“An important and often overlooked aspect of operational excellence is regularly comparing actual costs to budget assumptions – not just the numbers in the plan. Understanding assumption deviations will help improve the accuracy of future forecasting.”Bob Prcsen
Before we calculate gross margin, we first need to know the cost of goods sold (COGS). These are direct expenses incurred in the manufacturing of a product, or the rendering of a service. There are many methods used to calculate this metric. Firstly it has a lot to do with the type of business one is running. For example, if you are running a DVD store do you include the store rent in the COGS, or as an indirect expense. Such questions will definitely come up when you are doing COGS calculations. You need to ask yourself “how is this expense related to the product/service?”and “if you were to take away this expense would you still be able to deliver the product or service?” Ultimately this will depend upon the product or service you are providing, the goal being to reach a figure which is an accurate representation of how much it costs to produce or deliver a product/service.
After calculating our COGS we can calculate gross margin by dividing gross profit (Revenue – COGS) with Revenue. If we sell a widget for $1 and we incur a direct cost of $0.4 to produce it, our gross margins are 60%. This is a very important financial indicator as it indicates how much cash will be flowing into the business. When gross margin falls dramatically due to increase in raw material prices for example, it impacts detrimentally on every part of the business. It is therefore critical that management keep a keen eye on this metric and not let it drop below levels that will make it difficult for the organization to grow. A couple of things to keep in mind when looking at gross margins are:
1. Pricing Policies: When evaluating your business and finding ways to improve gross margins, pricing policies play an important role. When a business is in a competitive field, for example retailing of basic computer components, margins tend to erode due to competitive downward pressure. As a business owner one needs to continuously check on pricing strategies employed by competitors and how one can outmaneuver competition based on complementary services rather than price wars. Evaluating pricing strategies is hence critical to maintaining and improving gross margins.
2. Inventory Management: If your business currently holds large stock of products that are manufactured or purchased one needs to manage this rolled over inventory carefully. Left over inventory is a component of calculating COGS and when a business begins to hold on to larger quantities of inventory, margins begin to erode because of stock depreciation. Inventory must be managed intelligently to ensure that the business does not expose itself to unnecessary risks which will impact both its margins and cash flows.
3. Periodic Review: In today’s world where massive price fluctuations are a norm, one needs to pay very close attention to gross margins. This is especially true for business owners who operate with slim margins. In the past when I have been involved with product based retailing ventures, I set up weekly meetings to access this metric to understand how we were faring through various distribution channels so as to continuously adapt our strategy and plan according to prevailing market conditions.
Gross margins is a very good metric for investors to evaluate the viability of a business. Gross margins are usually bench-marked against industry averages to see how efficiently a business is structured. As business owners, we have to do all we can to steadily increase this metric or find alternative methods to increase the metric through diversification. Periodic review cycles need to be implemented to ensure that the business is growing in the right direction and at the right pace.