No Accounting Degree Required: Quality Financial Planning Available for Boardsport Retailers

Rarely, but once in a while, I come across something I want to plug. Not too long ago, it was the new Board Retailers Association (www.boardretailers.org). If you haven’t joined yet, get moving. Oops, there I go plugging them again.

This time it’s some inexpensive, easy-to-use, financial planning software that the Retail Owners’ Institute has developed. So instead of ranting and raving about some possible industry trend, or saying something depressing about how the skate industry might be evolving, I thought I’d say glowing things about this software in the hope that some of you might check it out.

I doubt there’s a boardsports retailer-or at least not a successful one-who hasn’t figured out that some form of good financial planning is a requirement for success. I’ve written from time to time about cash flow, budgeting, margin analysis, and financial statements. I’ve also tried to present some simple ways to approach those issues. But at the end of the day, the need to create and manage separate templates for all the planning tools-or trying to integrate them-can be a daunting task. This software solves that.

I became aware of the software, called Strata-G Financial Planner, when I went to a seminar in early April on retailer financial planning at the TransWorld Snow Industry Summit held in Copper Mountain, Colorado. Retailer Owners’ Institute Co-founders Richard Outcalt and Patricia Johnson started going through their presentation on financial statements, how the balance sheet related to the income statement, and other stuff like that.

This was not exactly the dynamic and inspiring part of the presentation, especially for a finance-trained guy like myself. So my eyes glazed over a little. But when they got to the part of the presentation that focused on the financial-planning software, I perked right up.

It Can’t Be This Easy

That was my immediate and overwhelming thought. Three lousy input screens covering historical data and some rough-plan numbers for the next year that you can modify with a click of a button is all that’s required? Then it spits out projected income statement, cash flow, and balance sheet by month with ratios included? And, you can add all the departments you could possibly want and it gives you open-to-buy for each one?

Where the hell was this thing when I needed it? Every financial model I ever built took at best days to create, and there was always some fudge factor to get the balance sheet to balance. Uh, actually, you see, it’s not that I really fudged my balance sheets. I mean, it’s not like it really mattered. Give me a break-it was only a little teeny-weeny fudge.

Anyway, how about this Strata-G Financial Planner Software? Ain’t it great! Go to www.retailowner.com and check it out. You can even download a fully operational copy for evaluation purposes that works for five days, which means I have three days to finish this article.

There are a couple of reasons why the software is so easy to use. First, the structure of the financial statements is such that it really only works for retailers and-from my point of view-it’s particularly well-suited for smaller retailers. What that means is there isn’t a bunch of extra stuff that adds complexity in the name of giving the software “flexibility”-which I’ve found is often a code word for making software too complicated to use.

Second, it’s financial planning, not accounting, software. That means there aren’t endless line items for you to complete. It’s concerned with showing trends, not detailed nuts and bolts. Operating expenses, for example, are entered in only five line items: payroll, selling, occupancy, administrative, and depreciation expense.

Want more detail? Want a different line item for each size of Post-it Note you buy? Great! There are lots of people who will charge you a fortune to create that model. I personally will charge you as much as you want to pay, so call me.

In the end, when you have that gloriously complex model, you won’t be able to see the forest for the trees, which kind of prevents you from achieving the whole goal of financial planning. And, by the way, it will also leave you right down in the mud with me, fudging your balance sheet to get it to balance for no good reason other than that you love to screw with Excel.

What could keep this software from working for you? To get the most use out of it the fastest, you need good historical numbers to enter as a starting point. I have to believe that most successful retailers already know that and have those numbers.

If you’re one of the shrinking number of retailers sitting there thinking either “I’ve got those all in my head,” or “My accountant gives me that stuff two months after the end of my fiscal year,” or the dreaded and ultimately fatal “I don’t need that-I run this business on my gut,” do not visit the Retailer Owners Institute’s Web site. Do not download this software. Do not even waste the ridiculously cheap 139 dollars this software costs. You’ve got bigger problems to solve first.

Did I say 139 dollars? My mistake. At this presentation, I was sitting next to Board Retailer Association Founder Roy Turner. His eyes lit up at approximately the same time as mine and-being as impressed as I was with the software-he’s made a deal with the Retail Owners Institute.

Now members of the Board Retailer’s Association can purchase the software for 100 bucks. This not only gets you the planning software, but also the training software that teaches you all about open-to-buy and financial planning, which usually sells by itself for 119 dollars.

Using the Financial Planning Software

If I were a retailer, there are two things I would use this software for. First, as a management tool, I’d probably use it weekly to make sure my plan reflected any real or projected changes in business conditions and to make sure I had a plan that made me a profit for the year. Are my margins looking better (or worse) than originally projected? Take 30 seconds to change it in the impacted department and see what the change for the year looks like. Higher or lower inventory levels looking likely? Put in the new inventory numbers and see how your open-to-buy changes.

The magic here-assuming you have those historical numbers-is that Strata-G takes almost no time to use and will get more and more valuable as you use it. Even entering the initial data will take very little time-of course you can spend as much time as you like envisioning the future.

When you think that the future you’ve envisioned might change, you can project how those changes will impact your business and decide whether and how to react sooner rather than later. Changes implemented early can have more of an impact over the year and are usually less painful to make in the first place.

The second thing I’d use Strata-G for is to make my banker-or other financing source-happy. Bankers are not interested in taking risks. They aren’t impressed by three-inch-thick financial plans because extracting the essential facts from them is time-consuming. They have to present and defend the money they lend you to others in the bank. The easier you make that for them, the more they like you. I make those observations as a former banker.

This software allows you to give your banker the information they need to understand your plan and financing requirements in a simple but complete format. You can even do some simple “what if”-ing with your banker so you are both on the same page in terms of possible risks.

The only thing I might add to the information you can print out is a list of assumptions. It’s always nice to explain why you did things the way you did them. It gives bankers a warm feeling to know that you’ve considered the possible impact of things that could go wrong.

Go take a look at this software. It will save you time and help you make better business decisions faster.

And Now A Personal Note

After nearly ten years, I’ve decided to bow out of writing Market Watch for TransWorld. This is happening because my entire family and I are moving to Dublin, Ireland. It has nothing to do with TransWorld Business reorganizing. I just didn’t think I could do twelve columns from Europe focused on the U.S. market.

The thing that has most amazed me about my columns over the years was simply that so many people apparently read them. I want to thank those of you who have read them, and especially those of you who said I didn’t know what the hell I was talking about.

The issue was never whether I was right or wrong-though I like to think I was right more often than not. What I was trying to do was raise issues that I thought were important. Issues that would impact all our abilities to prosper in the boardsports business-even when those issues were ones everybody wished would go away. If opposite points of view don’t conflict openly, issues never get resolved.

So anyway, I’m off to Dublin. If I don’t fall into a vat of Guinness and drown, I’m going to do a column for Boardsport Source over there. From time to time, as an issue attracts my attention, Sean O’Brien is prepared to publish my thoughts and ideas, so I don’t expect to be permanently gone from Transworld.