Much of your success in business will depend on how you price your goods and services. If your prices are too low, you will not cover expenses; too high and you will lose sales volume. In both cases, you will not make a profit.


Before opening your business you must decide upon the general price level you expect to maintain. Will you cater to people buying in the high, medium, or low price range? Your choice of location, appearance of your establishment, quality of goods handled, and services to be offered will all depend on the customers you hope to attract, and so will your prices.


After establishing this general price level, you are ready to price individual items. In general, the price of an item must cover the cost of the item, all other costs, plus a profit. Thus, you will have to markup the item by a certain amount to cover costs and earn a profit. In a business that sells few items, total costs can easily be allocated to each item and a markup quickly determined. With a variety of items, allocating costs and determining markup may require an accountant. In retail operations, goods are often marked up by 50 to 100 percent or more just to earn a 5% to 10% profit!


Let us work through a markup example. Suppose your company sells one product, Product A. The supplier sells Product A to you for $5.00 each. You and your accountant determine the costs entailed in selling Product A are $4.00 per item, and you want a $1 per item profit. What is your markup? Well, the selling price is: $5 plus $4 plus $1 or $10; the markup therefore is $5. As a percentage, it is 100% ($5 markup = $5 cost of the item). So you have to markup Product A by 100% to make a 10% profit!


Many small firms are interested in knowing what industry markup norms are for various products. Wholesalers, distributors, trade associations and business research companies publish a huge variety of such ratios and business statistics. They are useful as guidelines. Another ratio (in addition to the markup percentage) important to small firms is the Gross Margin Percentage (GMP).


The GMP is similar to your markup percentage but whereas markup refers to the percent above the cost to you of each item that you must set the selling price in order to cover all other costs and earn profits, the GMP shows the relationship between sales revenues minus the cost of the item, which is your gross margin, and your sales revenues. What the GMP is telling you is that your markup bears a certain relationship to your sales revenues. The markup percentage and the GMP are essentially the same formula, with the markup referring to individual item pricing and GMP referring to the item prices times the number of items sold (volume).


Perhaps an example will clarify the point. Your firm sells Product Z. It costs you $.70 each and you decide to sell it for $1 each to cover costs and profit. Your markup is 43%. Now let up say you sold 10,000 Product Z’s Iast month thus producing $10,000 in revenues. Your cost to purchase Product Z was $7000; your gross margin was $3,000 (revenues minus cost of goods sold). This is also your gross markup for the month’s volume. Your GMP would be 30% . Both of these percentages use the same basic numbers, differing only in division. Both are used to establish a pricing system. And both are published and can be used as guidelines for small firms starting out. Often managers determine what Gross Margin Percentage they will need to earn a profit and simply go to a published Markup Table to find the percentage markup that correlates with that margin requirement.


While this discussion of pricing may appear, in some respects, to be directed only to the pricing of retail merchandise it can be applied to other types of businesses as well. For services the markup must cover selling and administrative costs in addition to the direct cost of performing a particular service. If you are manufacturing a product, the costs of direct labor, materials and supplies, parts purchased from other concerns, special tools and equipment, plant overhead, selling and administrative expenses must be carefully estimated. To compute a cost per unit requires an estimate of the number of units you plan to produce. Before your factory becomes too large it would be wise to consult an accountant about a cost accounting system.


Not all items are marked up by the average markup. Luxury articles will take more, staples less. For instance, increased sales volume from a lower-than-average markup on a certain item – a “loss leader” – may bring a higher gross profit unless the price is lowered too much. Then the resulting increase in sales will not raise the total gross profit enough to compensate for the low price.


Sometimes you may wish to sell a certain item or service at a lower markup in order to increase store traffic with the hope of increasing sales of regularly priced merchandise or generating a large number of new service contracts. Competitors’ prices will also govern your prices. You cannot sell a product if your competitor is greatly underselling you. These and other reasons may cause you to vary your markup among items and services. There is no magic formula that will work on every product or every service all of the time. But you should keep in mind the overall average markup which you need to make a profit.

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