But that doesn't mean you don't look at other numbers, too. That would be the equivalent of a doctor checking your temp and blood pressure and determining you are completely healthy without looking at anything else.
Here are some other numbers you should track to keep a check on the pulse of your business.
Traffic - Number of transactions you had this year compared to last year. Did that number go up or down? If it went down, why?
- Did your location get worse?
- Was there a change in the types and numbers of stores around you?
- Was there a drop in population?
- Did you cut back your offerings and categories significantly?
If your traffic was down, but none of these other factors were negative, you have a hole in your Customer Service (repeat and referral business) and/or Advertising (first-timer business). You need to find that leak and fix it fast.
Average Transaction - Take your total sales and divide by # of transactions. Compare to last year. If this number went down, why?
- Did you carry fewer high-ticket items?
- Did you add more low-ticket impulse items that people might run in and grab?
- Did you do anything to attract more youth?
If none of those factors were in play but your average ticket went down, you have a hole in your staff's ability to sell. You need to fix that fast.
Market Share - This is a little harder to calculate, but an incredibly valuable piece of information that can pinpoint problems - even if you had a great year on paper!
- Find the national sales figure for your industry.
- Divide that by the population of the United States to determine sales per person.
- Multiply that times the population of your trade area to determine the market potential for your area.
- Divide your total sales by that market potential to find your percentage or share of the market.
- Compare it to last year's number.
You can have an awesome year with solid sales growth and decent profits and cash flow, but still be in potential trouble if your market share is slipping. If all your growth was fueled by huge growth in your market, but you aren't holding onto your share of that market, then you are ripe for being picked off by a better competitor entering your market. You need to figure out why your share is decreasing and fix that problem now.
You can also have a lousy year with declining sales and profits, but mostly fueled by a change in the market. Maybe your industry is in decline (smaller sales per person). Maybe your trade area is shrinking. But if your market share is growing, then your big issue is determining whether to cut expenses and inventory and hope the market comes back or move to a new market.
Make sure your Profit and Cash Flow are good. Those are immediate life threatening problems for your business. If those are good, it buys you time to check/fix the other problems.
Give your business a full physical. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.
PS Be honest in your evaluations. Even if there are circumstances beyond your control, there are always circumstances you can control and improve while you ride out the storm.