February 15, 2013

Understanding The Difference Between Markup and Margin

margins vs markupI’ve been reading through some of the responses to the Small Food Business Reader Survey (reminder – if you haven’t added your 2 cents I’d appreciate it if you did.  Should take 7 minutes tops and allows me to plan out articles/provide resources based on information you want to know) and I’ve gotten a few questions asking about margins vs. markup and the general confusion between the two.  So let’s tackle that today.  Also, next week, per reader demand, I’ve got a series of articles called “Why Margins Matter” that will look at margins at every step in the sales channels which is critical information if you want to price your products so that you make money both now and as you grow.

But first let’s address the difference between Margin and Markup because these are two terms you don’t want to get confused.

Markup is a term you hear tossed around from time-to-time – such as “that store really marks-up their products” but what does that actually mean?  A Markup is, technically, the amount that’s added to the cost of a product to derive the selling price.  For example, a cheese retailer that wants to have a minimum of 50% markup on every product in their store would take the cheese they buy for at wholesale for $5 and give it a retail price of $7.50 for the customer ($5 + (5*50%)) = $7.50.  Margin is there to cover all the other costs associated with running the business and selling the product.

Gross Margin is an expression of profitability as it relates to product or service line after the direct costs associated with the product or service have been taken into consideration.  Gross Margin is calculated by taking the Price – Cost and dividing that by the Price.  For example, the cheese retailer who sells the cheese for $7.50 and it costs him $5 to buy it has a gross margin of 33%.  Same cost and price numbers but very different result.

So why is this important?  Because in the food world we’re playing a margins game.  Margins are what all experienced food manufacturers, distributors, brokers, and retailers are focused on.  This is because your Cost of Goods Sold (also know as COGS) only takes into account those things that directly go into the product itself.  So, for you as the food entrepreneur, your COGS would include things like the ingredients, the packaging, and the labor that goes into making your product.  However, the COGS don’t take into account things like your overhead, your administrative costs (like getting new printer ink so you can print invoices), or your marketing expenses be they promotions to retailers or simple farmers’ market booth fees.  Ensuring that you have healthy gross margins enables you to have enough cash to cover the direct costs associated with making your product and all the other aspects of running your business.

Gross margins can also help you set a price for your sales channel partners.  For example, let’s say that you’re that cheese manufacturer we referenced earlier and it costs you $2.50 to make your product.  That’s your Cost of Goods Sold (COGS) so that’s taking into account all the ingredients, packaging, and labor that goes into making your product.  But how do you determine a price that will cover the rest of your expenses so that your business will actually make money?  If you’ve figured out that you need margins of 40% for when you sell your product wholesale then you can arrive at your wholesale price as follows:

Wholesale Price = Product Cost / (1 – Desired Margin)

So, in the case of this example we would get a Wholesale Price of $4.16 ($2.50/(1-40%)).  The idea being that this $4.16 is a price the cheese manufacturer believes will make the company a profit even after all costs associated with doing business are taken into account.

The Takeaway

If all of this is new to you it may seem a little mind-boggling right now but next week we’ll take a look at the average margins you can anticipate for each class of trade.  This will help you price your products in a way that regardless of where you’re selling today you have a better shot of turning a profit today and still have room to grow into retail stores/work with distributors/etc.  For right now it’s important that you understand that when it comes to the food industry margins are the universal language.

If all of this is really mind-boggling remember that you do have two product cost & pricing options available via this site.

14 comments on “Understanding The Difference Between Markup and Margin

  • insureyourmind on said:

    I started in the auto industry in sales. I had to learn these trade economics hard and fast. Tough getting relationships built when your math is off at 19 years old.
    Glad to have read this. I’m raising a family now, 28 and having a great career as an Agent.

    Could have used your info at 19 though!
    Thanks, and reach out!

  • Waldo on said:

    Great info. I clearly understand the gross margin and COGS portion, but dealing with distributors, I have always worked on a mark-up vs margin.

    Manufacture = $2.25 COGS + 40 % Margin = $3.75 ($2.25 / .60 = $3.75)

    Distributor = $3.73 list price + 30% Mark-Up = $4.85 ( $3.73 x 1.30 = $4.85

    Retailer =$4.85 list price + 30% Margin = $6.93 ($4.85 / .70 = $6.93)

    Question, should I not be using “mark-up” to detirmine how much my distributor is marking-up our product?

    • Jennifer on said:

      If you (and they) are working on mark-up then you do want to use the markup calculation. However, when dealing with margin, the calculation is different. The biggest concern is that people often confuse the two (i.e., use the markup calculation when talking about margin or vice versa) and the two are very different and should be calculated accordingly.

  • Smithanne on said:

    I’ve just started baking my delicacies in the kitchen for a deli that is selling them off the shelf and using them in their menu items. As I don’t have a commercial kitchen, thus is expanding my market outside the diecuslnirders j was taking. So far, if my usual sale price for an item is 4.00, I am charging the deli 2.00 and they are using my price if 4.00. So, their profit margin is equal to whatnot getting. I understand your posts completely, but I’m wary if changing the formula were trying out.

    • Jennifer on said:

      Ultimately you need to do what’s right for your business. There will always be the ‘industry’ way of doing something but that doesn’t mean it’s right for your specific business. Best of luck to you for your continued success.

  • June Rust on said:

    We have been in the manufacturing business for three years and are still uncertain about our margin (how much to sell our product for). We have been using a 50% margin for whole sale. We can pay for production and make more but are not able to pay ourselves much. What kind of advice can you offer?

    • Jennifer on said:

      There’s no way to fairly answer that question without understanding what your total business’ costs are, exactly what you’re selling, and more about your business strategy. This is a question you should direct to your CPA and see if s/he can give advice on how to set your business up for future success that includes paying yourself.

  • Armenian on said:

    Armenian on December 4, 2016 at 9:13 am said: Your comment is awaiting moderation.
    I want to price my product and have a question appreciate if you can advise. If the product costs $3.00, so logically and according to your experience, how much should i spend on packaging ? trying to I have received several quotes starting from $2 to $4 and i’m really concerned about packaging and think it will play a big role on retailers shelves . But is it acceptable to spend on packaging more than the product?I

    • Jennifer on said:

      You are right in that packaging plays a huge role both getting on and staying on retailers’ shelves. That is going to be the first impression customers have of your product and you want it to be saying the right things about your products and your brand. As far as the ‘right’ amount to spend on packaging, there’s not necessarily a specific % of product cost that is normal. It’s not uncommon for packaging to cost upwards of 50% of the product cost and that can increase especially depending on what specific channels you’re thinking your product would go into. For example, if you aim to sell to high-end luxury stores, the packaging needs to be inline with that image and can be more expensive than packaging that you might find at a big box retailer. Also, products that are designed to be ‘gifted’ typically also have packaging that is more expensive to make the product look more gift-worthy. Wish I had a specific answer for you but ultimately you need to determine if your product + packaging comes in at a cost that, when you add your margins to it, becomes a price you feel is one that buyers & customers would pay.

  • Cindy on said:

    I own a bakery and I just hit 1 1/2 years of business. I am already showing a profit and growing quickly. I am now being approached by restaurants and small store owners to shelf my product. I have not officially branded my products with packaging, etc. I am quite nervous of setting a wholesale price as I do not want to scare off the interested parties. What is your advice on setting a price that works for the community you live in (I live in). I do not want to price too, because I am in a small city. But at the same time I do not want to undersell myself. I want to work smarter, not harder.

    • Jennifer on said:

      First of all, congrats on your bakery and on the interest you’re seeing from retailers and restaurants. I’m going to be honest, setting price is a difficult task for any business owner (food and otherwise). The key to setting up a solid price for your products is first understanding how much it costs you to produce your product and how much margin you want to have built in there to help cover other aspects of running your business. Essentially, how much does your product cost and then how much profit do you want to see from that product. Second is understanding the competitive landscape for where you live. Ideally you can do a rough competitive analysis that will help you understand what people are paying for products that are similar to yours. From there you can understand that if you want your MSRP to be approximately $X, are you able to produce your product with enough margin for yourself where when a retailer will add in their margin you end up at a MSRP of roughly $X.

      I hope that helps a little bit as you think through pricing and determine what will work for you because, as you so rightly said, you want to work smarter and not harder! Good luck!