5 Ways to Free up Cash Flow in Your Retail Business

Financial business plan

There’s a reason why cash flow is called the lifeblood a business. It’s the very thing that keeps your company going. It keeps the lights on, enables you to pay your staff, and gives you the means to do awesome things for your customers.  And for obvious reasons, you need to have enough cash flowing through your business in order to survive and thrive.

Unfortunately, a variety of factors (the economy, bad business decisions, etc.) have put many retailers in a cash crunch—a situation in which you don’t have enough funds to operate successfully or normally. If you find yourself in this spot, don’t fret. There are a lot of steps you can take to get out of the crunch and free up cash in your business.

Check them out below:

1. Liquidate excess inventory

If you’re having cash flow issues in your business, chances are, your capital is tied up in your inventory. As Jennifer Martin of Zest Business Consulting puts it, “Excess inventory is the number one place where retailers lose steam (and money). Take time to see what you have in stock and start pulling it out of hiding.”

Some of the things you can do to liquidate excess inventory are:

Put them on sale – The most straightforward route to moving excess merchandise is to put them on sale. Bring out the slow-moving items from your stock room, mark them down, and put them on the sales floor. Yes, doing so will minimize profits, but it will at least help you free up space (and cash).

Bundle them with other products – If your slow-moving merchandise can complement your other products, why not bundle them together? It can add value to the sale and help you unload excess inventory.

See if you can sell them as impulse purchases – This tactic works best for small, handy items. If it makes sense for your store, try to sell these items as impulse buys by displaying them on your counter or cash wrap or by putting them in sale bins either at the entrance or near the checkout area.

Vend Tips

Need pointers on how to do this? Check out our post on encouraging impulse buys. It offers tips, pictures, and examples that can help you increase unplanned purchases in your store.

And if you need more tips on bundling items and running sales, the video below has got you covered.

Sell them to liquidation companies – There are plenty of liquidation companies that would be willing to take your surplus inventory off your hands. Again, you’ll likely end up with less profits, but you’ll at least get cash quickly and open up space in the stock room.

Additionally, selling to liquidation companies allows you to be more private about your need to move merchandise. Huge markdowns and sales can send the wrong message to customers (especially if you’re a high-end merchant trying to preserve a certain image or brand), so going this route could help you sell surplus inventory behind the scenes. 

Sell them on online marketplaces – Another option is to sell your merchandise on online marketplaces such as Amazon or eBay. This takes a bit more work than dealing with a liquidation company, because it’ll involve creating listings, uploading images, and shipping products, but you could potentially keep more profits doing so.

Offer them as free gifts – Instead of trying to make money directly from your excess merchandise, see if you can use them to generate sales for fresher items instead. You can, for example, give them away when a customer meets a certain purchase threshold (i.e. “Spend $50 and get a free gift!”).

2. Review your insurance policies

Martin recommends that business owners review their insurance policies every six to twelve months.

“Insurance of all kinds changes every year. Spend the time to review your coverage and get competitor estimates at least every 6 months to a year. Make sure you talk to a broker who represents many different providers (rather than one, like State Farm) this way you can find out what company would be best to offer you different policies you purchase.”

And it doesn’t hurt to get insurance companies (including your existing provider) to fight for your business. If you find a lower quote elsewhere, for example, then talk to your current insurance company to see if they’re willing to match it. If they are, then you’ll be able to lower your costs without having to go through the trouble of actually switching providers.

3. Lower your merchant card services fees

In addition to reviewing your insurance policy, you may also want to take a second look at your merchant card service fees, adds Martin.

“If you take credit cards in your business you are paying for the privilege. The question is how much? Get estimates for coverage at least once a year to make sure you aren’t paying more than you need to, not only in interest rates but in fees. A 1% difference can be the money that you might have to take a vacation.”

Try to negotiate with credit card processors. If you process a lot of card transactions, for instance, see if you can use that to get better rates. If that doesn’t work, try to shop around for processors that can offer more favorable terms.

For additional tips on choosing a merchant provider, check out this infographic on Mobile Payments Insider.


4. Perform a CAM (Common Area Maintenance) audit

CAM fees—which cover landlord-incurred operating expenses such as exterior cleaning, parking lot maintenance, etc.—are determined by the property owner and are charged (typically) at a cost per square foot basis.

In the old days, retail tenants simply had to trust that their landlord has the good faith and competence to generate accurate calculations of fees. But as more businesses become strapped for cash, an increasing number of merchants are deciding to audit and reconcile CAM charges.

“Existing tenants appear to be embracing CAM compliance audits to ensure that they are not being improperly charged and that they are being billed in accordance with their own, often heavily negotiated, leases,” Ed Harris, vice president with Commercial Tenants Services Inc., told National Real Estate Investor.

If your lease agreement gives you the right to perform CAM audits, then consider doing them. Enlist the help of a third party to conduct an analysis of your landlord’s books and make sure that the CAM fees charged to you are correct.

Admittedly, CAM audits can be time-consuming and tedious, but if you do find errors and overcharges, you could potentially recover significant amounts and eliminate future charges. For example, an overcharge of $1.00 per square foot on an 800-square foot store could result in an additional $9,600 per year.

5. Stay on top of on-account sales and unpaid invoices

“Uncollected debt is one of the biggest opportunities in freeing up time, money, and energy in your business,” says Martin.

Not collecting what’s due can keep much needed (and well-deserved) cash tied up, so if you have customers paying in installments, see to it that you’re on top of their accounts. Keep shopper records up to date, monitor outstanding invoices and send in reminders when necessary.

“Cash flow requires constant monitoring and management of your accounts receivable,” writes Gary Stockton, Sr. Integrated Marketing Manager for Experian’s Business Information Services.

He continues:

As owner, you should get, at a minimum, weekly aging reports for all accounts receivable. Sort your receivables into various categories according to length of delinquency and an objective estimate of likely collection. This allows you and your people to devote their time most effectively – spending $500 in employee time to chase $100 in receivables doesn’t make much sense.

Managing on account sales becomes immensely easier if you integrate your POS system with your accounting software. Consider Sydney Electric Bikes, which uses the two programs to stay on top of outstanding accounts.

Whenever a customer pays in installments, they use Vend to generate an invoice, then send it over to Xero which creates an account. Jake Southall, owner of Sydney Electric Bikes, says that the data syncs between the two systems, making it easy for them to manage and reconcile each account.

Bottom line

Cash crunch or not, you should always be on the lookout for ways to free up funds in your business. Hopefully, the pointers above gave a few ideas on where to look and how to get more cash flowing through your company.

How are you freeing up cash flow in your business? Let us know in the comments!

Update: Further reading

As Duncan pointed out in the comments, retailers can also improve cash flow by selling more. And here at Vend, nothing makes us happier than seeing retailers improve their sales, which is why we’ve published a number of articles on the topic. If you’re interested in learning more about selling more, we invite you to check out some of our previous posts below:




About Francesca Nicasio

Francesca Nicasio is Vend's Retail Expert and Content Strategist. She writes about trends, tips, and other cool things that enable retailers to increase sales, serve customers better, and be more awesome overall. She's also the author of Retail Survival of the Fittest, a free eBook to help retailers future-proof their stores. Connect with her on LinkedIn, Twitter, or Google+.

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