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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.

Cutting Expenses The Wrong Way

I was in Walmart yesterday. I had to pick up a few things. At the checkout, the cashier kept doubling bagging all of my items. I asked her why.

“These bags tear so easily that almost everyone has a ripped bag at the end. They used to be better but these new bags are too thin.”

Image result for walmart grocery bagsI hope for Walmart’s sake that the new bags are less than half the cost of the old bags. Otherwise their cost-cutting move is costing them more than it saves.

I get why they did it. I’ll bet their bags are a huge expense for them. I’ll bet someone pitched them the idea of a cheaper bag, or knowing Walmart, they probably went to their vendor and demanded a cheaper bag. The only way to make it cheaper was make it thinner. And now their employees are double bagging everything so that you can get your groceries home in one piece.

How’s that cheaper bag working out for you?

Bags, like so many other non-merchandise items, seem like a hassle expense. You know you need them but you hate paying for them. I know I did. But that didn’t stop me from buying better, thicker bags than I probably needed. Mostly because I also looked at bags as being a reflection of my brand. Cheap, flimsy bags send the signal that I care about my money more than I care about you. Sturdy, reusable handle bags say I care about you more than I care about money. (Remember that Values post I just wrote?)

The problem is that we too often look at our expenses as single, individual entities instead of how they fit into the whole. We make decisions on those expenses purely on a financial basis instead of thinking about how we want to present ourselves and how we want our customers to feel about us. You have to consider everything, otherwise your cuts may end up costing you more.

In the 68 years we ran Toy House, one of our most profitable years was 2009, smack dab in the middle of the great recession. I had to cut expenses that year to get that profit. Here is a post I wrote January 11, 2010 about how I cut those expenses … “Cutting Expenses the Smart Way”

Sometimes you need to cut expenses. How you cut them is often more important than how much you cut them.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS This trip down memory lane looking at old blogs has been fun for me. Maybe it will be fun for you. Here is a link to one page with all 897 blog posts to date.

“Everything Cheaper Somewhere Else”

I used to hate anonymous commenting on news articles and blog posts. It is so easy to hide behind a pseudonym and take unsubstantiated potshots at people and businesses, spread rumors, and even spread downright lies.

As a retailer, I took every negative comment and review of my business personally. Some of them hurt, especially when they weren’t true. The misunderstandings were one thing but the outright lies were the worst. They cut to the bone.

I remember one day in the infancy of online news when a fellow downtown business owner alerted me to comments posted on an online news story that attacked both my store and me personally. He warned me not to read them. I didn’t heed his warnings.

One person had taken it upon him or herself to just rip the business up one side and down the other, calling us, among other things, price-gougers who were just out to destroy the little people in town. This person claimed that he or she could find everything we sold in our store cheaper online.

I took offense to the first part. The person posting the comment had no idea what I paid myself or my staff or our profit margin or what we gave to charity or what causes we supported. I am a forgiving person, though. I will forgive them their ignorance.

The second part, however, was pretty much true. Not only could that person show you the items cheaper, I probably could, too. After all, I had Internet access. I could also show you sites and stores where just about everything we sold was more expensive than our prices. That exists, too.

In fact, if prices weren’t fluid across different channels, Retail would look a whole lot different and be a lot less fun. Everyone would pretty much do the same thing and charge the same for it. Yawn.

Image result for valueRetail is a game, and the game can be boiled down to this … Find the Value you can give the customer that will make it worthwhile for them to pay the price you wish to charge.

At the ballpark they charge you more for a single beer than you would pay for a twelve-pack at the store. You buy it because you want to drink a beer during the game. There is enough Value in enjoying that beer while watching the game that makes you pay the price. (Don’t want to pay their outrageous prices? You can eat before you go to the ballpark. Most people can handle 3-4 hours between eating. You can also drink water for free. They have to provide it to you.)

People call them price-gougers all the time. It doesn’t stop them from raising their prices and making money. They offer you the Value of being at the game and watching the action in person.

The real question you need to ask yourself as a retailer is … What Value are you adding to the equation and will that Value be enough to get people to pay your prices?

You can add Value in several ways. You can:

  • Offer services other stores don’t have (i.e. layaway, free gift-wrapping, assembly, delivery)
  • Curate the selection to help customers get only the best solutions
  • Align your business with a social cause
  • Offer follow-up services (such as the free 30-day riding tuneup that we used to offer with every bike we sold)
  • Build relationships to the point that the customer feels as much ownership in your store as you do.

Any one of those is a way to “play” the Retail Game. Play more than a few of them and you’ll never worry about how someone can find “everything cheaper somewhere else.”

Were we the lowest priced game in town? Nope. Never tried to win that race to the bottom. But in a 2007 survey of Jackson County residents about stores that sell toys in Jackson, we were rated as having the highest “Value” ahead of Walmart, Target, Toys R Us, Kmart, and Meijer (all whom love to advertise their “lowest prices”.)

What Value are you adding to the equation?

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS I have a good friend also named Phil who also ran a toy and baby store in the other Jackson (MS) who never liked MAP (Minimum Advertised Pricing) because it made everyone price their goods at the same price. He said true merchants have no problem with the undercutting of prices on the Internet because they know how to offer Value and make sales at higher margins. As much as you hate to admit it, he’s right. MAP only protects you at the margin the vendor thinks you should make, not the margin you deserve for all the value you offer.

PPS As for anonymous negative comments online, if they are an attack on your character or the character of your business, ignore them completely. Your actions speak louder than your words. Use your actions to prove that person wrong. If the comments are simply something misunderstood, you can respond for clarification, but only if you can substantiate your claims without putting down the person who made the comment. More often than not, however, it is best to ignore anonymous comments, period. I’ll talk about how to respond to Reviews in a future post.

PPPS A few of those ways to play involve the skills and training you give to your front line staff. As I pointed out before, that is probably the easiest way to add the kind of Value your competitors are not adding to their equations.

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.

Words of Wisdom From 1969

Here is another gem I found buried in a file, long forgotten. My grandfather and founder of Toy House, Mayor Philip H. Conley, penned these words in June 1969, two months before hiring my dad as his new manager.

I don’t know if this was penned to put his thoughts on paper for my dad, or if it was just something that struck him one day. I do not know if it was ever read again after that day (the file I found it in was pretty darned old). I don’t even know what one of the terms means (neither did my mom or dad). He refers to “marking capacity” and “markers”. I believe those were people who put price tags on boxes like my sister and I did as young children. He also refers to “jobbers”. I know that term. Those were the wholesalers or distributors of that day. I do know there are some nuggets in there that ring so true I’m calling them universal.

Here is his June 1969 manifesto in its entirety…

Business is a matter of balance.

Good business – successful business can be achieved as good government can be achieved using a system of checks and balances.

Balance as it applies to our business, there must be a balance between the number of customers, parking, inventory, shopping carts, sales people, stock people, marking capacity, office capacity, square feet selling space, square feet of stock space, store hours, checkout capacity, and giftwrap capacity. An excess of any of these factors creates too much expense for an efficient operation. A deficiency of a factor immediately creates an excess of all other factors – this is very bad for a profitable operation. Management’s responsibility is to maintain balance.

Enough free off street parking is an obvious example. Enough shopping carts is not so obvious. If people have to wait for a cart, then their parking space becomes non-productive , floor space, sales persons, inventory, etc. all become non-productive. Very wasteful, very expensive. We must realize that the customer may be on a time limit, therefore his waiting time must be subtracted from his shopping time. And, too, waiting is most aggravating and will result in a bad attitude for the customer.

Without customers, there is no business. If a customer is not satisfied after he is in the store, there is no sense in advertising to get him in the store.

Any time a customer is not satisfied with merchandise purchased in our store, he may return it for a credit, refund, or exchange. This matter should be handled more quickly than the original purchase.

Inventory balance is most difficult for us to achieve.

Excessive inventory is wasteful as it requires too many markers, too many receivers, too much work capital, too many sales people, too much stock space, and too many markdowns. If not balanced, this is the greatest cause of business failure.

An accounts receivable policy should be set up and adhered to with all being treated alike.

Inventory turns is the number of times your total inventory is sold per year. If you subscribe to the theory that you need only a 90-day inventory, then you should turn your inventory four times a year. Food stores may turn their inventory 40 or 50 times a year. Specialty stores turn theirs considerably less. This is the nature of the business. “If you can’t find it somewhere else, go to the specialty store and pay their higher price.”

Buying direct, although at a better discount, tends to create overstock conditions. In just buying dollars alone, your better price reflects at the most an 18% savings. However, your first markdown is usually 50%. I have not referred back to the other excessive expense factors. Buying direct, except under strict control, is dangerous.

In business the obvious is not always true!!! Example: “You’re nuts to buy from a jobber when you can get from us for less.”

Jobbers have been hurting for the past several years because so many operated on buying at the best price and selling at the lowest price hoping to move mountains (and doing so) of goods. (At a profit????)

So jobbers have been financially weak which is reflected in many ways.

  1. They do not carry a complete selection.
  2. The services of a competent salesman are not available.
  3. Their plant facilities do not allow for an efficient handling of vast quantities of goods.

Historically, three or four jobbers could not supply our needs. Their selections were never broad enough. We many times were forced to go direct to satisfy our needs for a “spread” of goods as well as supplying the needs of our customers, i.e. Monopoly money, Carrom refills.

Direct suppliers and jobbers giver preferential treatment usually to the largest customers. But not necessarily sometimes to the most regular – frequent – steady – GOOD PAY buyer. Over the years loyalty is pretty much a thing of the past.

No one seems to assess the market today. In years gone by, it was wise to spend time assessing how much could be sold profitably in the market and then budgeting the business accordingly. No one ever realized how large this nation’s ability to consume really was.

Business is a matter of keeping all relevant factors (and there are untold, unseen ones) in balance.

-Philip H. Conley

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS The more things change, the more they stay the same. This June I’m going to be speaking to the toy industry about how to keep things like inventory and cash flow in balance. If you would like me to speak to your industry, I have some insights that go way back.

You Don’t Make it Up in Volume

(Warning: this post contains math. Proceed with caution.)

“We lose a dollar on each one we sell, but we make it up in volume.”

Yeah, we all know that isn’t right, but there is a mistaken belief that if you lower your prices, you can easily make up the lower margins through higher volume.

Warehouse Melissa and Doug 2

Let me show you why that doesn’t necessarily work.

First, we have to make an assumption together. Your business has fixed costs that do not change as your sales change (utilities, rent, etc), and your business has variable costs that go up as you do more volume (credit card fees, payroll, freight, advertising, etc).

Agreed? Good.

DOING THE MATH

Here is some simple math…

You have an item you purchase for $10 and sell for $20. Let’s say you sold 24 of this item last year. That gives you a gross profit of $240 (24 units x $10 in profit per unit = $240 gross profit).

But you have the grand idea to lower the price 10% to $18, figuring you’ll make it up in volume.

 

To get the same $240 in gross profit, you now need to sell 30 units (30 x $8 = $240). That’s a 25% increase in units sold. With more units sold, however, your variable costs will go up. Maybe it is advertising because you had to spend more to get the word out about your lower price. Maybe it is extra sales people needed to help boost sales. Maybe it is more credit card transaction fees.

Realistically, just selling 25% more units won’t even break even because of the rise in variable costs. You’ll probably need closer to 30% more in units sold to cover your 10% discount.

Do you think 10% Off is enough to sell that many more units?

GOING LOWER

Okay, maybe 10% isn’t enough to move the needle. Let’s go 20% Off and sell them for $16!

Here’s the math…

40 units x $6 = $240.  Yes, you now need to sell 67% more units just to get the same gross profit! More than likely, as your variable costs go up, you’ll probably need to sell about 70-75% more units to truly break even.

How about 30% Off?

60 units x $4 = $240. If you go to 30% Off, you better be able to sell 250-300% more units to make it up in volume.

That is a lot of extra traffic you’re going to need to draw, and a lot of staff you’re going to need to handle those sales.

GOING HIGHER

When you do the math, making it up in volume isn’t the answer. But ask yourself this question…

If I raise my prices a little, how many sales might I lose?

A 10% price increase could handle a 17% drop in units sold and make you the same amount of gross profit.

See? Those math classes in high school can pay off!

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS Yes, you can raise your prices. With the way insurance premiums, taxes, utilities and other expenses keep rising, you have to find ways to make more money just to stay in business. But just a straight increase across the board isn’t the strategy. Download my FREE eBook Pricing for Profit in the Free Resources section to see smart ways to raise your prices (that won’t cost you a single unit sold).

 

The Need to Keep Raising the Bar

Bed Bath and Beyond just announced that their coupon strategy is backfiring and that their profits are hurting because everyone is waiting for the coupon to do their shopping.

Umm… yeah. When you send the coupon out every week and never enforce the exclusions or expiration date, you pretty much send out the message that everything in the store is always 20% off. Anyone paying full price in that store is either lazy or an idiot.

What used to be special is now considered the norm.

BBB faces a dilemma. They either have to drop the coupon program and wean customers off the 20% discount (a daunting and dangerous task), or raise the bar on the coupon program to make it special again.

They said in the article, “Bed Bath and Beyond says it plans to draw in more customers through marketing.”

Okay, but how? A bigger, deeper coupon every so often? (further eroding profits) or something else?

THE LESSON

If you are doing something special for your customers, eventually it goes from special to expected and the marketing pull from it will taper off. If it is a discount, that discount will have to grow over time to remain equally effective.

If you consistently go above and beyond your customers’ expectations, eventually they will come to expect it, meaning you’ll have to raise the bar even farther.

As you choose your marketing strategy, remember that the special things you do today will become the norm tomorrow. Make sure you have room to raise the bar when the effects start tapering off.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS Surprise and Delight are the best tools for attracting new customers because you’ll never run out of new and fun and inexpensive ways to surprise and delight your customers. Check out these two Free Resources to get some ideas of things you can do to raise the bar and attract more customers – Generating Word of Mouth and Customer Service: From Weak to WOW!. I doubt either of these will be strategies employed by BBB (although they should).

Free or Gift With Purchase?

You just got some free merchandise from one of your favorite vendors. It was a low cost item that you didn’t sell anyway. You want to give them away to your customers.

Do you give them away free, no strings attached, or do you only give them away free with a qualifying purchase?

FREE, NO STRINGS ATTACHED

The upside to simply giving them away is that you will surprise and delight your customers in an unexpected way. They will be talking about your generosity to their friends.

The downside is that you likely won’t garner any extra sales and you may end up giving them to people who don’t need them.

FREE GIFT WITH PURCHASE

The upside for GWP is that you are using the freebie to help close the sale of a related product. Plus, you are getting the freebie into the hands of someone most likely to use it.

The downside is that the only word of mouth it generates is them talking about the good deal they got (that others might not be so lucky to get).

Here are some questions to ask…

  • Do you want them to talk about your generosity or the deal they got?
  • Do you want to put them only into the hands of people who will use them?
  • Do you want to surprise & delight or close the sale?

Ask the right questions and you’ll get the right answer.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS Door #3 is that we just sell them at a discounted price, take the profit and run. The only question is whether you can get more profit using the freebies as a marketing tool than you would by simply selling a low-cost item you didn’t want in the first place. My guess is marketing tool pays more dividends in the long run.

How to Get Customers to Fall in Love With Your Products

Dr. Ross Honeywill says there are two types of customers – NEO’s and Traditionals. Traditionals are all about the Price. NEO’s, however, care more about Design, Authenticity, and Provenance than Price. Get the NEO to fall in love with the product and you’ll make the sale.

Roy H. Williams says there are two types of customers – Relational and Transactional. Transactional customers are all about the Price. Relational Customers, however, are looking for someone they can Trust who will lead them to the right products they can fall in love with.

The Diffusion of Innovation says there is a big chasm between the Early Adopters and the Early Majority. The Early Majority want the tried and true commodities that have a proven track record. They will go wherever they can find the best deal. The Early Adopters love the new and unique and have to have the latest, greatest, regardless of price.

You can discuss the nuance between the three theories until the end of the earth and never fully reconcile them into one theory.

Or you can pull out the one thing all three agree on and run with it all the way to the bank.

The money is in getting your customers to fall in love with your products and your store.



FALLING IN LOVE

Remember falling in love? You don’t analyze it. You don’t weigh out pros and cons. You don’t look at the features and benefits.

You draw smiley faces. You doodle his name on the worksheet you were supposed to turn in. You imagine what it will be like to be together. You visualize walking hand in hand. You picture the two of you on a date, at the park, in the movie theater. You see the future of you with this other person.

Bob Phibbs says that customers who are shopping are in a different mode than customers who are buying. Customers who are shopping are in analytical mode. They are gathering info, measuring and weighing options. Customers who are buying, however, have to get out of that mode and into wonder and love. They have to see themselves already owning and using the product.

In other words, they have to fall in love with the idea of owning the product.

You have been wrongly taught for years that your job is to give your customers information. Features and benefits, features and benefits, features and benefits. In today’s online world, they already have most of the information they need before they set foot in the store. Your real job is to get them out of analyzing the product and into visualizing already owning the product.

You can do that two ways…

Ask Visualization Questions:

  • How do you see yourself using this product? 
  • What are your plans for this product? 
  • How will this look in your home? 
  • Where do you see yourself using this? 
  • What is your ultimate goal for this item?

Use Assumptive Statements and Questions:

  • Most everyone who buys one of these gets a second as a backup. Do you want to get two today or just the one?
  • Would you like me to giftwrap these items while you finish shopping for the rest of the list?
  • You’re going to be really happy with your choice of that product.
  • When you get this home, to make sure you get the full use out of it, be sure to…

Before you start thinking those sound snarky or sneaky or gimmicky, remember that your customer came into your store looking to solve a problem or fill a need. Your job, therefore, is to help her solve a problem or fill a need. If you leave her in analytical mode, you won’t solve her problem or fill her need. She’ll leave in search of more information and most likely have someone else solve her problem or fill her need.

If you make her fall in love with the product, you’ll make the sale, whether she is a NEO, a Relational Customer, an Early Adopter, or any other label you want to give her.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS You still need to know all the information. In part, so that if she has faulty information, you can correct it. In part, because she may need one or two more pieces of information to help her visualize the product properly. In part, so that she will trust you as the expert.