In this post, I recount a conversation I had with a great mentor some years ago. It questioned my notion of what costs are relevant and how to set prices once a plant/factory is not at full capacity.
In a factory ( or any business perhaps ) when there is free capacity we can start to look at the make up of costs a little closer. Traditionally, management accounting would suggest we should at least cover all variable costs in the selling price. But think about it like this – if we have spare capacity, then perhaps the only additional cost is the material cost. Let’s assume we have a machine with a full crew, but not at full capacity. The fixed costs of the machine are just that – fixed, and we cannot avoid them. The labour costs are in effect fixed too, as workers will be paid. So, in this case, only the material costs are relevant. And this, any selling price above the material cost contributes to profit.
Yes, there may be many simplistic assumptions in the above. However, it made me think back then and I always give this example to my students. It is of course an example of throughput accounting, which I will mention next week.
Bromwich & Bhimani wrote a interesting short book in 2010 called “Management Accounting – retrospect and prospect” (see cimapublishing.com). In the book, they give a number of examples from modern business that makes us think about management accounting techniques. For example, what exactly does a company like Facebook or LinkedIn actually do? Do they offer products, services or what? Changing technologies, business markets and new ways of making/delivering products often causes changes to management accounting. For example recently I read that amazon.com now sells more e-books than paper books. Taking this e-book example, it is easy to visualise a shift in product costs. Arguably, an e-book has almost no variable costs. Instead the vast majority of costs are probably fixed – costs of running a data centre for example. This new way of doing business changes the information management accountants need and how that same information is collated and analysed. I have no idea what publishers or distributors like amazon.com do in their management accounting functions, but it is not too hard to think about how basic techniques like breakeven (CVP) analysis would change due to the changing cost structure.