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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

Five Steps To Make Your Business More Salable

Build net profit and control your inventory tightly.

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AFTER YEARS OF hard work building up an asset that they hoped would provide for them in retirement, many business owners are finding there is nothing left at the end of the day when they come to cash in their chips. And we’re not just talking businesses that struggle — I’m talking about businesses that are making a very healthy profit each year.

How many of you know a fellow store owner who has been in this situation? I had friends recently close down at the end of December in a store that had traded for over four decades and was making a large six-figure profit. They were in their 70s, had decided to quit but could not find a buyer interested in taking over their store. Sadly, this scenario is far too common.

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Here are five steps you can take to help this situation:

1. Drive every possible dollar of net profit. Most business owners generally try to minimize their net profit to reduce tax, but this ends up costing them as they approach retirement. Jewelry stores are bought and sold nowadays based on a multiplier of net profit, so every dollar could be worth $4-6 to them when they sell … not to mention they can use that net profit to retire debt or create retirement wealth while they still own the business.

2. Establish and achieve an optimum inventory level … one that delivers maximum GMROI while still satisfying your customers. Most stores are heavily over-inventoried, and the store is not an asset unless it generates turn and margin. Many are emotionally invested in their inventory, but no prospective buyer is going to want their old stock at any price. Nor do customers. Guess what is left after a successful GOB? The old stuff!

If Business A has $100,000 of profit on $400,000 of inventory, and Business B has $100,000 on $700,000, then both would sell for the same multiplier of profit. Store B may well be left with either an inflated value that would put a buyer off because they have inventory to clear, or be forced to find a way of disposing of the surplus product.

3. Transition the owners’ personal skills and responsibilities from “business operator” to “business owner.” No one wants to buy a business (or certainly not at full price) where the current owner is the No. 1 asset in the business (i.e., does a lot of personal sales, buys all of the inventory, does the marketing, is the main bench jeweler, etc.). There is too much uncertainty about what will happen to the performance of the business the day after the highly involved owner departs.

4. Build a strong team. Sometimes this involves outsourcing such things as repairs, custom design, marketing, social media, bookkeeping, etc. to effectively handle all day-to-day responsibilities. Note: this takes time, patience and perseverance.

5. Be visible online and on social media … it’s one of the first places prospective buyers will look.

In a market where supply exceeds demand, you need to give yourself a competitive advantage if you want to cash in that nest egg. It can happen, but it requires a strong level of grooming and preparation. The return, however, is well worth it.

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David Brown

How to Make The Most of Your Department Reports

Allocating the appropriate time, money and space to each department is critical to success.

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DEPENDING ON THE TYPE of business you run, chances are your sales will be coming from perhaps 30 or 40 different departments across your store. Some, such as bridal, are more obvious. Others, such as silver earrings, may not make a big difference — yet it’s important to understand the contribution from each department and where it fits into the overall performance of your store.

A department report in order of sales will reveal the biggest contributors, and it should come as no surprise to know that the top 5 or 6 departments might be contributing 50 percent or more of your storewide sales. What might surprise you is which departments make up the top 5 or 6. Take a guess now and then compare it to your actual results; chances are you’ll see at least one department that wasn’t in your estimate.

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Knowing this will enable you to allocate your resources towards these areas. These resources are, in no order of importance:

1. Time
2. Money
3. Space

Time refers to the energy you and your staff devote, both physically and mentally, to this area of your business. You might have a love of watches and enjoy spending time checking out the latest models available, but if watches represent 3 percent of your sales, this category doesn’t warrant a lot of effort.

Money will predominantly be spent on two fronts: one is your inventory, while the other is marketing. Is the inventory you carry in each department relevant to that department’s contribution to your sales and profitability? If not, consider reallocating it. Are you running ads for an area of your business that is neither a significant contributor to sales or profit? Do you allocate your marketing spend by area based on what product you are advertising? It’s not unusual to find a business spending 90 percent of its marketing on diamonds when that category represents only 30 percent of sales.

Space refers to how you allocate the merchandise within your store. Are your best sellers front and center? If your store is 50 percent bridal, does your merchandising say this when your customers walk into your store?

Review your departmental contribution and determine how you are allocating your resources of time, money and space across each area. Make a decision to rebalance each area as required so it more closely aligns to your store’s performance. The exception to this is if you are hoping to grow a particular area, in which case your resources should align with your anticipated results and performance.

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David Brown

What Business Owners Can Learn from Abraham Lincoln’s Failures

He would never have been in position to succeed if he hadn’t failed first.

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WE ARE CONDITIONED BY society to fear failure. Our education system defines performance as “getting the answer correct.” This result-based measurement is an effective method for assessing a level of knowledge, but it doesn’t encourage the hands-on learning process so necessary to develop true understanding and retaining of information — nor encourage the discovery of new knowledge.

Sadly, this aversion to getting things wrong starts at an early age and continues our whole life. Despite the copious number of successful people who have failed spectacularly before achieving success, we still attempt to follow a path that has more to do with avoiding ignominy than with enjoying the benefits of stretching ourselves into uncharted territory.

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Abraham Lincoln never feared failure — he could little afford to. His list of unsuccessful endeavors in both business and politics would have forced a lesser man to give up. Here are just some of his “failures.”

1831: Failed in business.
1832: Ran for state legislature — lost.
1832: Also lost his job — wanted to go to law school but couldn’t get in.
1833: Borrowed some money from a friend to begin a business, and by the end of the year was bankrupt. He spent the next 17 years paying off this debt.
1838: Sought to become speaker of the state legislature — defeated.
1840: Sought to become elector — defeated.
1843: Ran for Congress — lost.
1846: Ran for Congress again — this time he won — went to Washington and did a good job.
1848: Ran for re-election to Congress — lost.
1849: Sought the job of land officer in his home state — rejected.
1854: Ran for Senate of the United States — lost.
1856: Sought the vice-presidential nomination at his party’s national convention — got less than 100 votes.
1858: Ran for U.S. Senate again — again he lost.
1860: Elected president of the United States.

What sort of president would Lincoln have become if he had not had his failures? Had his life been a succession of unbridled achievements, would he have had the fortitude or fighting qualities to drag the country through its toughest challenge ever? Or would he have been ill-prepared for the physical and mental battle the presidency required? I believe his history of failing provided him with the steel and determination he needed to see the job through. Had he not “failed” so many times, he would not have become the man he was — and the history of the United States may have looked sharply different.

Learning to fail helps you overcome the fear of testing your boundaries and ultimately helps you grow and succeed. When it happens, embrace it for the lessons it can teach.

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