Friday, January 29, 2010

Profits versus Cash Flow - Which Will You Choose?

Sometimes in retail you are faced with a difficult choice. In a tough economy, one of those choices is Profit vs. Cash Flow.

Sometimes you have to give away your profit to get more dollars streaming through the till. Sometimes you have to give up chasing dollars just to protect your profit margins.

The question is when do you choose Profit or when do you choose Cash Flow?

The answer is when you know exactly where your business stands, where you want to go, and what you need to do to get there.

For instance...

My goal for this past year was to show a profit. The bank gets a little nervous when you don't show a profit, and to guarantee a renewal of my line of credit in these tough lending times, I knew that showing a profit would give the bank confidence in my stability and ability to succeed.

Last November I made a conscious choice to go after profit instead of cash flow. I chose not to run a direct mail coupon incentive that I had used in previous years. The trade-off was dramatic. Sales were down for November because I gave no incentive to shop early. Profit margin was way up, though, because I didn't give away the house.

But as I looked at the lost sales in November, the question begged... Did I lose those customers for November or lose them for good? The answer came quickly in that first week of December... I only lost them for November. At the end of the two months my sales were where I expected going into the season, down only slightly. But my profit was up for the same period compared to last year. Had I run the coupon, I would have increased sales (cash flow) but decreased profit.

Because I knew my goals and knew what I needed to do to achieve them, I was able to be successful. Because I knew how my choices would affect my cash flow and profit, I was able to choose the right approach.

So what is the right approach in your business? It depends on your short and long term goals. Do you need to improve cash flow to fund a new project? Or do you need to show a strong financial statement to your investors? Do you need to improve cash flow to pay off your vendors or do you need to grow your profit to pay off yourself?

When times are good, you can do both at the same time. But when times are tight, you sometimes have to choose. Choose wisely, my friends, by knowing your goals and the means by which you will achieve them.

-Phil

PS The choice was made easier because our cash flow had been strong up to that point. What I lost in cash flow was allowable because I had built up cash flow from the previous year (at the expense of profit) Sometimes it is a seesaw between the two.

1 comment:

  1. Profit, cashflow, inventory and expenses postings were all terrific and very helpful. Thanks, Phil. Nice seeing you in NY.

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