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Manufacturing Profit Margins: Tips in the Midst of the Coronavirus Pandemic

Apr 28, 2020

manufacturing-profit-marginThere are hundreds of things that can be done to improve your business' margins. Yes, it can get complicated and overwhelming very fast, but Black Line Group VP and Manufacturing Leader, John Madsen, offers a logical approach to increasing your manufacturing profit margin by focusing on individual customer margins — and improving profitability is even more important as manufacturers across the globe deal with the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Why Customer Margins?

Not all customers are created equal, especially in these challenging times. 

As simple as that idea may seem, it's important for executives to truly embrace this notion if they are to increase their company’s profit margins.

Analysts estimate that the top 20% of customers (ranked by profitability) generate more than 120% of company profits. Conversely, the bottom 20% account for more than 100% of losses.

You can only find so many ways to optimize your channels and processes or decrease production costs. But having more profitable customers can improve your bottom line almost overnight.

RELATED: Download our Manufacturer's Guide to 2020

Optimize Customer Margins

With the coronavirus pandemic sweeping the nation, this may give you time to reassess your customer relationships and confirm who your top 20%, middle 60%, and bottom 20% really are. Asking the following questions may provide insights:

  • Can they commit to a future revenue stream? 
  • Can they pay on time? 
  • Are they asking for concessions? 
  • Might this be a good time to re-negotiate many of your customer agreements so each party gets more of what they want? 

In these challenging times, everyone needs clarity — don’t let this opportunity to dig in and improve your customer relationships slip by.

Just because you've been doing business with someone for a long time doesn't mean they're a good customer. In fact, it could mean they've been hurting your business longer than you would like to admit. While the current health crisis is troubling to all, it may provide an opportunity to make some long-awaited and difficult decisions. Now may be the right time to approach unprofitable customers regarding the dilemma you face in maintaining the status quo during this challenging time, allowing you to improve the relationship. In the event that’s not possible, they may be more understanding of your justification for pulling back if things can’t improve.

Create a Customer Margin Optimization Strategy

As much opportunity as there is for customer margin optimization, it will only get you so far if it's not being executed as part of a larger profitability strategy. You will still likely need to find optimization opportunities in the following areas to truly increase your manufacturing profit margin:

  • Channel margins — Examine the cost structures for each of your channels and analyze the potential for increasing profitability. Then, focus on those channels that give you the best opportunity to succeed
  • Product margins — Analyze variable and fixed costs at the product level so you can make better decisions regarding capital and resource investment. Focus on your high-margin products and don't be afraid to let go of the low-margin products that are hurting your bottom line
  • Margin erosion — "Be willing to take a short-term margin hit to keep an order," says John. "Sure, you may actually lose a little money on some part production. However, by showing flexibility and a willingness to work with customers, you can set yourself up to optimize the overall relationship” 
  • Function performance — From sales to R&D to shipping, there are a number of areas that can hurt your margins because of poor performance. By improving performance within each department of your organization, you can cut down on hidden costs and increase overall profitability.
  • Cost reductions — When customers make their annual plans, they may demand cost reductions from you in order to keep their business. As noted above, just because they are a current and potentially long-time customer, that doesn’t mean they’re a good customer. Investigate customer history before deciding whether a cost decrease is worth it. Sometimes losing a customer is necessary to improve margins 
  • Tool investment — Though it may appear that you’re losing money when creating a tool to complete one of your customer’s orders, keep in mind that not only are you investing in process improvements, you’re also potentially eligible for the R&D Tax Credit. Therefore, you could be earning a tax credit to subsidize the tool build 
  • Supply chain — Supply chain management in manufacturing is more difficult than ever given that products are becoming more complex and many are no longer built by brand owners. Continuing to optimize the link between engineering and production can lead to lower cost, higher quality, and reduced time-to-market

Focus On What Matters

The point of all these optimization methods is to focus your business strategies around what matters most. Life is short. Every manufacturer is in business to make a profit, and hopefully have fun doing it. So, why put undue stress and strain on your people and your infrastructure by conducting bad business?

As a wise man once said, “The only thing worse than no business at all is bad business.”

Lastly, even though the coronavirus pandemic is wreaking havoc on individuals, companies and the economy, there is some good that can come of it if it means taking a hard look at your profitability, so don’t be afraid to act in the best interest of your company now.

For more guidance on increasing profitability by taking advantage of every possible tax credit you’re due, contact the experts at Black Line Group today.

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