Small businesses should regularly overcome challenges to maintain profitability, especially during periods of economic uncertainty and inflation. But when faced with rising costs, businesses can do more than just raise their prices to maintain their margins. This article explores the importance of maintaining a good gross profit margin and presents four key approaches that could help you do so.
What Is a Gross Profit Margin?
A gross profit margin is a common way to measure the health of a business’s core operations. Essentially, it represents the percentage of sales revenue that remains after deducting the direct costs associated with producing the products sold. These costs are often known as the cost of goods sold (COGS) and typically include expenses such as raw materials, labor, and direct overhead.
Staff can be a valuable resource for identifying inefficiencies and may have unique insights and suggestions on where improvements can be made, ultimately benefiting gross profit margins.
In other words, gross profit margins express gross profit as a percentage of total sales revenue. For example, if a business has a gross profit margin of 60%, it means that for every $1 in sales, 60 cents is retained as gross profit, after accounting for direct costs.
Gross profit margin is calculated with this formula:
Gross profit margin = [(Total revenue – COGS) / Total revenue] x 100
The Importance of Improving Gross Profit Margin
For businesses in any industry, a strong gross profit margin can serve as a crucial financial buffer against unforeseen economic challenges, particularly in the face of rising or fluctuating variable costs, such as utilities. This cushion not only helps ensure that you can cover overhead during unexpected slowdowns or high-expense periods, but it also can allow more financial freedom to invest in growth opportunities.
Some businesses review their gross profits on a quarterly or monthly basis, only diving deep during operational shifts or when the bottom line starts to suffer. But other companies, especially startups or those operating in volatile demand markets, measure gross profits as frequently as daily. This frequent analysis helps them closely monitor costs and ensure that they’re consistently optimizing their profit margins.
Nevertheless, regardless of size or industry, most businesses can likely benefit from regular gross profit analysis. As market dynamics shift – in response to changes in external costs, workforce dynamics, and customer preferences – even a seemingly perfect business model could lose its edge. Monitoring gross profit margins can help businesses recalibrate operations when necessary, helping them stay competitive.
4 Ways to Improve Gross Profit Margin
These four strategies are useful ways for businesses to start improving their gross profit margin, but they aren’t universally effective solutions. Each approach should be adapted to fit a business’s unique priorities.
1. Streamline your product offering.
While all product lines may be profitable, it’s unlikely that all will yield the same margins. Retail businesses with many SKUs, for instance, could analyze sales data to identify bestsellers or highly profitable items. By prioritizing these products and phasing out underperforming items, businesses could improve gross profit margins without increasing carrying costs.
Beyond products, this strategy can also apply to a broader business focus. For example, if a sporting goods store identifies that baseball equipment yields the highest margins, it can concentrate on catering to that niche. Meanwhile, specialization can justify higher prices due to the uniqueness of the offering, compared to the generic, easily available products they were offering before. However, any strategic shift can involve financial risks. Costs and benefits of the new approach should be tracked and compared with order volume and profit margins to determine effectiveness.
2. Renegotiate with suppliers for better deals.
Negotiating favorable terms with suppliers can have a direct impact on a business’s gross profit margin. By changing ordering schedules or renegotiating terms, businesses may be able to earn discounts, bulk purchase benefits, or even exclusivity rights. These savings can directly reduce the cost of goods sold, or COGS, thereby improving the gross profit margin.
Even seemingly minor cost-saving measures can significantly improve margins. For example, by switching to reusable and returnable containers, both a business and its supplier can cut disposal costs.
3. Upsell to existing clients.
Acquiring a new customer can be more expensive than retaining an existing one. Once a customer is “through the door” and engaged, customer retention marketing strategies – like product bundling, automated cart abandonment reminders, and minimum order amounts for perks like free shipping – can all encourage customers to spend more. At the same time, service-based businesses can focus on improving the client experience to keep customers coming back, and potentially increasing their order size when they do. In either case, increasing the average order value of existing customers can directly improve gross profit margins without the need to raise prices.
4. Increase efficiency and productivity.
Staffing challenges can decrease productivity and negatively impact gross profit margins. Businesses that maintain open communication with employees can be better equipped to uncover operational inefficiencies and areas for improvement – especially when considering that employees have a front-row view of the business’s operational strengths and weaknesses. In other words, staff can be a valuable resource for identifying inefficiencies and may have unique insights and suggestions on where improvements can be made, ultimately benefiting gross profit margins.
Additionally, businesses can reevaluate their labor schedules to see if they are over- or understaffed. Overstaffed businesses may be able to trim labor costs without sacrificing quality, whereas understaffed businesses can risk low morale and high turnover, both of which are detrimental to efficiency and profits.
Beyond staffing, businesses can improve gross profit margins by streamlining internal operations. Investments in new equipment, automation, and incorporation of industry best practices can all help boost output without significantly raising costs (beyond the initial investment), leading to enhanced revenue and margins.
Other Ways to Help Improve Gross Profit Margin
While every business has unique challenges and characteristics, there are some universal approaches that can be adopted to improve profit margins. Here are some additional places businesses can look to improve their gross profit margin:
- Monetize free offerings. Businesses that offer free or discounted goods, quotes, or consultations might consider introducing a fee to do so. This can increase revenue, filter out anyone who isn’t a serious customer, and prevent staff from wasting time on fruitless tasks. For example, a beauty salon could offer a paid skin care consultation, but allow that charge to be credited against subsequent purchases of products or services.
- Optimize direct costs. Consider looking for areas to trim direct costs, such as switching to more economical packaging, investing in energy-saving equipment, or refining processes to reduce wasted resources.
- Stay market savvy. Try to regularly evaluate the market to make sure your prices are competitive. If there’s a general trend toward price elevation, a small price increase may increase profit margins without pushing away customers.
In any case, be sure to consider the nuances of your market, the strategies of competitors, the nature of your customer base, and any other variables that make your business unique.
The Bottom Line
Gross profit margins are a critical metric to track, as they show the profitability of a business’s core operation: making and selling its goods and services. Constantly keeping an eye on – and working to improve – the gross profit margin can help a company remain resilient and competitive in turbulent times, while opening up opportunities for business growth.
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