Break-Even Analysis

Break-Even Analysis

One of the most-asked questions I hear from store owners is “What sales volume does my store need in order to make money?” While it would be convenient to rattle off a sales figure off the top of my head, it undoubtedly is a store specific number. What the owner is genuinely asking for is a break-even analysis for their store.

In an earlier post called Four Wall Analysis (, I explained how to create a simple, yet important, Profit & Loss (P & L) report on the store, looking only at store expenses. Store operators usually understand their store expenses associated with daily operations, but after layering on debt service, the break-even sales figure increases dramatically. Much like a homeowner with a mortgage and car payment, store operators that add in large debt loads to their stores P & L, find tremendous pressure to increase top line sales. This added expense load is the difference between making it or folding up shop.

A break-even analysis takes it a step further to include the following (see example below):

  • Variable Cost %
  • Fixed Cost
  • Debt Service

Here are four key items to consider:

Kimberley Itemize Variable Costs: Shown as a percentage of sales, add in all the variable expenses. Obviously this cannot exceed 100% and the difference between 100% and the total of all the variable costs is your store contribution margin. Said another way, if store sales volume is $500,000 with an operating margin of 30%, the contribution margin would be $150,000. Determine Fixed Costs: Calculated annually, determine how much will be spent per category in dollars. Remember, these are annual amounts for each category. Included in these categories should be all debt service charged to your operation.

Want to lower your break-even? Think twice about leasing a new car for a “company vehicle”. These added costs to burden the store P & L and in some cases, unnecessarily, put a serious strain on the store’s overall success ratio.

Eltville Create “What-If” Scenarios: While some variable costs are predetermined (i.e., royalty for a franchise operation), some may be managed lower through prudent operations. Likewise, both fixed costs and debt service may be managed lower as well. The best operators develop multiple break-even versions that span from best to worst case scenarios.

Re-Forecast Quarterly: As a good rule of thumb, re-forecasting your break-even analysis every quarter helps shine a light on your wins and challenges. This re-forecast allows for the development of strategies and tactics for your operations team to address all of the shortfalls. Prudent management is essential for maintaining successful store operations. To that end, develop tactics to address these shortfalls in both cost control and management as well as through revenue-generating initiatives in local marketing.

All too often, store operators have a sales volume in mind to be profitable, but fail to recognize all of the expenses associated with their business. The Four Wall Analysis (store P & L) combined with the Break-even Analysis is a way of helping store operators understand the importance of minimizing loading on debt. In many cases, the stores performed well in comparison to its operation, but simply could not overcompensate for the added debt burden.

In the end, the piper always gets paid.

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John Matthews

John Matthews is the president and CEO of Gray Cat Enterprises and is responsible for the management of all consulting activities for the firm, which include retail consulting for multiunit operations; interim divisional or general management leadership; consumer marketing for companies launching products in the retail sector; and strategic project management. With more than 30 years of senior-level experience and a speaker at retail-group events throughout the U.S., Matthews has recently written Game-Changing Strategies for Retailers, which is available on Amazon. In addition, he has two step-by-step manuals, Local Store Marketing for Retailers and How to Stage a Killer Grand Opening!, which are available at

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