Perspectives

From The Co-Founders

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Tips, Tactics & Strategic Insights and Commentary
from The ROI Co-Founders, Pat Johnson and Dick Outcalt
Outcalt & Johnson: Retail Strategists LLC; Retail Turnaround Experts

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Spring is in the air.  More places are lifting Covid restrictions. Daylight savings time starts this coming Sunday, extending the evening hours. 

And, for the first time in years, we can expect to celebrate Easter, Mother's Day, Father's Day, graduations, weddings with few restrictions. All promise a renewed air of celebration! 

There is widespread anticipation that consumer spending will be very strong. But...spending on what? Before you place all those merchandise orders, consider this.

  • We expect that the second quarter burst of consumer spending will be weighted towards services more than consumer goods. A big surprise for many.
     

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You've gotten through the Holiday season, likely enjoyed some vacation time, and perhaps even have your own financial statements in hand. 

For many retailers, 2021 proved to be a very profitable year. Congratulations!

In fact, go here to check out the pre-tax profit trends for the past two years for the median performers in 50+ retail segments. To borrow a phrase,  everybody (almost) is above average!

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Maybe you are aware of this. We sure are!

Way too many retailers are just fumbling along, paying everybody else but not themselves.

Worse yet, way too many retailers are failing, going bankrupt, even in these "good" times for the economy. 

And when a retail business fails, it affects a host of people and entities. Not only do employees lose their jobs, and landlords lose a tenant, and suppliers lose a customer, and a community loses a retailer...the owner(s) oftentimes lose their house, car, savings, everything. 

Failure is sickening.

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If 2020 was the year of pandemic disruption and scramble-to-survive mode for retailers, 2021 may be the year of relentless Retail Is Detail reminders.

Many of you may well have benefitted from one or more rounds of PPP loans and their potential "forgiveness." Now comes the reminders that you must seek forgiveness. In writing. From the bank that  loaned you the funds. And there are some time deadlines involved. Yikes.

Oh, and total forgiveness may not be forthcoming. It depends. (See below for these guides* and disclaimers from the SBA.)

Then there are the so-called "bookkeeping details" surrounding all this.

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Turning "Big Picture" Thinking into a Strategic Inventory Buying 

About a year ago, as the pandemics were beginning to hit their stride, we introduced a framework for retailers to "rethink your merchandise mix." 

As depicted in the chart above, we cautioned that once the lockdown was over, as customers resumed shopping, retailers should be prepared for (1) reduced sales totals overall; (2) significantly re-balanced merchandise mixes, initially dominated by "basics/never-outs."

Further, we anticipated that the merchandise mix would continue to change as we re-emerge from the effects of the pandemics. And we urged retailers to take this overall construct and adapt it to their own situation; to develop their own customized strategic response.* 

Now, one year later, here's how this can become "news you can use" to quickly produce your Big Picture buying plan. Especially in the spring of 2021, some practical answers to "What to buy?" , "How much?" and "When?" are likely to be very welcome. 

Back-of-the-envelope cash flow

Here we are, in the first week of December, in this tumultuous pandemic year of 2020.

Maybe more than ever, you need to have a grip on your cash flow! What will you cash flow look like during December, January and February?

Since you must be able to make informed decisions about your business, every day, an up-to-date cash flow calculation is essential. Remember, profits are interesting, but it's cash flow that's significant!

Cash flow doesn't have to be fancy. In fact, what most owners need is just to have the basics on the back of an envelope. The savvy ones always have that with them.

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Have you noticed? "Covid fatigue" has been spreading lately. It seems to be almost as contagious as the virus itself. Ugh!

And small wonder. Even as parts of the economy strive to re-open, they only remind us of how different everything is.
  • Major League Baseball played in stadiums of cardboard cutouts of fans. The U.S. Open Golf Tournament with no spectators. Professional basketball teams in "the bubble" at Disney World. 
  • And some colleges preparing to resume fall classes have been described as "a cross between a seminary and a minimum-security prison."
Meanwhile, the U.S. Congress cannot agree on what should be done next. A nasty election campaign season looms. Protests are still happening in many locations. 

Remember this: all these things that contribute to our Covid fatigue, what we have called the "Pandemic Trifecta of 2020" – the virus, the economic meltdown, the national protests – all of these are uncontrollables. We all are victims of all three pandemics. 

But, you CAN control what you choose to do with your business going forward. Will you choose Door A, Door B or Door C? 

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That's a sign of the times, isn't it?

While retailers are more accustomed than most folks to cope with change, 2020's unrelenting flexibility tests have been a challenge. Forget about five years. Retailers have to be ready for the next five months! It's back-to-school and then Holiday.

The only certainty about the next five months is that they will probably feel like the past five months. Yet you still must run a retail business. And that means you still must buy and sell merchandise. 

The opportunities – and the pressures – are mounting.