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COGS: The Financial Key to Running a Successful Business

What You’ll Learn
  • Dive into the significance and components of COGS in business operations.
  • Discover how COGS influences pricing and the profound impact on your bottom line.

  • Master the formula and method to effectively track your direct production costs.

  • Explore how varying inventory accounting practices can shape your COGS.
  • Differentiate COGS from other financial metrics and understand their distinct applications in business.


Cost of Goods Sold is a pivotal financial metric that every small business owner – regardless of industry – should grasp. 

It represents the direct costs incurred in producing or delivering services, and by delving deep into COGS, businesses can glean insights into their operational efficiency, profitability, and overall financial health. 

Let’s demystify COGS, distinguishing it from other financial metrics, breaking down its components, and highlighting its profound impact on financial statements. 

We’ll also explore strategies for optimizing COGS to boost profitability.

Understanding COGS is not just about numbers—it's about fostering sustainable growth and success.

What is the Cost of Goods Sold?

cogs meaning

Cost of Goods Sold refers to the direct costs associated with producing the goods or services sold by a business. 

For an HVAC company, for example, COGS would include expenses directly tied to providing heating, ventilation, and air conditioning services. This typically includes costs of parts installed, direct labor costs of technicians, and any materials used during specific jobs.

Importance of COGS

Understanding and effectively managing COGS is essential for several reasons:

  1. Profitability Insight: Subtracting COGS from revenue provides the gross profit. If this figure is too low, it suggests that operational efficiency might need scrutiny or that pricing adjustments are required.
  2. Pricing Strategies: An accurate understanding of COGS aids in setting the right price for services, ensuring costs are covered while aiming for a reasonable profit margin.
  3. Financial Health: COGS directly impacts the bottom line. If it’s a disproportionately high percentage of sales revenue, it can erode net profit and negatively impact the business's financial health.

COGS Calculation

The following formula is traditionally used to determine COGS:

COGS = Beginning Inventory + Purchases During the Period − Ending Inventory

Let’s look at an example using an HVAC business. If it starts with $5,000 in inventory, makes an additional $10,000 in parts and material purchases throughout the year, and ends with $4,000 in inventory, the COGS would be:

COGS = $5,000 + $10,000 – $4,000 = $11,000

This indicates that $11,000 was spent on direct costs to deliver HVAC services for the year.

Another way to look at it is:

COGS = Beginning Inventory + Purchases + Direct Labor + Overhead Costs − Closing Inventory

Here’s a breakdown of each component:

Beginning Inventory: The value of the inventory that the business has at the beginning of the accounting period.

Purchases: The cost of inventory purchased during the accounting period.

Direct Labor: The cost of labor directly involved in the production of goods.

Overhead Costs: Indirect costs associated with production, such as utilities, rent for the production facility, and depreciation on machinery.

Closing Inventory: The value of inventory remaining at the end of the accounting period.

Home services companies like HVAC, plumbing, and roofing often use this expanded calculation, where labor and other costs directly associated with supplying the service are also included in COGS, although administrative and other indirect costs are not. 

Impact of Accounting Methods on COGS

Inventory accounting methods can significantly influence COGS and, subsequently, reported profitability:

  1. FIFO (First-In, First-Out): This assumes that the oldest inventory items are sold first. In markets where prices rise, FIFO typically results in a lower COGS and higher net income.
  2. LIFO (Last-In, First-Out): Here, it’s assumed that the most recently added inventory items are sold first. In rising price conditions, LIFO leads to a higher COGS and lower net income.
  3. Average Cost: This method calculates an average of the costs of inventory over time. It can offer a more balanced approach, smoothing out fluctuations in COGS.
  4. Special Identification: Specific costs are attributed to individual items. For an HVAC company installing a unique system, the precise cost of that system would be accounted for, instead of generalizing it with the broader inventory.

The chosen inventory accounting method (whether FIFO, LIFO, etc.) can greatly affect the COGS and subsequent financial statements. 

Read more: A Beginner’s Guide to Reading Financial Statements

An HVAC business owner should select the method that most accurately depicts inventory usage and provides clear financial insights. Consistency in applying this method year after year is also crucial.

Components of COGS

Cost of Goods Sold encompasses the direct costs attributable to the production or provision of goods and services sold by a company. 

These direct costs can include:

  1. Materials: These are the materials used to produce a product or provide a service. For an HVAC company, it would include items like  furnaces, air conditioning components, screws, wiring, and installation equipment that the company has bought from its vendors. 
  2. Direct Labor: These are wages paid to workers directly involved in the production process. In the HVAC example, it’d be the wages of technicians installing or repairing heating and cooling systems.
  3. Overhead Costs: These are the production costs not linked to raw material or direct labor. They might include machinery maintenance, factory utilities, or rent for a production facility. They do not include overhead associated with office space for administrative staff, however.

It’s crucial to note that what comprises COGS can vary based on the industry and, unfortunately, the CPA doing the accounting as there is a lot of disagreement on what constitutes COGs. For instance, a software company might consider server costs or salaries of engineers as part of COGS, while a retailer would include the cost of merchandise bought for resale.

COGS vs. Operating Expenses

what does cogs stand for

COGS and operating expenses are both crucial in determining a company’s profitability, but they account for different aspects of business expenditure:

  • COGS reflects the direct costs of producing a product or service. It varies directly  with the number of units of goods or services sold.
  • Operating Expenses (OPEX) include indirect costs not tied directly to production. That could be advertising, salaries of sales and administrative staff, rent for offices, and general utilities.

While COGS varies with the volume of goods or services sold, operating expenses often remain more consistent and don’t fluctuate directly with sales volume.

Benefits of COGS

1. Understand Cash Flow: COGS provides a clear picture of the cash allocated to producing goods or services. By keeping tabs on COGS, businesses can better manage and predict their cash flow, which is essential for maintaining operational liquidity and planning for future investments.

2. Manage Tax Liability: COGS is a deductible business expense. By accurately calculating and reporting it, businesses can potentially reduce taxable income, thereby managing and possibly lowering their tax liability.

3. Keep Track of Expenses: Knowing COGS helps businesses track and analyze the primary expenses involved in their production process. This understanding can highlight areas for potential cost savings or indicate when prices need adjustment to maintain desired profit margins.

Limitations of COGS

It’s essential to remember that while COGS offers valuable insights, it doesn’t account for all business expenses. 

Indirect costs such as marketing, R&D, and administrative expenses are not part of COGS. 

Therefore, while COGS provides a snapshot of production or service delivery costs, it doesn’t present a complete picture of total business expenditures.

Optimization Strategies

Enhancing profitability often involves optimizing COGS, and here are some practical strategies businesses can employ:

  • Supplier Negotiation: Regularly review and negotiate terms with suppliers. By cultivating good relationships with them, businesses might secure better rates or discounts, reducing material costs.
  • Process Improvement: Streamlining production processes can lead to faster production times and reduced wastage. For an HVAC company, this might mean training technicians on efficient installation techniques or investing in modern equipment that speeds up service delivery.
  • Inventory Management: Efficient inventory management can reduce storage costs and prevent over-purchasing, which ties up capital. Using strategies like Just-in-Time (JIT) inventory can help businesses maintain optimal stock levels, ensuring they don’t overspend on inventory or face stockouts.

Impact on Financial Statements

COGS plays a pivotal role in shaping a company’s financial statements:

  • Income Statement: On the income statement, COGS is subtracted from revenues to determine the gross profit. This gross profit is a fundamental metric in assessing a company’s operational efficiency and profitability. A low COGS relative to revenue indicates high efficiency, while a high COGS may suggest inefficiencies or external pressures like rising materials costs.
  • Balance Sheet: While COGS directly impacts the income statement, its components (like inventory) are reflected on the balance sheet. If a business has a high inventory level (which is part of calculating COGS), it will show as a current asset on the balance sheet. Efficient inventory management, as part of COGS optimization, can impact how assets are presented on the balance sheet.

FAQs

Is COGS an Asset or Liability? 

COGS is neither an asset nor a liability. It represents the direct costs of producing goods sold by a company, and it’s used to calculate gross profit on the income statement.

Where does COGS go on a Balance Sheet? 

COGS does not appear on the balance sheet. Instead, it’s featured on the income statement. However, inventory, one of its components, is listed as a current asset on the balance sheet.

What is not Included in COGS? 

COGS includes direct production costs like materials and labor. It does not cover indirect expenses such as marketing, distribution, and administrative overheads.

How Do You Track Inventory and COGS? 

Inventory and COGS can be tracked using accounting software, manual ledgers, or inventory management systems. Many residential services companies use field service management software (Service Titan is one) which have processes that assign costs automatically to COGS. Regular audits and inventory counts ensure accuracy and help in calculating COGS.

Conclusion

As a direct indicator of a company’s production costs relative to its revenue, COGS plays a crucial role in determining profitability. 

A keen oversight of COGS components, such as materials and labor, can unveil opportunities for optimization and cost savings. 

By keeping a vigilant eye on this metric, businesses can devise strategies that enhance gross profit margins, ensuring sustainable growth and financial stability. 

As such, understanding COGS is essential for any small business owner or aspiring acquisition entrepreneur. 

If you want to learn more about COGS – or any other aspect related to small business – consider enrolling in our MBA-level Accelerator+ Program. Our industry experts and focused course content can help you close on a seven figure business in as little as seven months. It gives you a supercharged path to acquisition entrepreneurship with a proven track record of closing deals on profitable home services businesses, including HVAC. 

If you think you have what it takes, fill out the form below. But space is limited!

Key Takeaways

  • COGS represents the direct costs of producing or delivering a business’s services.
  • Accurate understanding of COGS is crucial for setting profitable pricing strategies.
  • Your choice of inventory accounting method can dramatically influence reported COGS.
  • COGS is distinct from other metrics, such as operating expenses and cost of revenue.
  • Optimizing COGS can pave the way for improved profitability and financial health.
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