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Used-Book Case Study

Dwight Payne and Gary Heap reside in Santa Barbara, CA, where they attend college and pursue their mutual hobby of science-fiction book collecting. They pooled their book collection of over 4,000 volumes, and sci-fi magazines going back over twenty-five years. All neatly catalogued and indexed, they estimate it would cost $20,000 to assemble the collection today.

Payne and Heap decided that, at the end of this school year, they will dedicate the summer to getting a used-book store started in Santa Barbara as a means of supplementing their income year-round. Heap's uncle owns a storefront near the University, and agreed to rebuild it as a used-book store. He also co-signed an inventory loan for $4,000 for some start-up working capital. In exchange he gets 25 percent of store sales for two years.

In addition, they bought a collection of over 10,000 paperbacks, magazines, and comics for $3,500, and some used shelving for $1,500. These purchases required borrowing the money from some fraternity brothers.

ADVISE DWIGHT AND GARY (There is no one right answer)

Decide on days of the week and hours the store will be open. Estimate staffing required and hourly salary costs. Do Dwight and Gary really work for free? What is a reasonable expectation of customers per day? Average purchase per customer? What are pessimistic and optimistic values of these estimates? How much will they have to spend on advertising and promotion to meet these estimates?

What will they pay, on average, for each book? How much can they get, on average, for each book?

Put together a projected (often referred to as pro forma) income statement. Relate the estimates developed above to monthly sales (pessimistic, expected, and optimistic), cost of goods, and expense amounts for wages and promotion. We should add 25% to wages paid for the payroll estimate, to account for taxes, sick days, etc. Debt service payments may be assumed to total $400 per month. Estimate rent and utilities and any other expenses that you feel might be incurred.

Conclusions: Find a break-even sales estimate, that is, the value for sales that produces a Gross Margin just equal to Total Expense. When gross margin generated equals expenses, profit/loss is equal to zero; this sales level is called the break-even point.

Would you do it if you were they? Why or why not? What kind of a test is this where you can't look up the answer? It's an entrepreneurship test; learn to be comfortable with your best estimate.

(After many requests, I have decided to make available the spreadsheet that represents my approach to this problem (go to jbv.com/mb/UsedBook.xls), while reiterating that there really is no "right answer.")

John B. Vinturella, Ph.D. has almost 40 years experience as a management and strategic consultant, entrepreneur, author, and college professor. For 20 of those years, Dr. Vinturella was owner/president of a distribution company that he founded. He is a principal in business opportunity sites jbv.com and muddledconcept.com, and maintains business and political blogs.

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