9 Steps to Generate an Insightful Gross Margin Bridge Using Excel


A critical part of analyzing profitability is being able to bridge your planned vs. actual gross profit variance when reviewing monthly and year-to-date results.  Analyzing sales variances is fairly easy, because it just falls to both price and volume.  But gross margin analysis is more complex given that it includes both cost and mix variances in addition to price and volume components.  But don’t fret because we are going to take you through a detailed analysis.  First, we will need to generate a gross profit analysis, where we segment the plan vs. actual variances and then generate our gross margin bridge using those variances

Knowing how to generate effective gross profit analysis is an imperative in today's competitive environment. See how to parse gross profit variances and take action. Click to Tweet


What insight can be gained from a gross profit/margin analysis?

Are you faced with a summary of gross profit variances, for your various products and associated families, that appears as follows:

Graphic showing 1Q gross profit variance of $682K.
Click here to purchase an Excel template, that you can customize, to begin your own gross profit margin bridge efforts ($29.95)

After viewing a summary such as the one above, and being the inquisitive type you are, up are going to want to drill down into the source of the $682K unfavorable variance.  Here are some common questions:

  • Is our pricing strategy working as planned?
  • What is the gross profit impact of new products?
  • How are volume differences within a product family or group impacting gross profit?
  • Are our assumptions regarding standard/average costs (or prices for that matter) correct?
  • Are volume vs. price vs. mix favorably or unfavorable impacting total gross profit and if so, by how much?
  • Which products/families are having the greatest impact to gross profit?
  • Given our options for influencing gross profit, what will have the greatest “bang for the buck?”


Step #1 – Determine what part of the total variance can be attributed to Average Sales Price (ASP) differences

As an example, we will drill into the Product B.1 variance, starting with the ASP Variance impact.  ASP is computed by dividing gross invoice price by the number of units shipped.  An ASP Variance is computed as follows:

ASP Variance = (ASP Actual – ASP Plan) * Actual Volume (or units actually shipped)

Below are the ASP Variances for all the Products.  We will spend time drilling into the Product B.1 variances, which totals $968K favorable, with $575K associated with the ASP Variance. 

Gross Profit Variance with ASP Variance Parsed Out for detail discussion regarding Product B.1
Click here to purchase an Excel template, that you can customize, to begin your own gross profit analysis efforts ($29.95)

Viewing the 1Q plan vs. actuals for Product B.1 on our supporting schedules (shown later), the plan assumed that the business would ship 9,000 units @ $750/each for total revenue of $6,750K.  In actuality, the business shipped 9,700 units @ $809/each, totaling $7,850K.  Here’s the ASP Variance calculation for Product B.1:

ASP Variance = ($809 – $750) * 9,700 Units ≈ Favorable $575K


Step #2 – Determine what part of the total variance can be attributed to Average Cost differences

 Products are usually costed using either standard costing or average costing (FIFO and LIFO are less common, but it is all the same variance analysis).  Whatever the case, you can gain valuable insight by comparing your planned cost of goods shipped vs. actual using the following formula:

Cost Variance = (Unit Cost Plan – Unit Cost Actual) * Actual Volume

Below are the Average Cost Variances Product B.1 highlighted:

Schedule displaying the Product B.1 Average Cost Variance, which is $186K unfavorable due to lower than planned total shipments for the quarter.
Click here to purchase an Excel template, that you can customize, to begin your own gross profit analysis efforts ($29.95)

Same as above relative to Average Cost Variance, the 1Q plan vs. actuals for Product B.1 on our supporting schedules, the plan assumed that the business would ship 9,000 units @ $455/each for an extended cost of $4,095K.  In actuality, the business shipped 9,700 units @ $436/each, totaling cost of $4,228K.  Here’s the Average Cost Variance calculation for Product B.1:

Average Cost Variance = ($455 – $436) * 9,700 Units ≈ Favorable $186K


Step #3 – Calculate Sales Volume Variance impact to Gross Profit

Plan vs. Actual volume variance affects gross profit through changes to revenue and costs.  Generally, the more favorable the volume of units shipped, the more favorable the revenue variance and conversely the more unfavorable the cost variance, for obvious reasons.  Here’s the formula for computing the Sales Volume variance:

Sales Volume Variance = (Actual Volume Shipped – Plan Volume Shipped) * Planned Unit ASP

Below are the Sales Volume Variances for Product B.1 highlighted:

Click here to purchase an Excel template, that you can customize, to begin your own gross profit analysis efforts ($29.95)

The Sales Volume Variance above is a favorable $525K, indicating the volume for Product B.1 was significantly higher in 1Q than planned.  As we mentioned earlier, the 1Q planned volume was 9,000 units, while we were actually able to ship out 9,700 units in 1Q.  The Sales Volume change is multiplied by the planned ASP,  as follows:

Sales Volume Variance = (9,700 Act. Units – 9,000 Plan Units) * $750 Plan ASP ≈ Favorable $525K


Step #4 – Calculate Cost Volume impact to Gross Profit

As you would expect, if you have a favorable Sales Volume Variance as we do above, then you are going to have an unfavorable Cost Volume Variance because you are shipping a greater volume of inventory to customers.  The variance is computed by multiplying the difference between the planned and actual units shipped, by the planned Average Unit Cost.  Here’s the formula:

Cost Volume Variance = (Plan Volume Shipped – Actual Volume Shipped) * Planned Unit Average Cost

Below are the Cost Volume Variances for all the Products with Product B.1 highlighted:

Schedule displaying the Product B.1 Cost Volume Variance, which is $319K unfavorable due to higher than planned shipment volume.
Click here to purchase an Excel template, that you can customize, to begin your own gross profit analysis efforts ($29.95)

In our example, there were 700 more units shipped than planned.  The planned Average Unit Cost was $455, generating the following calculation:

Cost Volume Variance = (9,000 – 9,700) * $455Unfavorable $319K

As you can see above, shipping more than the planned unit volume results in a reduction to gross profit due to the higher volume of items being shipped to customers. 


Step #5 – Calculate the Family-Level Volume Variance (or Final Volume) impact to Gross Profit

Next, we need to compute the Family-Level Volume variance, which will produce a slightly different result than summing the individual Product-Level Sales and Cost Variances.  This is only applicable if you have summary groupings.

As you can see in our example below for Product Family A, there are two different products: 1) Product A.1; and 2) Product A.2.  Both Products have their own plan, actual and variance.  Product A.1 has a $50K unfavorable Sales Volume Variance and a $23K favorable Cost Variance, totaling $27K unfavorable.  Product A.2 has a $1,042K unfavorable Sales Volume variance and a $597K favorable Cost Volume Variance, totaling $445K.  Though it is not shown below, the total of Product A.1 and A.2 volume variances is an unfavorable $472K (Product A.1 $445K + Product A.2 $27K).  That is helpful information, but we now need to compute the Final Volume Variance for Family A, which will produce a different result than summing Product A.1 and A.2 volume variances.  Here’s the formula for computing the Final Volume Variance (note: FL stands for Family-Level):

Final Volume Var. = (FL Unit Gross Profit * FL Actual Units Shipped) – FL Total Plan Gross Profit

The Family-Level A Unit Gross Profit equals $790/Unit, actual Units shipped equals 14,700 and total planned Gross Profit equals$12,185K.  Here’s the Final Volume calculation:

Final Volume Var. = ($790 * 14,700) – $12,185K Unfavorable $578K

As you can see, the Family-Level A volume variance is a worse than if you only analyzed the individual products within the family.  This is because there is a Mix component to the variance, which is our final calculation needed to reconcile the total variance for all products.

Schedule displaying the Family A Mix Variance, which is $106K favorable due to a mix shift toward Product A.1, which is the more profitable product.
Click here to purchase an Excel template, that you can customize, to begin your own gross profit analysis efforts ($29.95)


Step #6 – Calculate the Family-Level Mix impact to Gross Profit

The Mix Variance is applicable to the interaction between products within a group, or in our example a Family.   Quantifies the impact of differences between individual products, with different proportional variances and gross profit amounts.  Looking at the example above, you can see that the Product-Level Volume variances total $472K unfavorable, but the total Final Volume variance for Family A is $578K unfavorable, which reflects the Mix Variance.

You can either compute the Mix Variance by squeezing for the difference between the sum of the individual Product-Level Volume Variances and Subtracting the Family-Level Final Volume Variance ($472K Sum of the Family A Product Level Volume Variances – $578K Family-Level A Final Volume Variance = $106K Favorable Mix Variance) of compute the Mix Variance separately as follows (again FL is an abbreviation for Family Level):

Mix Variance = (Sum of Product-Level Plan Unit GP * Product-Level Actual Units Shipped for all products in Family) – (FL Actual Units Shipped * FL Plan Unit Gross Profit)

As can see, calculating the Mix Variance rather than squeezing for the Mix Variance is a bit involved, but the specific calculations/formulas are on the Excel template for your use.


Step #7 – Step back from the trees and gain some actionable insight

The expanded Gross Profit Analysis is displayed below.

Graphic of the Summary Gross Profit Analysis Including all the variance categories, including ASP Variance, Average Cost Variance, Sales Volume Variance, Cost Volume Variance, Final Volume Variance and Mix Variance
Click here to purchase an Excel template, that you can customize, to begin your own gross profit analysis efforts ($29.95)

Here are some insights we can gain from our Gross Profit


Step #8 – Reviewing the Gross Margin Bridge results

Finally, here are the gross margin variances that result from the earlier gross profit variances.  All the margin variances are relative to the planned gross margin %, which in this case was 61.7%.  The actual gross margin of 60.2% was calculated by dividing the actual gross profit ($22,740K) by the planned extended total sales ($46,102K), producing an unfavorable variance to plan of 1.5%.  All the other gross margin variances are relative to the 1.5% unfavorable result.

Click here to purchase an Excel template, that you can customize, to begin your own gross profit analysis efforts ($29.95)

This view is very helpful for understanding the scope of the impact in terms of margin differences.  It becomes much clearer that the Accessory #1 is the main culprit in under achieving the company’s gross margin goals.  The primary reason for missing the goal is a sales volume problem on that same product.  Product Family B is producing strong results, primarily due to favorable ASP results (1.2%), followed by both some favorable volume (0.4%), and a slightly lower average cost for the total product family.  Product Family A has a smaller unfavorable volume issue (1.3%) that is partially offset by good ASP results and some favorable mix performance.  In conclusion, the focus should be: 1) figure out how to fix the Accessory #1 sales volumes, and; 2) work on Product A.2 volumes as well.


Step #9 – Purchase our Gross Marin Bridge Excel workbook to accelerate your efforts!

Get a copy of our Gross Profit/Margin Excel workbook to ignite your company’s efforts to increased profitability and success.  Here is what is included in the workbook:

  1. Worksheet of your time phased sales plan (sales dollars, units and ASPs);
  2. Worksheet for your time phased cost of goods plan (cost of goods, units, unit costs);
  3. Worksheet for your time phased gross profit plan (gross profit dollars, gross margin, unit contribution dollars);
  4. Worksheet of your time phased sales actual (sales dollars, units and ASPs);
  5. Worksheet for your time phased cost of goods actual (cost of goods, units, unit costs);
  6. Worksheet for your time phased gross profit actual (gross profit dollars, gross margin, unit contribution dollars);
  7. Worksheet with the Gross Profit and Margin variances that includes an ability to easily change the period of review from a specific month, quarter or year to date; and
  8. Worksheet with some simple reporting tools to facilitate your analysis review.
  9. If you would like a copy of the Excel workbook used in the examples, please use the Contact Us button at the bottom of the page.  Please feel free to leave comments and likes.

The model is designed to analyze gross profit/margin variances against plan, but you can easily modify the template to perform the same analysis vs. your prior year results too.  Very nice!

If you need assistance, we are available for consulting at reasonable rates.  Contact us with any questions.

About the Author
About the Author
Chase Morrison provides CFO services, utilizing Profitwyse’s 3D Growth Platform™, enabling his business owner clients to more readily achieve their goals for wealth creation and family legacy.  Contact him today to learn how your business can hit the accelerator using Profitwyse’s proven platform.



Take Action! – Read The Monthly CEO Advisory Report For May 2020 to For Business Tips During These Challenging Times

Profitwyse is a monthly contributor to the The CEO Advisory Report for May 2020, published by Ken Keller with Strategic Advisory Boards.  The Monthly CEO Advisory is a compilation of timely articles from professionals with deep expertise in all areas affecting the privately-held business space.  If you are a chief executive or a C-suite member of a midsize business, The Monthly CEO Advisory contains valuable information take you can put into action today.

Explore The Monthly CEO Advisory for May 2020 to gain insight and solutions into relevant issues affecting business owners today. Click to Tweet

If you would like to be added on regular distribution, please send us a note via our Contact Us page.

What’s in This Edition of The Monthly CEO Advisory For May 2020

CFO Insights | Chase Morrison

Four Essential Cash Flow Metrics You Need Today

Business Growth & Profits | Ken Keller

There Will Be Better Days Ahead

Commercial Real Estate | Sheryl Mazirow

The Office Space Market and COVID-19

Commercial Insurance | Paul Palkovic

Ideas For Affecting Commercial Insurance Premium Reductions — RIGHT NOW!

Human Resources Compliance | Barry Cohn

Employment Lawsuits Are Expected to Rise Dramatically Due to COVID-19

Manufacturing Excellence | BJ Schramm

Preparing For a New Normal

Information Technology | Craig Pollack

Tips to Spot Online Scammers During The COVID-19 Pandemic

Company Benefits | Peter Ettinger

Why You Need To Improve Your Employee Benefits Communication

Alternative Financing | Kristy Melton

Small Business Benefit From Working With a Business Finance Broker

Sales Management | Paul Mitchell

Create An Effective Crisis Sales Plan

If you have additional questions regarding any of the above segments, please reach out to authors.  Their contact information is included in with the content.

As always, if you need financial management expertise to accelerate growth, improve profitability or enhance cash flow, feel free to contact us today



The Final Key To Improving Cash Flow — How to Compute The Cash Conversion Cycle

Why is Knowing How to Compute The Cash Conversion Cycle (CCC) Important to my Business?

Understanding how CCC affects the ways in which a business utilizes its most precious resource–CASH–is a categorical imperative for all business owners.  By monitoring CCC results combined with understanding and influencing the metrics that underpin the CCC metric will pay huge dividends and increase your business’ viability well into the future.

The CCC metric pulls together three other working capital metrics we posted about earlier–Days Sales Receivables (DSR), Days Inventory On Hand (DIOH) and Days Payables Outstanding (DPO).  A CCC metric is computed as follows:

DSR + DIOH – DPO = CCC (lower the  better!)

You are probably thinking, “that’s it?”  Well yes, that’s it.  I know it appears a bit abstract at first.  But once you have finished this post, you will have an excellent understanding of how to better control your cash flowing using this working capital metric. 

The key to increasing cash flow is understanding how to compute the cash conversion cycle. This includes knowing what actions are needed to decrease the cycle time. Click to Tweet

If you do not already have a good grasp on DSR, DIOH or DPO, use the links above and review those posts first, then return to this example where I pull it all together for you. 

Are you back?  Great, let’s get started…

An Example Illustrating How CCC Correlates to Cash Flow Management

In this simple example, we are going to follow a bicycle gear through a business cycle (i.e. purchase part, create inventory, pay vendor, invoice customer and collect cash) to illustrate the CCC.  Assume that the hypothetical business is a bicycle wholesaler, selling assembled bicycles to retailers in the area.  The business purchases bicycle components and assembles them into finished bicycles, based on their customer’s orders and specifications.  All sales are on credit, invoiced with 45-day terms from shipment date. 

Step #1: Purchase Bicycle Components (Gears) From Vendor (This is the DPO component of the CCC)

Without bicycle parts, our business does not have much to sell.  The person responsible for purchasing issues a Purchase Order for bicycle gears.  Assume that we have negotiated 45-day payment terms with our bicycle component vendors.

The 45-day payment clock does not start until the inventory arrives at our facility.  With that arrival, we post a debit to inventory and credit to accounts payable.  Now we are just awaiting the actual invoice to arrive.  But the date the invoice arrivals is not the starting date.  The start date is when the gear is received at our facility and are entered in the inventory management system.

From our illustration below, you can see that the gear arrives on Day 0, along with the vendor invoice (that vendor is speedy).  Per our negotiated terms, we issue a check to our vendor on day 30.

Illustration of how DPO works from a business owner's perspective

Step #2: Assemble a Bike to Our Customer’s Specification.  (This is the DIOH component of the CCC)

Assume that we are starting another clock, which is actually the DIOH clock, on the day we receive the gear (Day 0 below).  We maintain the gear in our inventory until we receive an order for a bicycle that specifies our gear in a Bill of Material (BOM), at which time the gear is “consumed” in the finished bicycle assembly process to create a finished bicycle.  View the illustration below.

Illustration of how DIOH works from a business owner's perspective

In our example above, we received the Gear on Day 0.  More than likely it idled in our inventory for a couple of weeks before receiving the order from our customer.  At that point, we quickly created a work order, assembled the bike and closed the work order as complete.  Then 45 days following the date we received the Gear, we shipped the bike (including the gear), as part of a finished bicycle to our end customer.  Given that we held the Gear for 45 days, our DIOH is 45.  

Step #3: Ship Bicycle, Invoice Customer and Collect Cash (This is the DSR component of the CCC)

As you can see in the illustration below, our Gear is being loaded, as part of the finished bicycle, into the truck on Day 0.  Once again we are starting another clock, which is our DSR clock.  This clock begins, essentially, on the day the inventory item leaves our facility.  There are nuances like FOB Source or Destination, but those distinctions are for another day. 

This is a good customer given that we have extended 60-day payment terms.  We are able to get the invoice out on Day 0 because our ERP system emails invoices automatically.  Then as you can see below, on Day 60 we receive the check that stops the DSR clock on this shipment at 60 Days.

Collections is one of the most important business process functions you will oversee.  It is critical that invoices are issued in a timely and accurate manner.  Extending 60-day terms is rather generous, but in our example, this is a stellar customer.  They pay on time and do not load us up with claims for chargebacks; consequently, we decided to extend generous credit terms.

Step #4: Pulling It All Together — Cash Cycle Days

Finally, we have all the pieces and can compute our CCC metric.  You can see in the top section of the graphic below, when adding the current asset parts–DIOH and DSR–you get 105 Days.  Then when you subtract DPO, the net is a Cash Conversion Cycle equal to 75 Days.  Hopefully the illustration makes it clearer why you subtract the DPO from DSR + DIOH.  The reason is that are taking advantage of OPM (Other People’s Money).  The business did not have to disburse a dollar until 30 days into the CCC time frame.  You, as the business owner, spent your first dollar on Day 30.  Subtracting the 30 Day DPO from the 105 Days DSR + DIOH, gets you to a CCC of 75 Days.  

Illustration of how Cash Cycle works from a business owner's perspective

You can see from the above that the CCC is effectively the number of days from when you disbursed the first dollar until you are able to collect that same dollar (metaphorically of course, but money is fungible).  Obviously the fewer days the better, which you can think of as the velocity of money circulating in your business.  A lower CCC equates to a higher velocity.  A higher velocity of money translates into lower levels of debt required to sustain your inventory and credit policy.  Less debt also means more cash in the bank account at month end and lower interest expense.

I have heard the term “Your Vendors Are Your Lenders,” how does that work?

Large retail companies, such as Walmart, that have significant leverage over their vendors, can approach and in some cases achieve a negative CCC.  Given that retailers do not generally have to extend credit, because most of their sales are cash, they will effectively have a 0 DSR.  If these businesses can negotiate 45-day terms with their vendors and maintain a very lean inventory, then they can potentially approach a negative CCC.  Conceptually, what is happening is that these businesses are able to sell inventory prior to having to pay the vendors that provided the inventory.  Even this is difficult for Walmart since a large amount of their inventory is sourced from China.  You can bet Walmart has negotiated agreements where they do not pay their vendors until the product has, at the earliest, been received in the U.S.; otherwise, Walmart could not achieve the DIOH levels they regularly achieve (41 DIOH as of YE 2019).

Tools You Can Use to Monitor Your Cash Conversion Cycle Performance

Below is a graph format we use with clients to help monitor and influence their cash flow by reviewing DSR, DPO, DIOH and CCC. In the graph below, DSR, DIOH and DPO are represented a columns and the CCC is represented by the line.  You can see that this client needs more focus on managing their current assets given their CCC was at 240 days as of ME February. 

In addition to the graph, we added some key indicator lights toward the top right to reflect the month-over-month change.  So if a key metric is 5% worse than the prior month, the indicator is Red, better the 5% over the prior month is Blue and between the two is green.  This provides a quick review of how the metrics have changed over the prior month.

Cash Conversion Cycle Monthly Graph displaying DSR, DIOH and DPO performance as columns and the Cash Conversion Cycle as a line with all metrics deteriorating.

We hope you have a better sense for managing your company’s Cash Conversion Cycle and can implement some of the ideas we have presented in this blog post.  We are sure they will pay significant dividends in the near future.  If you would like a copy of the above graph, use the Contact Us link below to reach out and request a copy.  Additionally, if you are a business owner that is looking for ways to leverage your data analytics, please contact us today


About the Author
About the Author
Chase Morrison  provides CFO services, utilizing Profitwyse’s 3D Growth Platform™, enabling his business owner clients to more readily achieve their goals for wealth creation and family legacy.  Contact him today to learn how your business can hit the accelerator using Profitwyse’s proven platform.