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Why Is It Helpful To Follow The Financial Performance And Read The Annual Reports Of Publicly Traded Retailers Like Walmart, Target, and Walgreens?

November 22, 2013

This tip is THE most often ignored advice I give. Which is frustrating because it is among the EASIEST of critical steps to complete in your process of woo-ing a buyer.

Showing that you know the retailer’s business is important.  Before you go into any conversation with a retail buyer – be it an initial email to make first contact or an in-person presentation or as a current vendor, you should always know the following, which can be found in a retailer’s annual report (also known as, 10K):

1. Retailer’s sales performance past versus present.  Know whether sales are growing, flat and declining. That changes your approach and recommendations to the retailer. Why? Because it changes the way the buyer approaches buying decisions.  It changes their risk aversion, the quantity of their buy, and expectations for what you’ll do to mitigate risks. Annual reports spell this out for you. For free. It’s that easy.

2. Growth priorities. Knowing what the retailer is focused on arms YOU with knowledge.  Annual reports spell out where the retailer believes their growth will come from in the coming year, as well as what their strategies will be to achieve that.  That gives YOU fodder for how to align your business with their priorities.  Align yourself with these business priorities and you make a good case that this retailers NEEDS you in their assortment. Plus, you project credibility and a good business sense.  And guess what? This information is free.

3. Net Income Margins.  Comparing the net income margins from retailer to retailer gives you a sense for what the relationship (i.e., relative difference) of your wholesale costs should be among those retailers.

4. Marketing expenditures and more. There are tons more you can get from reading the annual reports. For example, you can use annual reports to give you a sense for how much your marketing budget should be. It's one way to guesstimate. To do this, find the annual report of a brand whose marketing tactics you admire and want to emulate, or a brand that is most comparable to yours in size, maturity and industry. Look at their Statement of Operations (also known as Income Statement, Statement of Earnings or Profit & Loss Statement).

Let's use the Income Statement pictured below as an example. On this financial statement, find the "Marketing" line. Note their marketing spend. Here it is $22,611,000. Then look up their "Net Sales" line. Note their revenue dollars. In this example, it is $516,631,000. Next, divide their Marketing spend by their Net Sales to find the percentage of sales allocated to marketing. In our example, that percentage is about 4%. So this brand spends about 4% of their total sales on marketing expenditures. Use the ratio you calculate to guide how much you should consider spending in your marketing budget. 


If you hate reading, try listening to the quarterly earnings calls to hear the same topics (but because they are released quarterly, this information is more relevant).

And did I say that all of this rich information can be found FOR FREE?

For all publicly traded retailers’ annual reports: Visit the SEC Edgar Filings and use the company name as the search term.

For earnings calls, go directly to that retailer’s corporate site and look for a section called “Investors” or Google: “[Retailer Name] + Earnings Call”

It’s free folks. C’Mon!