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business profitability paradox post 198
2 Apr 2012

Business Profitability Paradox Revisited

In the March 26, 2012 edition of The New Yorker, I ran across the article, “The More the Merrier”, which sited the work of Zeynep Ton, a professor at the MIT Sloan School of Management, that looked at four low-price retailers: Costco, Trader Joe’s, Quik Trip and Mercadona. The article cited these findings:

These companies have much higher labor costs than their competitors. They pay their employees more; they have more full-time workers and more salespeople on the floor; and they invest more in training them. . . . What’s more surprising is that they are more profitable than most of their competitors and have more sales per employee and per square foot.

In my previous post, “Business Profitability Paradox”, I expressed that a business that maximizes its profits every minute will eventually go out of business because no investments are made (which hurt profitability). The article cites the demise of retailers such as Circuit City and Home Depot when they cut labor costs (to maximize profits short term) only to see the first go out of business and the second to be a shadow of its former self.

Thus, when employers start demanding a good ROI (return on investment), I often ask, “Over what time period?” In this case, training and a good business culture don’t happen overnight; however, the costs do. Many times, as with Circuit City and Home Depot, profits rise immediately with the right cost cuts. However, the revenues it hurts don’t fall off until later.

Now, it’s easy to discount Ton’s study as solely a retail phenomenon, but the investment principles hold true beyond just labor.

Therefore, over what period do you want a good ROI? That answer will determine the type of investments you are willing to make.

Original post: Business Profitability Paradox

Related post by Zeynep Ton: Retailers Should Invest More in Employees


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