PERSPECTIVES

From The Co-Founders

rss

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

COVID-19 thumbs/Qmarx.jpg

Embracing Uncertainty: The Essence of Retailing

"The mantra of 2022 should really be: No one knows anything," opined a business reporter.* "It’s stunning how little we understand about how the pandemic has changed our lives and our country. It’s not clear whether the U.S. economy is hot or not, or if big cities will be forever scarred." 
  • "The future of our online shopping habits is another unknown. This is not just a nerdy debate. Our collective buying behavior sways trillion-dollar companies, millions of retail jobs and the health of the U.S. economy." 

  • "The uncertainty about the direction of online shopping is one of the biggest questions facing the tech industry and financial markets right now."
Well yes, of course. The tech industry and the financial markets do prefer predictability. The uncertainties of retailing always have bedeviled them. And now, with Amazon's recent retrenching, backing off some expansion, their crystal balls have turned cloudy. 
 

COVID-19 thumbs/CmptrProj.png

"How are sales?" is essentially the international greeting between retailers. 

And because of the seasonality of retail sales, most retailers will respond by explaining whether sales this month are up or down versus the same month last year, not just the previous month. 

All this is well and fine in a normal year. But, since 2020, retailers have not been experiencing anything close to normal. And boy, does that show up in the 6-month retail sales trend charts that The ROI posts each month.
  • In sector after sector, December, January & February sales versus the prior year are markedly different than the March-April-May results. In some cases, these are quite dramatic. 

Your results are likely to be consistent with these patterns.

COVID-19 thumbs/celebrate.png

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.
     

COVID-19 thumbs/ProfitCompsPic.png

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!

Brick wall1.png

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.

Strings2.png

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.

COVID-19 thumbs/MasterChart3v2.png

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.