Category Archives: Strategic Planning

Used-Book Case Study

This is a case study to sharpen your skills at forecasting and break-even analysis.

Dwight Payne and Gary Heap reside in Santa Barbara, CA, where they attend college and pursue their mutual hobby of science-fiction book collecting. They pooled their book collection of over 4,000 volumes, and sci-fi magazines going back over twenty-five years. All neatly cataloged and indexed, they estimate it would cost $20,000 to assemble the collection today.

Payne and Heap decided that, at the end of this school year, they will dedicate the summer to getting a used-book store started in Santa Barbara as a means of supplementing their income year-round. Heap’s uncle owns a storefront near the University, and agreed to rebuild it as a used-book store. He also co-signed an inventory loan for $4,000 for some start-up working capital. In exchange he gets 25 percent of store sales for two years.

In addition, they bought a collection of over 10,000 paperbacks, magazines, and comics for $3,500, and some used shelving for $1,500. These purchases required borrowing the money from some fraternity brothers.

Provide business strategy planning advice to Dwight and Gary (There is no one right answer).

Decide on days of the week and hours the store will be open. Estimate staffing required and hourly salary costs. Do Dwight and Gary really work for free? What is a reasonable expectation of customers per day? Average purchase per customer? What are pessimistic and optimistic values of these estimates? How much will they have to spend on advertising and promotion to meet these estimates?

What will they pay, on average, for each book? How much can they get, on average, for each book?

Put together a projected (often referred to as pro forma) income statement. Relate the estimates developed above to monthly sales (pessimistic, expected, and optimistic), cost of goods, and expense amounts for wages and promotion. We should add 25% to wages paid for the payroll estimate, to account for taxes, sick days, etc. Debt service payments may be assumed to total $400 per month. Estimate rent and utilities and any other expenses that you feel might be incurred.

Conclusions: Find a break-even sales estimate, that is, the value for sales that produces a Gross Margin just equal to Total Expense. When gross margin generated equals expenses, profit/loss is equal to zero; this sales level is called the break-even point.

Would you do it if you were they? Why or why not? What kind of a test is this where you can’t look up the answer? It’s an entrepreneurship test; learn to be comfortable with your best estimate. If you are not comfortable with this seek consulting services for small businesses.

John B. Vinturella, Ph.D has over 40 years’ experience as a management and strategic consultant, entrepreneur, and college professor. He is a principal in the business opportunity site jbv.com and its associated blog. John recently released his latest book, “8 Steps to Starting a Business,” available on Amazon.

Using Break-Even Analysis

A significant advantage of some business ideas is that the venture can break even at what seems to be an easily achievable volume. A technique for quantifying that volume, called break-even analysis, examines the interaction among fixed costs, variable costs, prices, and unit volume to determine that combination of elements in which revenues and total costs are equal.

This article is drawn from our Entrepreneurship Knowledge Services series.

Fixed costs are those expenses necessary to keep the business open, and are not impacted by sales volume. They will include such things as rent, basic telephone expenses and utilities, wages for core employees, loan or lease payments, and other necessary expenditures. An entrepreneur should also include a living wage for himself/herself as a fixed cost.

Variable costs include those expenses that change as a result of sales volume. This can be a relatively simple relationship, as in cost of goods sold, where for example the variable cost of baked goods sold at a coffee shop is what we pay the baker for them, $0.30 each. Variable costs can also be very complex; for example, higher sales in one area of our business may increase long distance charges. Labor costs may be fixed for full-time employees, then, as sales increase, some overtime is incurred until additional personnel can be justified.

Generally, an initial break-even analysis focuses on a relatively narrow range of sales volume in which variable costs are simple to calculate. The variable cost in a coffee shop is simply the cost of goods sold. For a pizza delivery operation, it might be the cost of ingredients, and some cost allocated for operation of the delivery vehicle. A general term often used for the difference between selling price and variable cost is “contribution margin,” or the amount that the unit sale contributes to the margin available to pay fixed costs, and generate profit (we hope).

Now let’s take a look at how break-even analysis can be helpful to us. For this example, let’s assume we have determined that the level of fixed costs (salaries, rent, utilities) necessary to run a coffee shop on a monthly basis is $9,000. In addition, a cup of coffee that we sell for $1 costs us $0.25 for the bulk coffee, filters, and water.

The contribution margin of a cup of coffee is, therefore, $0.75. We can now calculate how many cups of coffee we have to sell to cover our fixed costs:

Break-Even = (Fixed Costs) / (Contribution Margin)

= $9,000/$0.75 = 12,000 cups of coffee per month

Let us say, further, that the fixed cost estimate was based on being open 6 days a week, 8 hours a day. This converts roughly to 200 hours a month, so we have to sell 60 cups an hour. This is a cup a minute for every minute we are open.

Does this seem feasible? Let us assume not, and evaluate some options.

(1) Cut expenses

Remember that we are still in the planning stage here, and experience has shown that prospective entrepreneurs almost always underestimate expenses. Let’s pass on this approach.

(2) Raise prices

We could plan on charging $1.25 per cup from the beginning, for a contribution margin of $1 per cup. The arithmetic is easy; to cover $9,000 in fixed expenses we need to sell 9,000 cups of coffee per month. The most important factor here is what the competition is charging.

(3) Broaden our product line

For the sake of clarity in demonstrating relationships between price, cost, and sales volume, we have considered a simplified version of how a real coffee shop might operate. The market severely constrains the amount we can charge for an ordinary cup of coffee, and a one product shop would have limited appeal. Perhaps we could also offer gourmet coffees, which cost us $0.50 per cup to brew, at $2.00 per cup. We could also offer baked goods, which cost us $0.30 each, at $1.30.

Suffice it to say that the break-even calculation now becomes a bit more complex, and outside what we are trying to accomplish here. Feel free to try it on your own.

This has been a very brief overview of how break-even analysis can be used in helping the entrepreneur better understand the relationship of the financial factors involved in measuring the feasibility of a proposed venture.

From a preliminary analysis of selling prices that the market will bear, prevailing costs, and reasonable expectations of sales volumes, the entrepreneur can avoid making serious mistakes and may discover significant opportunities.

If the business is feasible but beyond the entrepreneur’s reach the challenge becomes raising entrepreneurial capital.

John B. Vinturella, Ph.D has over 40 years’ experience as a management and strategic consultant, entrepreneur, and college professor. He is a principal in the business opportunity site jbv.com and its associated blog. John recently released his latest book, “8 Steps to Starting a Business,” available on Amazon.

Venture Research Service Provider

If you are considering buying or selling a service industry business you need to start with an evaluation. This can be very complex and the use of a venture research service provider can often give you a value that you can easily defend. The following article outlines the process, and is extracted from FBB Group Ltd: https://www.fbb.com/company-information/recentarticles/how-to-value-a-service-business.

Service businesses run the gamut, from accounting firms, to drycleaners, to janitorial services, engineering, public relations firms, and many other options. Despite their disparity, they all have one thing in common: offering a service to clients.

Valuing a service business involves many factors – a tidy, one-size-fits-all formula doesn’t exist. That being said, sellers should recognize that buyers will be particularly interested in certain characteristics for most service businesses. This, again, is where a venture research service provider can come in.

Normally, valuation is based on several criteria, including: history of profitability, cash flow, overhead, intellectual property, company reputation, number of years in business, opportunities for further growth and added profits, stability of key employees/management team, and customer diversification.

Crucial areas for valuation include intellectual property, ongoing relationships with clients, and having a good team in place – ensuring the company will retain its competitive edge, even when the seller (who typically drives new and repeat business) leaves.

Without significant capital assets, key customers and employees are critical. A strong management team adds to the value of a service business (often more so than in manufacturing) and, conversely, it can detract from value when there’s a poor or inexperienced team.
Another measure of value may include the amount of market share. Companies that provide a niche service and don’t have much, if any, competition will command higher multiples of value.

Cash flow is “king,” so the primary consideration for bankers is a buyer’s ability to stay current on loans for acquisitions and working capital. Banks focus heavily on reliable cash flow for service businesses, given that there is little, to no, collateral within the service business itself.

Whether you’re in the market to buy or sell, understanding the various considerations of valuation for a service business will make the process smoother and increase the probability of a more successful transaction.

Dr. Vinturella, has over 40 years experience as a management and strategic consultant, entrepreneur, and college professor. He is a principal in the business opportunity site https://www.jbv.com and its associated blog. John recently released his latest book, “8 Steps to Starting a Business. “ See https://www.jbv.com/8steps, available on Amazon.

Business Strategy Planning Advice

The following is excerpted from “Tips for Better Strategic Planning,” By Erica Olsen. It is part of the Strategic Planning Kit For Dummies Cheat Sheet, http://www.dummies.com/business/strategic-planning-kit-for-dummies-cheat-sheet/

Before you get too far into your strategic planning process, check out the following tips — your quick guide to getting the most out of your strategic planning process:

• Pull together a diverse, yet appropriate group of people to make up your planning team. Diversity leads to a better strategy. Bring together a small core team — between six and ten people — of leaders and managers who represent every area of the company.

• Allow time for big-picture, strategic thinking. People tend to try to squeeze strategic planning discussions in between putting out fires and going on much needed vacations. But to create a strategic plan, your team needs time to think big. Do whatever it takes to allow that time for big-picture thinking (including taking your team off-site).

• Get full commitment from key people in your organization. You can’t do it alone. If your team doesn’t buy in to the planning process and the resulting strategic plan, you’re dead in the water. Encourage the key people to interact with your customers about their perception of your future and bring those views to the table.

• Allow for open and free discussion regardless of each person’s position within the organization. (This tip includes you.) Don’t lead the planning sessions. Hire an outside facilitator, someone who doesn’t have any stake in your success, which can free up the conversation. Encourage active participation, but don’t let any one person dominate the session.

• Think about execution before you start. It doesn’t matter how good the plan is if it isn’t executed. Implementation is the phase that turns strategies and plans into actions in order to accomplish strategic objectives and goals. The critical actions move a strategic plan from a document that sits on the shelf to actions that drive business growth.

• Use a facilitator, if your budget allows. Hire a trained professional who has no emotional investment in the outcome of the plan. An impartial third party can concentrate on the process instead of the end result and can ask the tough questions that others may fear to ask.

• Make your plan actionable. To have any chance at implementation, the plan must clearly articulate goals, action steps, responsibilities, account abilities, and specific deadlines. And everyone must understand the plan and his individual role in it.

• Don’t write your plan in stone. Good strategic plans are fluid, not rigid and unbending. They allow you to adapt to changes in the marketplace. Don’t be afraid to change your plan as necessary.

• Clearly articulate next steps after every session. Before closing the strategic planning session, clearly explain what comes next and who’s responsible for what. When you walk out of the room, everyone must fully understand what he’s responsible for and when to meet deadlines.

• Make strategy a habit, not just a retreat. Review the strategic plan for performance achievement no less than quarterly and as often as monthly or weekly. Focus on accountability for results and have clear and compelling consequences for unapproved missed deadlines.

• Check out examples. Although you can’t borrow someone else’s strategy, you can find inspiration and ideas from the examples of others. Here is one website with a catalog of example strategic plans by industry: OnStrategy, http://onstrategyhq.com/samples/ . Check it out for quick access to ideas.