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David Brown

Dark Economic Clouds Loom on Horizon, Says David Brown

Negative sentiment is appearing.

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CONSUMER SPENDING IS a matter of confidence, and declining retail sales can often be one of the first barometers of economic sentiment. The trend we have seen since early in the year has been further backed up by the economic news which, despite positive reporting from many listed companies, has brought a storm cloud of negative sentiment.

Fears of rising interest rates, even though they may have been slow to happen, will dampen consumer spending. The threat of trade wars with China and an increased cost of imports and reduced income from exports are playing on investors’ mind. We’ve seen a drop in the Dow Jones reflect this fall in confidence, and it seems likely that there will be some further belt-tightening going on in the foreseeable future.

Below is a comparison of the individual monthly data for September versus the same month last year.

Our same-store September data year-to-date showed a decline of 0.52 percent in the rolling 12-month sales figure compared to September 2018. Average store sales for the 12-month period to September was $1,579,921, down from $1,588,204 at the end of August. This has extended our run of declining sales to eight months when our rolling 12-month sales stood at $1,629,755.

So what’s caused this to happen? Ever since the financial crisis in 2008, governments all around the world have increased the amount of money that is in circulation. Their logic? That more money encourages more spending.

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To a large extent their strategy has worked, as if you hand out cash to the “man in the street” he will naturally spend it. Now you might be wondering how this works. Governments don’t appoint cash dealers to stand on street corners doling out dollar bills. They will generally do it through the banking system in one of two ways. The first is to print money, either figuratively or literally. These days most money travels electronically, so it usually consists of blips on a screen. This money is made available to banks to lend as mortgages or credit card debt – which allows it to filter its way through to consumers. The other way they can do it is through debt – treasury bills and government bonds can be issued to finance the government deficits that are increasingly the norm for most countries. These are effectively a demand on the government to repay later. These debts are viewed as ironclad, as a government is always able to guarantee its payments (by printing more money, but this can cause its own problems as you will see!) So the government can control the money in circulation by selling more bonds (which takes money out of the system) or buying back their bonds (by putting more money into the system re-purchasing the bonds).

Now this all sounds pretty simple, but it can come at a price. Printing money can cause the value of a currency to decline (like any rule of supply and demand, the more of something there is the less anyone will pay for it). A declining dollar can make exports more competitive, but it does raise the cost of importing goods because you will need more dollars to buy the foreign product so this will lower demand for goods. Creating more government debt can be a way of mopping up the money, but it can lead to higher interest rates as lenders get more nervous the higher debt you have (even for governments) which is happening now.

There is a lot of debt, both personal and government, that is sloshing around the world. Personal debt is high because of all the money that the governments have injected in the economy through the banks.

Now that the government is tightening the money supply, there is a nervousness that many of those with high borrowings won’t be able to deal with the increase of interest rates that will now happen as money becomes tight again. The fiscal stimulus of money being injected into the economy may have kicked the can down the road, but to throw in another cliché, the chickens may be about to come home to roost.

David Brown is president of the Edge Retail Academy, a force in jewelry industry business consulting, sell-through data and vendor solutions. David and his team are dedicated to providing business owners with information and strategies to improve sales and profits. Reach him at david@edgeretailacademy.com

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David Brown

Maybe You Don’t Need to Sell More Jewelry After All

How to balance the competing goals of raising sales volume and increasing your margin.

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AS DECEMBER APPROACHED, most jewelers were looking for some positive momentum in the lead-up.

Our November store data showed a slight increase in the right direction, with store comparative sales for the 12 months ending November 2019 showing an increase of 1.2% versus the same period a year prior. This might not be a figure that sets the world on fire, but given some of the recent stutters in results during 2019, it served as a promise of what might be to come.

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Sales of $1.921 million were up $22,000 from 2019’s $1.899 million, and over $90,000 up from the 2017 figure of $1.829 million. Sales units of 5,957 were down 7% on 2018’s 6,376 items sold for the rolling 12-month period, with average retail price per item increasing 8% to $322 from $298. Markup held its own at 85%, resulting in the average store seeing gross profit rise 1.4% from $872,000 to $884,000.

As we often discuss, growing your profitability can be something of a juggling act between maximizing your margins and increasing the volume of sales you make. Improving your bottom line can seem like an “and/or” argument – if I increase my price will my sales volume go down or stay the same? If I lower my price will the sales volume go up or will it make no difference? At the extremes the answer is usually yes – a 50% increase in price is almost certain to reduce the number of sales you make. Likewise cutting your prices by 50% should increase quantities sold. The question however is will it be enough to make a difference? In many of these scenarios the increase in the positive aspect may not be enough to counter what you have lost at the other end.

Let’s look at the scenario of choosing between an increase of 1% in prices versus a 1% increase in volume. It’s important to understand they don’t both have the same impact on profitability as we’ll demonstrate with the scenario below.

Jane runs a profitable jewelry store with the following numbers:

Fixed costs per annum: $250,000 (rent, salaries etc.)
Variable costs: $65 per unit (freight, commissions, goods purchased, etc.)
Sales: $1 million
Volume = 10,000 units

The scenario above would result in a profit of $100,000.

Raising Volume by 1%

Now let’s say she increases the volume by 1%. The fixed costs would remain constant, but her total variable costs would go up to $656,500 due to the extra expense of selling the additional items.

Sales would be $1.01 million, which is the same as raising the price by 1% and holding the volume steady. By raising the volume by 1%, Jane would increase her profits by $3,500 or a 3.5% increase in profit.

Raising Price by 1%

What would happen if she raised the price by 1% instead while maintaining the current sales volume?

Sales would still be $1.01 million, an increase of $10,000. At this level the variable costs would remain constant ($650,000) because we just raised the price per unit and didn’t have to buy or sell more items.

Fixed costs would also remain the same. This would result in an increase in profit of $10,000 – a 10% increase in profit, a figure that is $6,500 better than just increasing sales volume by 1%.

So, if you’re weighing up a strategy to build your business profitability, it’s important to know that not all methods work the same. Given this information, it may be better to concentrate on a plan that increases margins while maintaining sales volume rather than looking to build volumes at the expense of margin.

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David Brown

How the Power of Compounding Returns Can Make You Very Wealthy

Start early and continue to reinvest.

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ALBERT EINSTEIN CALLED it the 8th Wonder of the World — and it’s been a source of wealth building for many of the world’s richest people. And yet, the power of compounding interest is still one of the most misunderstood concepts in business and investment.

The power of compounding applies to business ownership just as surely as it does to investment decisions. Investors like Warren Buffett have built their fortune on businesses that offer a strong return on investment that can then be reinvested back into those businesses, or other businesses, that can continue to deliver similar returns. Compounding has allowed him to build an initial capital of less than $1 million back in the 1950s into a fortune of over $70 billion today.

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So how does it work? Well, I’m sure you’re aware of the leverage that can be achieved by reinvesting your returns to create still larger returns. What many people underestimate, however, is the power of how compounding can build up returns very quickly.

The graph above shows the impact of $1,000 invested in year one and earning a rate of 8 percent per annum — not an unrealistic return, and certainly less than most businesses would be expected to return given the risk. Over the first 30 years, the impact is gradual, as the investment slowly grows to a level of $10,062, or ten times the initial investment.

At this stage, a tipping point is reached. Over the next 30 years, it again grows ten times to reach $101,250 by year 60. And again, the next 30 years shows a growth of ten times, but now the investment grows in excess of $1 million by year 90 — all from an initial investment of $1,000. In just the next ten years, from year 90 to year 100, the investment doubles in size, adding the equivalent in that ten-year period to what was achieved in the first 90 years combined!

Now 100 years is more than the lifetime of most people, but the point is still well illustrated, and this example does not take into account the addition of extra capital. If the investor had added another $1,000 every year for 100 years, the total sum reached by year 100 would reach just over $29 million!

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This example shows the power of compounding, the benefit of continuing to invest more money each year which then compounds and, most importantly in my opinion, the power of starting early. This point is best illustrated by comparing someone who starts investing an annual amount from age 20 and stops at age 28 versus someone who doesn’t start until 28 and continues to invest that same amount annually until they are 55. If both people earned the same rate of annual return, who would have the most money at 55? Believe it or not, the person who invests from age 20 and stops at age 28 is still able to achieve a higher level of wealth than the person who starts later but invests for longer, even though the later person paid more money in. The power of compounding can make up for the first person no longer investing from age 28 onwards.

Both your business investment and personal investments need to consider the power of compounding when you make your decisions. You work hard for your money — there’s no reason your money can’t be working hard for you.

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David Brown

Here’s How to Succeed at Succession Planning

Be sure to consider these four areas to prevent unnecessary conflict.

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MONEY CAN BE A sensitive topic to talk about. Generally, people don’t like to discuss it even in the privacy of their own home. Yet, not talking about your financial situation can make a significant difference in how much of your wealth is passed on to other family members. Whether it’s a business being passed on or the wealth that it has created, careful planning is required.
Government legislation is constantly evolving in this area. It’s important to set up for the passing of wealth and to ensure this is compliant with the current laws.

Here are some things to consider:

1. Inform family members of what may be coming their way. Give them the opportunity to prepare for the financial impact an inheritance may have. More than one family has been undermined by a sudden arrival of wealth they didn’t expect and couldn’t handle. Such preparation can help them to plan their ownership and tax structures to handle it effectively.

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2. Be sure to involve key stakeholders. Be selective about who is involved in the decision-making process, the administration and the final beneficiaries. The process can be daunting and potentially alienate family members and cause unnecessary conflict.

3. Ensure a single unified vision. Particularly where parents are concerned, it’s important to ensure a consistent message is communicated about the ongoing management of the family business. If there is to be a successor, there needs to be an agreed upon approach as to who it will be and how it will be handled.

4. Don’t wait too long to pass on ownership and responsibility. If the business is to go to the next generation, a grooming process is recommended to ensure the transition is smooth and the successor has done their “time.” You should always be prepared for an unexpected event that may speed this process up faster than you intended — it’s better to be over-prepared in this area than under-prepared.

Whether a business is being passed on or the wealth that the business has created, it’s important that the vision is clearly communicated regarding how the legacy will be passed onto future generations. Sharing this vision can be an effective means of making sure the succession plan goes as smoothly as possible.

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