Cash flow is an important health indicator for any business.  However, it has specific implications for a rent-to-own (RTO) business renting consumer durable products.  Looking at the cash flow statement for an RTO business is more than just looking at the numbers.  There are contextual implications required to fully grasp what it means for the health of an RTO business.  Understanding the correlation between your balance sheet, P&L, and its impact on your Statement of Cash Flows is necessary.

Rent-to-Own (RTO) Business, Defined

A rent-to-own business offers customers the opportunity to lease products that convert to ownership at the end of the rental term. This unique business model serves as a bridge between renting and owning, enabling consumers to access items they might not be able to afford upfront, thereby expanding their purchasing power.

This article addresses businesses renting consumer durable products, also known as durable goods.  These are items purchased by consumers that are intended to last for an extended period, typically three years or more.  Examples include home appliances, electronics, furniture, tools and equipment. 

Cash Flow, Defined

Cash flow, the movement of money into and out of a business account over a specified period, is a fundamental indicator of financial health. It demonstrates the entity’s ability to generate and manage cash for operations, investments, and financial activities. Cash flow is not just about meeting financial obligations; it’s about paving the way for future growth, making it a crucial aspect of financial management.

How is Cash Flow Unique in an RTO Business

Cash flow in a rent-to-own (RTO) business presents unique challenges and characteristics distinct from other business types. This is primarily due to the unique revenue model, customer base, and inventory management of an RTO business. In an RTO business, cash inflows are staggered over time through regular payments, unlike lump-sum sales. These inflows can also be unpredictable due to the higher risk of customer default and changing needs. Moreover, additional costs are associated with maintaining, repairing, and managing rented items and a continuous need for inventory replacement. Understanding these challenges and the timing of cash needs is crucial for effective cash flow management in RTO businesses. 

How to Budget for Cash Flow

RTO businesses must first estimate their incoming and outgoing cash to plan for cash flow. This involves forecasting customer rental payments, considering factors such as historical payment patterns and current rental agreements. It’s also essential to account for initial down payments, early payoffs and other income streams, such as ancillary fees or service charges.  Estimating cash outflows for inventory purchases, operating expenses, and capital expenditures is critical.  To do this, an RTO dealer must properly time purchases based on “deliveries” and products removed for sale.  Purchasing too much at once puts a strain on warehousing and cash flow.  However, taking advantage of invoice discount terms and vendor deals is also important. 

RTO businesses should optimize inventory management and explore financing options to mitigate cash flow constraints related to inventory purchases. Regularly monitoring and adjusting cash flow projections against actual performance, establishing a contingency fund, and seeking expert advice when needed can further enhance cash flow planning effectiveness.

RTO businesses must manage accounts receivable efficiently, implementing streamlined billing processes and proactive collections strategies to minimize overdue payments and improve cash flow. The best examples of this generally have a close “client-like” relationship with their customers and understand their needs. 

By following these steps, RTO businesses can ensure they have the necessary liquidity to support operations, meet financial obligations, and pursue growth opportunities successfully.

How to Interpret Negative or Deficit Cash Flow

Negative cash flow exists when a business has more cash outgoing than incoming for a period of time.  During certain “time windows,” this can be very common but must be managed, especially if it persists for longer periods.

Negative cash flow can be due to various factors, such as lower-than-expected customer payments, higher-than-anticipated expenses, or a combination of both.  It could also happen when a business expands by acquiring additional locations or by simply refreshing inventory.  To address sustained negative cash flow, you must explore options such as reducing operating expenses, negotiating better terms with lenders and discussing your situation with vendors, taking advantage of buying groups (like The Rental Industry Buying Group, TRIB), increasing marketing efforts to attract more customers, or adjusting your pricing strategy.  Effective cash flow management practices can help navigate fluctuations and achieve sustainable growth. 

This is where understanding the meaning of your cash flow statement takes more than just looking at the numbers. It requires context to fully grasp what it means for your business’s financial health.

Know your Numbers and your Industry

Resources such as the Association of Progressive Rental Organizations (APRO)’s survey data can be used to gain knowledge about the industry or discuss with mentors how they overcame the same issues.  There are amazing people in this industry who are willing to help and forums for open discussion, such as TRIB’s Meeting of the Minds and RTO World, to get educated.

Hire a CPA Experienced in the RTO Industry

Cash flow management and a cash flow analysis can help you better understand the financial environment of your RTO business. At Rivero, Gordimer & Company, we have a team of CPAs who are experts in the RTO industry. We are available to assist you with evaluating your internal controls and designing a structure that meets your company’s unique needs. If you have any questions, please get in touch with us at 813-875-7774 and ask to be connected to one of our RTO committee members.

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