Cash Flow

Posted by PITHOCRATES - March 24th, 2014

Economics 101

New Complex and Confusing Regulatory Policies require Additional Accounting and Legal Fees to Comply

There have been demonstrations  to raise the minimum wage.  President Obama even called for Congress to raise the federal minimum wage to $10.10 an hour.  He also wants employers to pay salaried people overtime.  There have been demands for paid family leave (paying people for not working).  Unions want to organize businesses.  To get employers to pay union wages.  Provide union health care packages.  And union pensions.  Obamacare has made costly health insurance mandatory for all employees working 30 hours or more a week.

Environmental regulations have increased energy costs for businesses.  Sexual harassment training, safety training, on-the-job training (even people leaving college have to be trained before they are useful to many employers), etc., raise costs for businesses.  New financial reporting requirements require additional accounting fees to sort through.  New complex and confusing regulatory policies require additional legal fees to sort through them and comply.

With each payroll an employer has to pay state unemployment tax.  Federal unemployment tax.  Social Security tax (half of it withheld from each employee’s paycheck and half out of their pocket).  Medicare tax.  And workers’ compensation insurance.  Then there’s health insurance.  Vehicle insurance.  Sales tax.  Use tax.  Real property tax.  Personal property tax.  Licenses.  Fees.  Dues.  Office supplies.  Utilities.  Postage.  High speed Internet.  Tech support to thwart Internet attacks.  Coffee.  Snow removal.  Landscaping.  Etc.  And, of course, the labor, material, equipment and direct expenses used to produce sales.

The Problem with Guaranteed Work Hours is that there is no such thing as Guaranteed Sales

The worst economic recovery since that following the Great Depression has created a dearth of full-time jobs.  In large part due to Obamacare.  As some employers struggling in the worst economic recovery since that following the Great Depression can’t afford to offer their full-time employees health insurance.  So they’re not hiring full-time employees.  And are pushing full-time employees to part-time.  Because they can’t afford to add anymore overhead costs.  Which is hurting a lot of people who are having their own problems trying to make ends meet in the worst economic recovery since that following the Great Depression.  Especially part-time workers.

Now there is a new push by those on the left to make employers give a 21-day notice for work schedules for part time and ‘on call’ workers.  And to guarantee them at least 20 hours a week.  Things that are just impossible to do in many small retail businesses.  As anyone who has ever worked in a small retail business can attest to.  You can schedule people to week 3 weeks in advance but what do you do when they don’t show up for work?  Which happens.  A lot.  Especially when the weather is nice.  Or on a Saturday or Sunday morning.  As some people party so much on Friday and Saturday night that they are just too hung over to go to work.  Normally you call someone else to take their shift.  Then reschedule the rest of the week.  So you don’t give too many hours to the person who filled in.  In part to keep them under 30 hours to avoid the Obamacare penalty.  But also because the other workers will get mad if that person gets more hours than they did.

The problem with guaranteed work hours is that there is no such thing as guaranteed sales.  If you schedule 5 workers 3 weeks in advance and a blizzard paralyzes the city you may not have 5 workers worth of sales.  Because people are staying home.  And if no one is coming through your doors you’re not going to want to pay 5 people to stand around and do nothing.  For with no sales where is the money going to come from to pay these workers?  Either out of the business owner’s personal bank account.  Or they will have to borrow money.  It is easy to say we should guarantee workers a minimum number of work hours.  But should a business owner have to lose money so they can?  For contrary to popular belief, business owners are not all billionaires with money to burn.  Instead, they are people losing sleep over something called cash flow.

Cash Flow is everything to a Small Business Owner because it takes Cash to pay all of their Bills

To understand cash flow imagine a large bucket full of holes.  You pour water in it and it leaks right out.  That water leaking out is expenses.  The cost of doing business (see all of those costs above).  A business owner has to keep that bucket from running out of water.  And there is only one way to do it.  By pouring new water into the bucket to replace the water leaking out.  That new water is sales revenue.  What customers pay them for their products and/or services.  For a business to remain in business they must keep water in that bucket.  For if it runs out of water they can’t pay all of their expenses.  They’ll become insolvent.  And may have no choice but to file bankruptcy.  At which point they’ll have to get a job working for someone else.

Cash flow is everything to a small business owner.  Because it takes cash to pay all of their bills.  Payroll, insurance, taxes, etc.  None of which they can NOT pay.  For if they do NOT pay these bills their employees will quit.  Their insurers will cancel their policies.  And the taxman will pay them a visit.  Which will be very, very unpleasant.  So small business owners have to make sure that at least the same amount of water is going into the bucket that is draining out of the bucket to pay their bills.  And they have to make sure more water is entering the bucket than is draining out of the bucket to pay themselves.  And to grow their business.

This is why business owners don’t want to hire full-time people now.  Because full-time people require a lot of cash (wages/salary, payroll taxes, insurances, training, etc.).  They’re nervous.  For they don’t know what next will come out of the Obama administration that will require additional cash.  For every time they want to make life better for the workers (a higher minimum wage, overtime for salaried employees, guaranteed hours, etc.) it takes more cash.  Which comes from sales.  And if sales are down future cash flow into the business will also be down.  Leaving less available for all of those holes in the bucket.  So they guard their cash closely.  And are very wary of incurring any new cash obligations.  Lest they run out of cash.  And have to file bankruptcy.  Which is why they lose sleep over cash flow.  Especially now during the worst economic recovery since that following the Great Depression.

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Restaurants and Franchises

Posted by PITHOCRATES - August 5th, 2013

Economics 101

Changing a Restaurant Name can be Costly and hurt the Marketing of your Brand

What is the number one business most likely to fail?  Restaurants.  About half of all new restaurants fail within the first 5 years.  Why?  Because people who can cook typically open up restaurants.  And that’s all they know.  Cooking.  Sadly, cooking is the smallest part of owning a restaurant.  And it’s these other areas that people who can cook fail miserably.  Because when they open up a restaurant there’s no operating manual that comes with the building they buy or lease that clearly tells them everything they need to know or do.

Chefs in the finest restaurants are masters of their craft.  Because they study how to master the art of cooking.  They didn’t go to business school.  They went to culinary school.  But running a restaurant is more than cooking.  It’s a business.  A business that must produce revenue to cover all of its expenses.  Which is kind of hard to do when you don’t know how to market your restaurant to get people to walk through the doors.  Without which there is no revenue.  Or when you don’t know all of your expenses.  Which starts with the restaurant’s name.

A good name will not guarantee success.  But a bad name can hurt business.  It should not confuse people.  Such as ’57 Chevy, for example.  Which may be your favorite car.  But people will think cars instead of food when they hear it or see it.  And it shouldn’t discourage them from eating there.  Like Average Joe’s, for example.  Because people rarely go out to restaurants that have just received an average review.  So a name is important.  And if you start with a bad one it can be very costly to change.  There’s building signage.  There could be a pylon sign near the road.  Signage inside the restaurant.  Not to mention replacing all of your menus.  These things cost.  And cause confusion with the identity of the restaurant.  Which could hurt the marketing of your brand.

Getting Menu Prices just Right is often the Difference between Success and Bankruptcy

Choosing a good restaurant location is critical, too.  A nice building you may be able to easily afford will do you no good if it isn’t near people.  As people aren’t going to travel great distances to dine at an unknown restaurant.  Which means choosing a good location may require choosing a costly location.  The purchase price/lease price may be much higher than anticipated.  Property taxes may be higher.  Both real (the land) and personal (the equipment inside).  And may be a cost item that a person who can cook didn’t even know was required.  Like the additional expenses to get all the permits and licenses to open for business.

Once opened there’s payroll.  Which you have to pay even when you’re not doing much business.  And a sit-down restaurant requires a lot of people.  Kitchen help to cook, clean and prep food.  Someone to bus tables and wash dishes.  A hostess to seat customers.  And cash them out.  A wait staff to wait on customers.  A bartender (if you have a bar).  A restaurant needs a general manager, a front of house manager and a back of house manager.  And an executive chef.  If the owner is the executive chef he or she will have to hire others to manage those other areas.  Have a spouse split all management duties with the executive chef.  Stressing the marriage.  Or risk poor service that will prevent customers from returning.

Then there are the utility expenses.  Electric, gas, water and telephone.  A point-of-sale system to track sales and manage inventory.  Or longer hours to allow manual bookkeeping and inventory control.  Dishes, cutlery, napkins, toilet paper, light bulbs, dish soap, filters, grease disposal, etc.  And a pleasing interior design.  As people want to enjoy a good meal in a pleasant environment.  Things that cost.  And things revenue must pay.  Which brings us to the menu.  The thing that will make or break your restaurant.  If you have a 10-page menu to appeal to as many people as possible you will have too much of your money in your food inventory.  And you’ll end up throwing away a lot of slow moving product.  If it’s not unique enough people will have little reason to come into your restaurant.  As will menu prices that are too high will, too.  But if those prices are too low you won’t have enough money to pay for all of these expenses.  Getting these menu prices just right is often the difference between success and bankruptcy.

Buying a Franchise is like Buying a Restaurant that comes with a Complete and Detailed Operating Manual

A big reason why restaurants fail is because owners don’t understand their costs.  And because they don’t understand their costs they don’t know how to size their food portions.  Or how to price their menu items.  Portion sizes that are too large require a bigger inventory.  Which costs more.  Leads to more waste.  And that waste leads to more costs.  While prices too low won’t generate enough revenue to cover those portion sizes.  As well as labor and overhead costs.

In a restaurant the menu is everything.  A person highly skilled in cooking can populate a menu with some delicious dishes.  But a menu too large can confuse customers who don’t want to read a book before ordering.  It could expand the inventory to include a lot of frozen and canned items because they will last longer.  But are more costly than buying fresh.  Whereas a large inventory of fresh items will not last as long.  Leading to a lot of waste.  So a shorter menu allows a smaller inventory of fresh product.  Which increases the quality of the food served.  And keeps costs down.

The restaurant owner can get all of this right but if they can’t get people to walk through that door it’s all for naught.  And getting people to walk through your door can be the hardest part.  There are many options but they all require more time and more money.  And these are things a restaurant owner has little left to spare.  Which is why so few restaurants succeed.  But there is another way to own a restaurant.  One that has a much better chance of succeeding.  And you don’t even need culinary training to succeed.  You can do this by buying a restaurant franchise.

Buying a franchise is like buying a restaurant that comes with a complete and detailed operating manual.  That tells you everything you need to know and do.  It gives you your menu.  Your portion sizes.  Your menu pricing (or at least a starting point that can be adjusted for your geographic location).  And something even more valuable.  A built-in, extensive marketing program.  So that you can have a flow of people coming through your door the day you open for business.  Because people already know everything about your restaurant because it’s part of a great national (or international) chain.  And they may have just been waiting for one to open near them.  Something a chef opening his or own restaurant can only dream about.  But that franchisee can’t have the satisfaction of bringing their dream to life like that chef can.  As long as he or she is not in that half that fails in the first 5 years.

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Accounting Shenanigans

Posted by PITHOCRATES - August 13th, 2012

Economics 101

Two Important Accounting Principles are the Realization Principle and the Matching Principle

Accounting isn’t exciting.  It’s dull.  And tedious.  Anyone who struggled to get a trial balance to balance knows this well.  But accounting is a necessary tedious.  Someone has to put those numbers into the proper accounts.  Correctly.  Down to the penny.  Because only then can you prepare financial statements that are useful to business owners.  As well as investors.

When we post these numbers correctly we can produce the income statement.  Or as some call it the profit and loss statement.  Or P&L.   Which tells you whether you made a profit or a loss for an accounting period.  And some of the most important accounts on the income statement are income accounts (or revenue accounts).  The money they get when they sell their goods or services.  And expense accounts.  But not all expense accounts.  They’re all important but some are particularly important.  The expenses used to specifically generate that revenue (the cost of sales).  Production labor.  Production material.  The labor and material that make the things a business sells.  These expenses are variable.  They go up and down with sales.  As opposed to fixed overhead.  Which remains the same regardless of sales.

We have to define the accounting period carefully.  It can be annually.  Quarterly.  Even monthly.  The smaller the period the more useful information for business owners.  Investors study a company’s quarterly statements.  As well as annual statements.  The shorter the accounting period, though, the more careful the posting to the accounts is.  Because of two accounting principles.  The Realization Principle.  And the Matching Principle.   Which places revenue into the accounting period it occurs.  And then matches the expenses to the revenue it created into the same accounting period.  So when you subtract expenses from revenue in that accounting period you get the gross profit for that accounting period.  Given a measure of how business was during that accounting period.  If business was good there is revenue remaining after subtracting all variable expenses and all fixed expenses.  If sales are down there may be a gross profit.  But there may not be enough left over to pay the fixed overhead costs.  Resulting in a business loss.  For that accounting period.

The Smaller the Accounting Period the Greater the Math required to apportion Revenues and Expenses

When businesses ‘cook’ their books they are making business results look differently from what they actually are.  Perhaps the most common way to ‘cook’ the books is to violate the Realization Principle and Matching Principle.  Such as moving revenue or expenses to other accounting periods instead of where they belong.  If a business needs better business results for investors they may realize revenue early.  Or push expenses out to a subsequent accounting period.  Thereby increasing profitability for the one period better than it actually is.  As revenue will be greater and expenses will be smaller.

As an example consider a now common summer business model.  Selling ice-cold water at traffic intersections.  You need some cases of bottled water.  Ice.  And a cooler.  If you buy all the water in July but sell some of it in August you have to split the expense of the water between these two months.  If you don’t your expenses will exceed your revenue in July because it includes water purchased for both July and August.  You would subtract two months of water expense from one month of water sales.  Making July business show an operating loss.  While August would subtract no water expense from August sales making August more profitable than it actually was.  However, if you combine the two months together there will be no misrepresentation of the accounting data.  As you would subtract two months of water expenses from two months of water revenue.

This is why larger accounting periods are easier to post.  As they get smaller you have to do a lot of math to apportion these revenues and expenses into the proper accounting periods.  And sometimes mistakes happen.  Honest mistakes.  A business could have felt they had a good month but their income statement shows a loss.  Or the month could be far better than you feel it should be.  If you look hard enough you can often find a timing error.  Revenues or expenses appearing in the wrong period.  Such as recording a down payment as revenue.  It’s not.  A down payment is a liability.  Because it is a prepayment for you something owe someone at a later date.  And it’s at that later date when you can realize that down payment as revenue.

As you Pull Revenue Up and Push Expenses Out each Subsequent Accounting Period Starts with a Larger Operating Loss

But some businesses cook their books.  And once they start it becomes more difficult with every accounting period.  Which is why most companies that do cook their books fail.  And they fail big.  Here’s why.  If you realize revenue early in this period instead of next period (where it belongs) the following accounting period will underreport revenue.  Worse, the expenses to produce that revenue are still in that period.  When you subtract the properly reported expenses from the underreported revenue it will result in an operating loss.  Unless they cook the books in the following period, too.  By pulling revenue into that period from another period.  Or pushing out expenses to a later period.

The problem is when you keep doing this it makes the following accounting period more difficult to ‘fix’.  For as you pull revenue up and push expenses out each subsequent accounting period starts with a larger operating loss.  And if a business is having problems (which they typically do when they start cooking their books) actual revenue for that period will be depressed as well.  So as they go through subsequent accounting periods beginning operating deficits grow larger in the face of falling revenues.  To keep the scam going they have to take it up a notch.  Taking things ‘off balance sheet’ (basically ignoring some bad financial information).  Creating a shell company to dump bad financial data on.  And other accounting shenanigans.  The bigger the scam, though, the harder the fall.  And there is always a fall.  Think Enron.  And WorldCom.

But it’s just not businesses that cook their books.  Government does, too.  Especially when they want to pass unpopular and costly programs.  They will send the financial data for a program to the Congressional Budget Office to score.  To determine the cost over a 10 year period.  But to make the program less expensive and more palatable to the taxpayers they will cook that data.  Their bill may include new taxes over the ten year period.  But benefits may kick in a few years after the new taxes start.  So you may have 10 years of taxes paying for only 8 years of benefits.  But everyone thinks it’s 10 years of benefits.  Making the program appear less costly than it actually is.  Of course when they get caught in their accounting shenanigans nothing happens.  They just say, “Oops.  We goofed.  Shucks.  Looks like we’ll have to raise taxes.”  Not quite the same thing that happens in the private sector.  Just ask those who were running Enron.  And WorldCom.

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