Last updateThu, 17 May 2018 7am

The true cost of aged inventory


One of the biggest headaches for most retail jewelers is the issue of surplus inventory and what to do with it. In many cases the majority of this product has become old, and the problem gets compounded by the need to keep adding fresh product – of which around 80% eventually joins the old category as well. Many jewelers see this as an excess inventory problem – in most cases however, I prefer to attack it from the point of view that there is a shortage of sales.

You only have too much inventory to the extent that you don’t have the sales to match it, and it is important that you always have capacity to grow your business further. Strangling growth from a shortage of good product can be a bigger issue than having too much; however it is important that it be the right product. Few countries have the issue of surplus inventory as badly as US stores. Although memo product is high here, this type of merchandise still needs to be treated as if it is owned – you still need to earn a good return regardless of whether or not you have paid for it.

Many see their oversupply of aged inventory as a non-issue, laboring under the assumption that it is still good saleable product that could be purchased tomorrow or that somehow this “nest egg” represents a retirement fund when the business is sold. Certainly given the increase in the price of gold in the last two years many of these pieces would cost more to purchase from vendors today than they would have originally, but are they really saleable to either the public or somebody buying your business? The answer is generally no.

Sadly, there is more bad news as the longer the items are sitting on your shelf the more they are costing you - even if you didn’t use debt to purchase them.

Let’s do an exercise with a pair of gold earrings that cost $100 to purchase from the vendor. What is the true cost of this item if it is sitting on your shelf twelve months later?

Let’s look first at the one off costs at time of purchase. There is freight to get it in-store, computer processing, time spent selecting the piece and time spent getting it displayed in the store. Let’s allow $5 for freight and another $10 for staff and your time in selecting the piece, processing it in-store and getting it on display.

  • Vendor cost $100
  • Staff time $10
  • Freight $5
  • Initial costs $115

On top of this we have holding costs for the 12 months. Let’s use 5% interest for the year (although in more prosperous trading times this would be closer to 10%). In addition we have the time spent cleaning and showing the piece during the twelve month period (even though it hasn’t sold) plus insurance, a percentage of rent, advertising, boxing, the tax you had to pay on it given that you diverted ‘profit’ to purchase it and so on.

  • Interest $5
  • Staff, cleaning $10
    & other costs

Note: Most financial and industry experts agree that the “holding cost” associated with non-performing inventory is 20% per annum.

So even giving you the benefit of the doubt we are already up to $130 cost for this item in just twelve months and we have not allocated any packaging yet because it hasn’t sold. If the item needs to be reduced and cleared after this period these costs will further reduce the profit on the item - if there is any.

But the real cost of this item is the Opportunity Cost that has been missed. Opportunity Cost is a term often discussed in economics. It represents the cost of the opportunity missed by choosing this particular action as opposed to another. In the case of our jewelry example the cost is the missed profit that could have been achieved if another faster selling item had been chosen.

So how much is the Opportunity Cost? Who knows for sure, but if another piece had been chosen that had sold, been reordered and sold again once more during the year and the gross profit on each of those sales was $100, then the opportunity cost of not choosing the other piece would be the $200 of profit that has been missed out on. This is best summed up by the phrase “stock-turn.” The more often a good item is sold and reordered the less this opportunity cost becomes. That’s why it is important to keep inventory fresh and turning over, and why not carrying excessive dead inventory is crucial. Suddenly, without stock-turn these humble gold earrings start to look very expensive indeed!

We can’t all be crystal ball gazers and know with certainty what will sell, although software options such as AdvantEdge make it easier to identify proven sellers, but the important thing is to acknowledge when an item has become old and “cut your losses” as soon as possible. Continuing to forget about it will only increase the “holding cost” and the “opportunity cost” of not sourcing another piece that could yield a profit.

So that aged inventory you have is more expensive than you thought. Realistically, for every $100,000 you are overstocked you will be looking at $5,000 to $20,000 in holding costs – so carrying $400,000 in excess inventory will take $20,000 to $80,000 off your bottom line while contributing nothing to your sales. In fact it may even reduce your sales if your percentage of aged inventory is so high your customers can’t see the good product for the bad.

So think carefully before deciding that surplus or aged inventory isn’t costing you anything. It may be more expensive than you think.

David Brown is President of the Edge Retail Academy, an organization devoted to the ongoing measurement and growth of jewelry store performance and profitability. For further information about the Academy’s management mentoring and industry benchmarking reports contact Carol Druan at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or phone toll free 877-569-8657.