T5NP*: Third Number – Gross Margin Dollars (NOT GM Percentage!)
As you know already, the Gross Margin is the difference between the actual received price the retailer paid for an item and the actual sale amount received from the customer. It’s the sale of the goods, minus the cost of the goods (the “profit margin” on the sale).
As I have said before: many managers and owners track and discuss their sales dollars, but not that many would openly discuss their results in Gross Margin Dollars with other companies, even those a thousand miles away. Maybe that’s because this metric is indeed a measure of retail competence, such as negotiating the best delivered terms, understanding your market and the pricing strategies it responds to and so on. Many managers do track the GM percentage – but it’s GM dollars that pay the bills, so we see the more successful ones tracking both % and GM dollars – with actions and decisions based on the change in dollars not the percentage.
Buying and selling is the core of retail. So the main result of that activity, GM dollars, is surely something to track and compare with previous years… and with one’s peers. Think of all the actions, tasks, decisions, follow-ups, administration, customer contacts, etc. carried out by the retail team each day that end up in the GM dollars column… From agreeing upon a delivered price with a supplier, to accurate receiving and pricing, through impulsive merchandising and signage, to accurate register skills and efficient delivery: company profitability is on the line.
The dollar difference between buying (inventory) costs and the final sales dollars, i.e. the “margin,” is what pays for everything else in the company and makes a profit to continue the company. This is the ONLY retail step that actually creates wealth, adds value. Some experts say that investing in inventory is the only creative investment that actually grows the company. All other activities and investments are just defensive to try to hold that wealth.
It’s such a basic concept that sometimes we almost forget. Every plant that dies or is discounted, every “incredible!” item brought in that is still sitting there being dusted and moved every season, every overlooked freight charge and every under-budgeted cost of that inventory, reduces those margin dollars. The difference between planned or budgeted GM percentage and the actual figure after inventory adjustments can be as much as 5-6% of total sales (twice the ad budget!). When you show that difference as actual margin dollars, you might want to sit down first.
The GM dollars metric is an essential one for comparing the profit returned from the cost of goods invested in the various products and can be found with a click of your POS system under “GMROI”.
But until you know the growth or decline in GM dollars for the current year, you can’t (or shouldn’t) decide how much labor you can afford to bring in to service and sell the inventory next year. Unless you look at the trends in GM dollars in your company (and in the industry) you may not know which products are worth investing in and which are worth leaving alone.
So, yes Gross Margin dollars are something we are really going to get down to, watch like a hawk and talk about, a lot. Let’s talk about your GM dollar changes up or down within a department or a category. Let’s look at GM dollars for a certain category and then look at how much space or labor that category uses to get that result, hmmm… Let’s compare GM dollars earned from competing vendors (ooh, that’s powerful!) or from different buyers at their annual review time… Never a dull moment in the GM dollars world!
As retailing gets more and more competitive, the progressive garden retailers are constantly searching for best use of their inventory money to create the GM dollars, so going forward let’s focus on the only investment that creates wealth – who’s in?
*T5NP is The 5 Numbers Project: a new national benchmarking initiative for independent garden retailers. Subscriptions are open to ANY garden retailer, regardless of other buying/peer group or membership affiliations. Available now through December 23, 2018: learn more by clicking here.