TO GROW PROFITS AND SHRINK ASSETS IN A DE-LEVERAGING,
CREDIT CRUNCH WORLD?
The deflation of the global, credit bubble and all of its subsidiary bubbles – housing, auto, emerging
markets, derivatives, etc. – are causing banks to de-lever. This is sure to add
to the length and depth of the current US recession, and to a decline in
sales for most distribution companies.
Most distributors with working-capital lines of credit
will find that those loans will become more difficult to roll over and/or more
expensive. For leveraged firms with low pre-tax return on assets or with the
slightest credit-line infractions, the immediate goals should be: to increase
free cash flow for paying down debt from both higher profits and lower sales
which will reduce investment dollars in inventory and receivables.
The debt-free firms that can build additional cash
positions will have opportunities to acquire assets from and fill vacuums of
over-leveraged competitors that implode from called loans. This is already
happening in the housing-industry supply channels. My guess, however, is that
company valuations – averaging across all distribution channels – will continue
to drop until a few months before housing prices finally bottom out. (The
Case-Shiller housing futures index currently forecasts the bottom to be around
How can a distributor increase profits when profits
normally go down in recessions, especially long ones? The unique pathway for
this paradoxical objective can be found in the comprehensive use of customer
profitability ranking reports that are built on good, activity-based-costing
If the average distributor makes roughly 150% of its
profits on the top 40% of the accounts to cross-subsidize the bottom 60% of the
accounts that lose 50%, then there are a number of profit improvement plays
that flow from and can be guided by such reports.
From many, first-hand, case experiences, I’ve seen profits
increase 2 to 3 fold while sales dropped negligibly and inventory turned faster (freeing
up more cash) by using customer profitability reports to rethink business
assumptions, tactics and incentives.
What are the obstacles that have kept most
distributors from thoroughly exploring, if not pursuing, the renewal path that
is guided by customer profitability ranking reports?
1. Lack of
in-house expertise. Most firms aren’t sufficiently knowledgeable at:
understanding this new way of thinking: developing effective ABC models, and
then interpreting and using these reports to run unfamiliar plays. Wouldn’t it
be great to be able to rent this talent on an outsourced basis only as needed?
existing, in-house information system doesn’t fully support the
measurement and improvement of all of the “true, profit-power growth factors”. This
is because ERP solutions are designed to: support functional activities; pay right
taxes on time; and support asset-backed lending from banks. After struggling to
do GAAP reporting on a timely, accurate basis, where do we get the resources to create and maintain a second reporting
system for measuring and improving profit power processes and metrics?
Standard “business intelligence” modules that slice GAAP data infinite ways
generate info-glut and still tell us nothing about: customer profitability; the
elements of the people-service-profit chain; and other profit-factor levers.
3. Re-education-ware: Even if
all of the new reports and answers were presented to us on a platter, how do we
teach all of our employees to think and behave differently to grow profit power
instead of pursuing profitless, sales-volume from too many growing nowhere
customers and too many, now-not-turning dead items in inventory? Where can we
get an affordable, high-performance, profit-power-growing curriculum that
supports a profit-power reporting system?
The answer to all of these why-don’t-we-do-it questions is
to – at least initially – outsource the problem to a focused-pro, just as many
firms have outsourced their payroll to Paychex. I have recently partnered with
a firm that uses: new database technology; many different,
specific-to-distributor, ABC models; and on-demand, remote storage to produce
all of the reports that a distributor needs to better measure and improve the
true sources of profit power.
This software-as-a-service (“SaaS”) solution provider can
take all of a distributor’s financial data, as well as daily, hand-gathered and
inputted data from front-line employees, via the internet. This data can then
be recast into a strategic, profit-power reporting system for each profit
center. The bottom-up detail data can then be consolidated across all profit
centers of a chain to maintain a real-time view of how ever-improving employees
are delivering ever-improving service value to better retain and penetrate the
most profitable customers. The base cost for setting up the system and the
monthly maintenance fee will be about 20-25% of the first year’s increase in
profits and put users on a high-performance path that will assure 12 to 15%
pretax return on total assets ever after.
I like the potential of this service so much that I have
offered to round up a diverse group of proactive distributors to help make this
total service offering even more robust. My new partner and I are currently
planning to host a one-day seminar at an airport hotel in Phoenix on
November 13th from 9:30 am to 3 pm (for the fly-in and out
participants; we’ll stay as long as others might like).
This is an invitation-only event that involves a nominal
overhead cost fee ($100) and you may bring (or send) anyone you wish from your
team. If you’d like more details, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org or call me at: 919-357-2372.
If the date or location doesn’t work for you, but you are
interested in learning more about the solutions to the credit crunch
imperatives, let me know. I will continue to write about solutions to these
challenges, and we may run more seminars in more cities.
©Merrifield Consulting Group, Inc., Article 1.22
October 15, 2008