I spent the 4th of July Holiday as many Americans do. That’s right, cleaning out the garage. As I engaged in this long overdue spring cleaning, I couldn’t help but notice the abundance of pine needles in the corner. It brought back a bad memory from last December, that I could at least laugh about now. Sort of…
Once again, last fall I was responsible for organizing and directing a fund-raising event for my son’s local Boy Scout troop. Each year the scouts sell wreaths and other holiday decorations to friends, family, and neighbors in an effort to raise funds for the troop’s camping equipment. I’ve been in charge of this event for years, and still depend on a spreadsheet I created during my rookie campaign. Not much changes each year as the products stay the same, we just adjust our selling price to account for any increase in our cost.
Last year began as most others, but I did notice we had a new “special order” wreath that was available for sale. I added a new column to my spreadsheet and carefully calculated our selling price in order to account for the new item in our product line. At the kick-off meeting, I made a special point to mention the new wreath and that it contained one of our higher profit margins.
As the sales sheets came in, I was happy to see that we sold a good quantity of this new item. Two weeks later, I picked up our order from the distributor and delivered four car loads to my driveway for the scouts to pick up and eventually deliver to their clients. A number of scouts informed me that their orders were short, and in each case, the missing items were the “special order” wreaths.
If you haven’t figured it out, the problem was caused by my old formula not adding the new products to our total, and therefore, the “special order” wreaths were never ordered from the distributor. A small spreadsheet error was now a big problem.
I couldn’t help but think of all the bankers I’ve talked to that run their banks using a spreadsheet. The scenario was almost identical: “I put this together when I was hired, and we make some simple changes each year and it’s always worked for our needs.” Sounds about right – it’s always worked for my needs as well. I guess I’m just glad that when I needed to explain myself, it was to a 14 year-old Boy Scout and not my board of directors.
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