Are You Managing Your Cash Flow or Is It Managing You?

by Ted Hurlbut

After weathering several years of slow sales and a tough economy, most retailers have run out of ways to cut expenses or reduce inventories. To keep cash flow in the positive, you've got to learn to make the most of the income you have available. Here are questions you can ask yourself to be sure you're effectively managing your cash flow rather than letting it manage you.

I was on the phone last week with a colleague when the conversation turned to cash flow. He moderates a roundtable of retail clients who had expressed concerns about cash flow, and asked me for a few questions that he could give them to gauge where they stood.

Over the past several years cash flow has been a challenge for almost every independent retailer. Many found they weren't able to maintain a positive cash flow without significant cuts in expenses, drawing down their inventories or seeking additional capital. Those sources of cash have pretty much been exhausted by now. Now, independent retailers must be able to maintain positive cash flow given their existing revenues and expense structures.

So here's what I shared with my colleague. In total, these questions should give you a pretty good idea of whether you're managing your cash flow, or it's managing you.

Do you have a cash flow plan? Are you actively planning your cash flow, looking out into future months to identify potential pinch points?

Can your accountants assist you in cash flow planning, or do they merely prepare financial statements and tax returns for you?

Have you planned your sales by month, by department, for at least the next six months? How good do you feel about those plans? Have you been hitting your prior sales plans?



Have you planned your ending inventories (in retail dollars) by month, by department, for at least the next six months? Have you been hitting your prior ending inventory plans? Do you have a monthly budget for bringing in new merchandise, for at least the next six months? Do you use an Open-to-Buy? If your merchandise needs to be replenished by item, are you using an automatic replenishment program? Are you cycle counting? Have your margins stabilized, and are they predictable?

Can you plan gross margin dollars? Have you reviewed your lease? Have you opened discussions with your landlord about making any necessary modifications?

Have you reviewed your staffing? Do you know how you would reduce your payroll if you needed to reduce it by 15%? Do you know how you would reduce it if you needed to reduce it by 25%?

Have you reviewed your General Ledger accounts that impact cash for potential savings?

If you answered yes to most of these, you've probably got a good handle on your cash flow. If you answered no to most of them, you probably don't have as nearly as solid a handle on your cash flow as you should.If cash flow has been a concern over the last 12 months, or you've had specific cash flow problems in that time, or cash flow is a concern as you look forward to the next 12 months, let that be a wake-up call. You can (and should) manage your cash flow, rather than it managing you.

Ted Hurlbut is a retail consultant, coach and speaker who helps independent retailers increase sales, profitability and cash flow by leveraging his deep expertise in the core retail disciplines. To learn more about how you can benefit from Ted's proven retail know-how, visit his website at http://www.hurlbutassociates.com or download his report 'The 16 Essential Elements of a WINNING Independent Retail Strategy'.

 
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