happens. You have to have some money put away with really strict rules on when and how you can spend it. After you’ve done that, then start whittling down that debt. Because of the cash flow, those two have to be your priorities. 

Of course, the old adage is true, too. You have to spend money to make money. You can swap #3 and #4 interchangeably, but with tech changing so fast, having mobile apps, tablets on the floor for quick checkout, and systems that take things like Apple Pay can all help you take care of your customers better. Both 3 and 4 should help you make more money next year. If you’re happy with your tech, maybe you look into expanding into a new product category.

If you’ve already done 1-4, then pay yourself. You’ve earned it—especially since you’ve already done 1-4! You can slap a coat of paint on one wall and get some new free racks from your vendor for a fresh new look for your store if necessary.

You’ll notice, however, that I put “Expand your footprint” last. Unless you’re in an absolute hellhole or have a landlord forcing you out through outrageous raises in rents and CAM, choose this last one carefully. It has far more long-term consequences (both good and bad) than the other six.

When my grandfather moved Toy House from its original location on First Street to the Mechanic Street location, he went from 10,000 square feet to 20,000 square feet. The one kicker, though, was that he could afford to make the jump because he could afford the new building with the level of sales he was already making at the old building. If you need an uptick in sales to make the new place affordable, then it isn’t affordable.

His advice would have been to NEVER expand your footprint because of a windfall from a very good year.

Only expand when your current sales are good enough to support the expansion.

Retail is fickle. Retail is full of surprises. No matter what you do with any windfall from a good year, first put some money away and then pay off some debt. That is the “eat healthy and get exercise” of the retail world that will keep you alive for years to come.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS I know retail has been tough and tight the last decade. I understand you have some rainy day fixes that you’ve been waiting for this windfall to get accomplished. Still try to put some of that cash away if you can. Tithe at least 10% of your earnings into your savings for the next rainstorm. You’ll thank me later.

PPS One year after buying that computer, Target opened in Jackson. Our business took a 15% hit that year after a decade of windfalls. It was an eye-opener for my parents and a quick lesson in how things can change so fast and why cash reserves are so important. Like I said, you never know what is right around the corner.

This “Free” is Really Free!

I was looking at the Free Resources page on my website yesterday. There are nine eBooks on Marketing & Advertising, twelve on Customer Service, and five on Money. You can download any and all of them for free. No strings attached. No limits to how many or how often you can download them. No limits to how far or wide you can share them. I don’t even ask for your email address first, just credit for having written and produced them.

Yeah, pretty stupid to give it all away like that for free.

Free eBook Icon from Phil's ForumYet, if you read yesterday’s post, you would understand why I do it. Of the three questions and the fifteen answers I gave yesterday to why I am doing what I do, the last question about the problems I want to solve and the last five answers were the easiest.

Helping other businesses succeed drives everything. It is the starting and ending point. If these eBooks can make a difference, you should have them.

  • You’re more likely to download them if you don’t have to jump through a bunch of hoops.
  • You’re more likely to read them if they are short and to the point.
  • You’re more likely to share them if they are smaller files that you could even print if you wanted.

“A man who doesn’t read has no advantage over a man who can’t.” -Mark Twain

My sales staff got a copy of everything I had written about customer service at that time either through a staff training or by printing copies for their handbooks. (That included Generating Word of Mouth which is technically a Customer Service issue even though you’ll find it under Marketing & Advertising.)

My buyers all got copies of the Inventory Management and Pricing for Profit eBooks (the latter of which is the second most downloaded after Understanding Your Brand). 

While the stats counter shows how many times each gets downloaded, it doesn’t tell me how you’ve used them.

Would you do me a favor?

Drop me a comment on this post or an email and tell me which eBooks you’ve used and what, if any, difference they have made for your business. I’d like to know which ones have been most useful and which ones need to be revised, revamped, or removed for better content.

Thanks.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS The five newest eBooks are:

Those first four make up the basis of the new half-day workshop The Ultimate Selling Workshop. (They also stand alone as great Breakout Sessions!) Yes, the live event for any of these eBooks is a far cry better than the eBook, itself. You get more stories and examples. You get the whole presentation tailored to your specific industry or region. If it is a session with owners and managers, you also get tips and techniques for teaching it to your staff. If it is a session with the staff at your business, you get hands-on activities to really drive home the points. While I encourage you to hire me for a live event, please keep sharing and using this information. Together we can tilt the playing field back in your direction.

Having Fun, Helping Others, Eating Lunch

For the past three weeks I have been making several drives from my home in Jackson to the Oakland County area for lunch. For those of you not in Michigan, Oakland County is one of the three counties (including Wayne and Macomb) that makes up the Greater Detroit Metropolitan area. Oakland County is the northernmost of the three and includes several cities, villages, townships, and lakes.

Oakland County is home to twenty-one Main Street programs in the various cities, villages, and townships, and also home to one of the largest county-wide Main Street support programs. It was Main Street Oakland County (MSOC) that hired me to make these drives each week to do a “Lunch-and-Learn” series of workshops. The workshops are four-week-long tracks on one of three topics: Selling & Customer Service, Marketing & Advertising, or Retail Math.

We rolled this out to three different communities. Two of the communities chose Marketing & Advertising, one chose Selling & Customer Service. All three are reporting back with incredibly positive feedback. Other communities are already bugging MSOC to be included in the next round.

The fun part for me is that I like driving and I love doing these presentations, mostly because I know the difference one or two good tips or techniques can make for a small business.

The fun part for the attendees is that they get a free lunch (or breakfast) and four 45-minute presentations jammed with eye-opening ideas, out-of-the-box thinking, and surprisingly simple techniques to improve their businesses.

The fun part for you is that there is still time to plan a Lunch-and-Learn in your neck of the woods (as long as you are within two hours driving time from Jackson which would include Grand Rapids, Kalamazoo, Fort Wayne, Toledo, Detroit, Flint, and Lansing areas).

Here are the three tracks with class titles and descriptions.

Option A: Marketing & Advertising

  • Week #1 Boosting Your Brand to Attract the Right Business – A quick lesson in branding to show you how a well-crafted brand makes a huge difference in attracting the right types of customers and business. You’ll learn how to uncover the true value in your brand and make your brand stand out in the crowd
  • Week #2 Marketing Your Business on a Shoestring Budget – Seven different ways you can get the word out about your business and draw traffic in without spending a fortune. You’ll learn how to leverage your talents and time to attract more customers to your business right away.
  • Week #3 Making Your Ads More Effective – We hate ads, not because there are too many, but because most ads suck. This presentation will show you the six principles that make the difference between your ad being remembered and acted upon or being simply ignored. You’ll learn techniques even the most highly paid professionals sometimes get wrong, and how you can apply them to your own advertising efforts
  • Week #4 Generating Word-of-Mouth Advertising – We all know Word-of-Mouth advertising is far more effective than traditional advertising, but do you know what it takes to actually get your customers to talk about you? This presentation shows you four proven ways you can generate word-of-mouth advertising. You’ll walk away with tips and techniques that get people talking the very next day.

Option B: Selling and Customer Service

  • Week #1 Selling in a Showrooming World – Online shopping is here to stay. So is the concept of Showrooming, where a customer uses your store to touch and feel the product before ordering it online cheaper. This presentation shows you the two types of customers, how to recognize them, and the very different ways you sell to them. Learn this and you’ll close far more sales than ever before.
  • Week #2 Raising the Bar on Customer Service – Every store thinks they offer Great Customer Service, but every customer can regale several stories where the customer service fell far short. This presentation gives you a different perspective on customer service and shows you how to up your game so that Great Customer Service is only the minimum. You’ll learn how to surprise and delight customers at every turn.
  • Week #3 Building the Perfect Salesperson – Finding the right salesperson is the key for any organization. But how do you identify the perfect fit? This presentation will change the way you look at interviewing and hiring and even training. When you’re done you’ll have a better understanding of how the best companies find the best employees time and time again.
  • Week #4 Training and Motivating Your Team to Perform Their Best – The carrot and stick might be good for a donkey, but it won’t get the best out of your team. This presentation will show you what really motivates people to do their best work and how to get the kind of creativity from your team that sets you apart. You’ll also learn how to turn staff meetings and training times into something your staff looks forward to attending.

Option C: Retail Math

  • Week #1 Reading Your Financial Statements – Your accountant will be glad you attended. This presentation will show you in layman’s terms how to read the two most common financial statements – the Profit & Loss and the Balance Sheet. You’ll learn how they are calculated, what they show, and an intuitive way to use them to check the financial health of your company. It isn’t as scary as it sounds.
  • Week #2 Inventory Management – Cash is King. In retail, the biggest use of your cash is your inventory. This presentation will show you simple and smart ways to manage your inventory levels better including how Open-to-Buy programs work and easy ways to increase cash flow. You’ll learn how to turn slow moving merchandise into cash and make your inventory work for you.
  • Week #3 Pricing for Profit – Most businesses leave thousands of dollars on the table because they don’t understand the principles behind how to properly price their products or services. This presentation shows you how you can raise prices and increase unit sales by harnessing the power of perception. Learn these techniques and you’ll start making more money the very first day.
  • Week #4 Unlocking the Hidden Cash in Your Business – There is more to retail than just buying and selling product. This presentation will show you some different ways to measure your business and some simple ways to make a little extra cash that might just be the difference you need to pay yourself a bonus this year.

If you just read those and said, “Dang, I could use this!” pass this post along to your DDA Director, your Chamber of Commerce, your Main Street Director, your Economic Development Director, your Shop Local director, and tell them, “Dang, we could use this!”

(Heck, you don’t even need one of those organizations. Just get a few other small businesses together and give me a call.)

Then contact me. We’ll go over what it would cost, creative ways to finance it, how to get the food and venues, and what dates to schedule this fall to have some fun helping small businesses grow and thrive, all while having lunch.

Sound yummy to you?

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS Not within that two-hour drive? No worries. Instead of four lunches, we’ll do one big brunch and put all four lessons into a three-hour workshop. Call me.

PPS The beauty of what you’ll learn in these tracks is that the dividends are immediate. With many of the lessons you’ll see results right away. Having this information fresh in your mind leading into the busy holiday season will make a huge impact on your bottom line this year. Lets get some dates locked in now.

PPPS If you’re in Oakland County, MSOC is already working on the budget for 2019. Contact John Bry at MSOC and let him know you want in. If you want something this fall, however, check with the other organizations in your community to see if they will help you organize this.

Pay Yourself a Salary

Twice a month I teach a class for expectant fathers at Henry Ford Allegiance Health W.A. Foote Hospital. Fifteen years ago there was a guy at the hospital who pitched the idea of a class for new dads to show them how to change a diaper among other parenting skills. The hospital scheduled the class and then that guy took a job out of town. They called me because I was teaching classes on baby products at the store and because I had two young boys, both whom had interesting paths into this world.

This two-hour class is now one of my favorite activities each month.

I always start each class with introductions and I remind the guys sitting around the table that I am NOT a medical professional, nor have I ever played one on television. I just happen to be the father of a couple wonderful boys who has an interesting perspective on becoming a dad.

So let me preface this blog post … I am NOT an accountant, tax attorney, or payroll specialist, nor have I ever played those characters on television. I’m just an entrepreneur who has owned several small businesses and tried several different practices to see what worked best.

Image result for salaryToday I want to talk to you about the emotional and practical sides of why you, as a small business owner, should pay yourself a salary.

PROFESSIONAL BUSINESS

When you put yourself on the payroll, it legitimizes your business in the sense that you are working for money. It is no longer just a hobby. Sometimes that move alone will spark a renewed enthusiasm for you to work on growing the business. Sometimes that move will be what the bank needs to see before they loan you money. They want to know whether this is a hobby or a business.

It doesn’t have to be a lot of money. Pay yourself what you would have to pay a manager, knowing that you can also take owner withdrawals from the profits. The top CEO’s at big corporations make a decent salary, but the bulk of those golden parachute deals is in stock options.

BETTER UNDERSTANDING OF YOUR FINANCIALS

When you put yourself on the payroll, you have a far better understanding of your costs. It helps you compare your business to industry benchmarks. It helps you understand just how much money you need to make to be successful.

At the end of the day it is an expense. If you’re on the payroll, it is easier to track that expense.

PEACE OF MIND

There is some peace of mind for getting a check every two weeks (or however often you pay). It helps your personal finances and takes some burden off the financial stresses at home.

MOTIVATION

At the same time there is also some new financial stress at work now because you have to make enough money each month to cover that new expense. This helps you dig down a little deeper to sell more, run a tighter ship or a tighter inventory, or just run a smarter business in general. When you know your expenses, you work a little harder to cover them. When you are only taking a withdrawal if there is profit, you might let a month or two slide.

SOCIAL SECURITY

The federal government does require you to pay into social security to receive social security when you retire. If you have only worked for yourself you might not have enough quarters of paying into the system to be eligible to receive from the system. Talk to your accountant or tax attorney for better advice on this.

PROFIT SHARING

If you are offering any profit-sharing with your employees, but your only source of income is the profit, you’ll be taking a much larger share of that profit than they get, which could cause some grumbling or misconceptions among the staff. If you take a salary, then your share of the profit, while still larger than theirs, won’t seem so astronomically large.

YOU GET PAID

At the end of the day, the main reason for paying yourself a salary is so that you get paid. You deserve to get paid. You’re working your tail off. If you don’t pay yourself a salary, it is easy to also not take a withdrawal because you’re worried about some bills coming up, or construction that just started, or some new equipment you want to purchase, or whether you are reinvesting enough profit back into the business, or, or, or …

There is always something that needs money. You are one of those somethings. You deserve to get paid. When you put yourself on the payroll, that happens. Plus, you find the ways to make all those other payments.

OWNER CONTRIBUTION

Sometimes you will need to give that money back because you don’t have the sales to cover the expense or you need to make that big inventory purchase, or you do have some new equipment you want to buy. Still pay yourself, then make an Owner Contribution back to the business. Talk to your accountant about the pros and cons of doing that.

DISCIPLINE

If you don’t have the discipline to make your quarterly tax payments, or keep solid records of your withdrawals, or keep money saved for taxes, putting yourself on payroll can also help with those issues. I know some people who gladly give more in taxes for the big refund check in April because, even though it isn’t the best use of that money, they know they are no good at saving it.

The bottom line is that you need to pay yourself one way or another. There are some distinct advantages for putting yourself on the payroll and paying yourself a salary each pay period. But like I said, I’m not an accountant or tax attorney. Talk to yours and figure out what will work best for you.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS I have had several doctors take my Daddy Class over the years. They have given me incredible feedback to make sure what I teach is medically accurate. I would love your feedback from your accountant if they believe anything I have said here is patently false or harmful. Thanks.

PPS Like I said yesterday, you should be making as much or more than your landlord. If rent is around 12%, shoot for at least a 6-7% salary and take the rest through owner withdrawal from profits. If you can get net profits around 10%, then you’ll have plenty to pay yourself and also reinvest in the business.

Self-Employed or Working for the Landlord?

When Toys R Us closed their Times Square store at the end of 2015—the one with the giant T-Rex and the three-story Ferris wheel—the biggest reason given was the landlords raising the rent from $12 million a year to over $52 million a year.

Image result for toys r us times squareYeah, that would be a hard expense for any retailer to cover, let alone one that was already struggling.

While the financial model is certainly different for big-box stores than it is for indie retailers, one thing that is universally true is that there is only so much profit margin you can spend on rent and expect to run a successful business.

For the typical indie toy retailer, occupancy costs (rent/mortgage and common area fees) need to be around 10-12% of gross sales for the store to be able to safely cover those costs. In fact, for a lot of businesses where keystone pricing is the norm, that number tends to hold true.

For Toys R Us, that would mean doing $100-$120 million in sales at the Times Square location. I can see that as a realistic number. But to pay $52 million, they would need to do half-a-billion in sales, over $24,000/sq ft. Even Apple couldn’t do that much in that space.

The 10-12% occupancy cost is a benchmark I use when talking to retailers about locations. Yes, you might pay a little more for a better location, but you should expect a little more in traffic and better clientele. Yes you can find locations cheaper, but you might have to pay a little more in advertising to draw traffic to your store.

But occupancy cost is only half of the equation. Here is one other number I want you to look at.

How much are you paying yourself?

Take your salary (you are paying yourself a salary, right?) and your net profit for the year. Add those two numbers together. Who made more, you or your landlord?

If you made more than your landlord (or even the same), pat yourself on the back. You are self-employed and running a smart business (as long as you’re paying yourself something, and not just reinvesting every dollar back into the business.)

If your landlord made more than you, something needs to change. You aren’t working for yourself. You’re working for him. Better for you to close shop, buy the building, and rent it to some other poor sap willing to pay you to keep their hobby afloat.

I know that sounds harsh, but it is a reality of business. If you aren’t making as much as your landlord, something needs to change. You need to sell more. You need to increase margins. You need to find a cheaper location. Something.

Or you can just accept that your business is simply a hobby and treat it as such.

I want you to make money. That’s the only reason I bring this up.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS Before you go lambasting me because your numbers don’t match, I fully understand that your industry may be completely different. If you belong to a trade organization, see if they have done any benchmark surveys to give you an accurate picture for your industry. Before you waste your breath on all the reasons why you aren’t making as much as the landlord (the only valid one being you are still in start-up phase), this isn’t about me. It is about you. I want you to be successfully self-employed. The landlords are already making too much. You should, too.

PPS I’ll put my thoughts why you should pay yourself a salary and whether it is better to own or rent in future posts.

Hire Me to Be Your Coach

I played the role of Father in The Nutcracker Suite on stage at the Michigan Theatre. I was in eighth grade. It was part of our LEAP class (Learning Experience for Academic Progress). It was a play more than a ballet, although we did have a dance troupe come in and do some dance numbers. I don’t remember much of anything about the play itself. I couldn’t tell you anything about the story, the other characters, or even my performance. About all I remember was I played the role of Father and I loved being on that stage.

Panorama of Phil Wrzesinski speaking to a large crowd
Phil Wrzesinski speaking to a packed house in Grand Rapids, MI

I’ve never really been afraid of standing on a stage in front of people. Oh sure, I had a kaleidoscope of butterflies fluttering in my stomach moments before I took the pulpit to do a guest sermon at church. But those butterflies settled down the moment I began to speak.

Whether it is a crowd of 500 at a trade show conference, a group of screaming kids in the dining hall at camp, or a room full of revelers at a brewpub, I love to perform.

That’s why when I began building Phil’s Forum I focused on speaking and presenting, doing workshops and seminars and webinars. That’s what brings me the most joy (and people said I was pretty good at it.) 

But my real goal, my true focus of Phil’s Forum is about YOU. Your success. That’s all that matters.

That is the reason behind all the Free Resources for you to download. That is the reason behind writing over a thousand blog posts for you to consume. That is the reason behind offering all those classes, presentations, workshops, and webinars for you to attend.

That is the reason why you’ll find a new page on my website.

Many of you have contacted me about private, one-on-one consulting and coaching. While I often said yes, I didn’t have a plan in place for how to handle and structure those requests. Nor did I have a firm concept for how I felt I could best work with you.

Until now.

Coach /kōCH/ (noun) An instructor or trainer. A tutor who gives private or specialized teaching.

A Consultant is someone you consult for advice and opinions. A Coach is someone who teaches you how to do what you need to do to be successful.

I am chock full of advice. I give it away freely. You can shoot me an email with a question and it is highly likely I will answer it (for free). If you read this blog regularly then you can probably guess my opinion on a topic before you even ask. Lots of people get paid for their opinions. It always seems a little disingenuous to me. If you make your living that way, you always want to keep your client in a position of needing your opinion. There is almost a built-in need for keeping a client partially in the dark so that they don’t form opinions on their own.

A Coach, however, knows that his role is to teach you something so that you can do it yourself. A coach puts you in the best position to succeed.

I know this is mostly semantics. There are amazing consultants out there who really are more like coaches. They teach. They instruct. They help you grow. They never hold back.

Words, however, are important. Choose the right words and your advertising messages will sparkle. Know which words make up your Core Values and your business will attract the right people. I needed to know which word I wanted to use and why before I could be of best service to you.

I chose the word Coach.

If you want one-on-one, private, specialized instruction to learn how to:

  • Hire Better
  • Train Better
  • Serve Your Customers Better
  • Market Yourself Better
  • Manage Your Inventory Better
  • Manage Your Staff Better
  • Manage Your Cash Flow Better

Let’s get together for an exploratory meeting.

The first meeting is FREE. In that meeting we’ll discuss where you are, what problems you’re facing, what tools you might need to solve those problems, and how best I can help you. After that I’ll send you a few different proposals explaining what I will do, what it will cost, and how we’ll measure success. From there the choice is yours as to how much coaching you want.

While my love is still the stage and I hope to spend as much time there reaching as many people as possible, coaching is the next best way I can help you find your path to success.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS Yes, I do coaching remotely. We’ll use phone and email to get the job done. (Or if you want to fly me out to meet face-to-face, I’ll let you do that, too. The best way to get me to town is to convince your local Chamber or DDA to hire me for a presentation and have them pay my way.)

PPS One thing I will ask of any client who wants my coaching services is for you to know your Core Values. You can download the new, updated worksheets here.

PPPS Yes, you can hire me to do stuff for you, too. I’ll run a Team Building event. I’ll write your Hiring ads. I’ll write your advertising messages. I’ll teach your staff how to sell. I’d rather teach you how to do those things yourself, though. That’s what serves you best in the long run.

You’re Looking at Credit Cards Wrong

I was having a recent discussion with a friend about credit card usage. She uses her credit and debit cards almost exclusively. I still prefer cash. Many people think exclusive credit card usage is a young person, Millennial thing. My friend was born on the cusp between Baby Boomers and Gen X.

She isn’t the only person I know who prefers cards over cash. In fact, many smart shoppers prefer to use their cards. They have rewards cards that earn them miles or cash back. Some of my fellow business owners use their cards almost exclusively for their business and go on vacations virtually free.

Image result for credit cardsCredit card usage is the way of the world. It is the way most customers wish to pay you. And with the expansion of Apple Pay and other mobile wallets, that usage is going to continue to increase and become the preferred method of payment not just for Millennials but for all generations. (My son wants me to change banks just because my bank doesn’t yet support Apple Pay.)

Yet many small retailers (and some larger ones) are still stuck in the dark ages when it comes to accepting credit cards.

Yes, you need to accept chip cards. Yes, you need to accept mobile wallet payments. Those are necessary changes in today’s retail climate.

More importantly, you need to check your attitude about accepting credit cards.

I still see retailers who have “minimum charges” for credit cards. If you have that, you’re penny-wise and pound-foolish. You’re telling your customers those few extra cents on that transaction are more important to you than taking care of the customer and serving her the way she wants to be served. You’re telling the customer your needs are greater than hers.

When my friend sees those signs it pisses her off, makes her want to spend less, and makes her not want to come back. Would you rather she comes in once a week to spend $5 or spends zero money and tells people what a horrible store you are?

Heck, even if you allow credit cards for any amount yet you cringe when a customer pulls out her card for a $2 purchase, you need to check your attitude at the door. Swipe fees and percentages are part of the cost of doing business. Period. Unless the majority of your transactions are under $5, those fees are actually quite minimal in the grand scheme of your business. (And if your business does have a lot of $5 and under transactions, you should be making enough margin on your sales to cover those fees quite easily.)

If you want to cringe at a $2 credit card transaction, don’t cringe at the extra pennies you might pay to Visa. Cringe, instead, at the inability of your sales staff to make a larger sale. Cringe, instead, at your lack of connection with the customer that might compel them to buy more. Cringe, instead, at your failure to price things enough to cover your expenses.

Better yet, don’t cringe at all. Celebrate that customer and her purchase. Make her feel as special as the customer who spent $200. Be happy she came in. Be happier that she spent money. Be happiest that you have the chance to build a long-term relationship with her. That is the winning attitude.

You are going to have credit card fees. That is an expected expense in today’s business climate. Your job as a merchant is to make enough money to cover your expenses. Whether you do it through better profit margins or cutting other expenses, your attitude towards those expenses shapes the attitude you have toward your customers.

When you limit how your customers can pay you or simply take an attitude when they pay you in a way that is least convenient for you, you’re taking a business-centric approach. When you have no limits and no worries, you’re taking a customer-centric approach. One leads to smaller average transactions and fewer transactions. One doesn’t. You know the difference.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS The same can be said about whether or not to accept American Express. Yes, you need to accept it … with a smile on your face. You need to be happy when a customer pulls out her Amex instead of her debit card. You need to celebrate the customer, not worry about the fees. You do that by adjusting your margins and expenses to cover it. (As for Bitcoin and other cybercurrencies, because of their volatile nature, you can draw the line there without angering customers. Those of you who do accept cybercurrencies, however, are going to find that you attract a whole new level of clientele that could possibly be quite good for your business.)

PPS Here is the best thing you will read about how to increase your margins enough to cover those credit card expenses.

The Scary Truth of Averages

“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?

Image result for averagesIn 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.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

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.