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What is Initial Markup?
Initial Markup (IMU) is the difference between the cost and selling price of an item when it is first introduced for sale.  It is also called Initial Mark On, Markon or Markup.  The formula for this calculation is:  Selling price – cost = Initial Markup Dollars.  If a buyer brings in a new line of jeans with a cost of $25 per pair and initially prices them to sell at $55 per pair, the Initial Markup is $30.

Selling Price – Cost = Initial Mark Up Dollars

Initial Markup is normally expressed as a percent.  The Initial Mark Up %, for the above example, based on the retail selling price, is 55% (calculated as $30 / $55).  The IMU% should always be based on retail dollars, not cost dollars as some retailers and software programs too often do.  After all, you own a retail store and record sales at retail. Your sales goals are expressed in retail dollars.  Plus, net sales, at retail, are used as the basis for expressing account amounts from the financials (For example, what percent is your Occupancy Costs actually means what percent of your net retail sales are dedicated to Occupancy costs.).  Use retail.

An initial retail price must obviously cover the cost of the item, and any selling expense associated with the item.  It also must cover a portion of the store’s day to day expenses for rent, fixtures, insurance, utilities, etc., also known as overhead, as well as leave you some profit.  Stated another way, Initial Markup must be enough to cover Planned Markdowns + Planned Profits + Selling and Overhead Expenses.  The Selling Price covers all that plus the cost of the item.

What is Gross Margin?
Gross Margin (also called Maintained Margin or just Margin) is related to actual sales.  It is expressed as a percent of Net Sales.  Gross Margin is the difference between Sales and Cost of Goods Sold.  (Net Sales – Cost of Goods Sold = Gross Margin Dollars.)  Gross Margin is always based on Net Sales and is always expressed from a retail viewpoint.  Initial Markup addresses the aspect of price for merchandise:  “How much can I get for this ___________?”  Gross Margin answers the question: “How much did I make on this __________?”  

Impacts on Initial Markup % and Gross Margin %
Many factors affect how retailers decide just how much Initial Markup will provide the best return on their investment.  Things that affect Initial Markup are Brand, Competition, Market Saturation, anticipated Markdowns and perceived customer value to name a few.  Perceived value is often most difficult to pin down.  Occasionally there are certain labels that seem to perform magic when it comes to moving merchandise.  A perfect example—Tickle Me Elmo (Tyco) in 1996—was a slow seller until being featured on an afternoon talk show.  “In the weeks leading up to Christmas, Tickle Me Elmo dolls were in such scarce supply that ads cropped up in newspapers asking for as much as $2000 per doll.”  The Brands (both the talk show and Elmo) were magic.  Competition kept the prices up. Low Supply kept the market from becoming saturated.  But, customer perceived value kept the prices unbelievably high.

Another major impact is Markdowns.  No matter what your Initial Markup is, if it isn’t great enough to cover your planned markdowns and expenses, you will give up your profit to make the sale.  When an item doesn’t move, most over-worked and stressed out retailers will take the path of least resistance, and take a larger markdown and keep taking those markdowns until the offending merchandise is gone.  Some will keep the poor seller, hoping for the one customer who will come in “someday” and purchase that saved item . . . if that customer ever arrives and if you can find the item when he does.  If Markdowns are higher than anticipated, net sales will be lower, and therefore, gross margin, a.k.a. Maintained Margin, or just Margin, will also be less.  Brand, competition, market saturation and perceived customer value also affect Gross Margin—just like Initial Markup.

The Finer Points of IMU% and Gross Margin
It does not follow that each class of merchandise will realize the same IMU % or the same Gross Margin %.  Each class and each style within a class (or category) is unique as is each vendor.  Competition, pricing structure and perceived customer value may make it necessary to deviate considerably in actual IMU% and GP, but make a point to plan for your profit as well as you plan sales, markdowns or expenses.  You want to make sure that you are achieving your Gross Margin plan at the store level, even though some classes may fall far short.  The Gross Margin for others needs to be high enough to make up the difference for the low performing classes. 

IMU% Needed to Maintain a 54% Gross Margin
At Various Markdown Percentages
GM %
Cost Multiplier *
*  multiply cost by this to get desired Initial Markup %

Markdowns do not affect IMU% after the initial price is set.  The Initial Markup is what it is.  However, Markdowns have a huge effect on Gross Margin %.  Markdowns decrease profit.  It doesn’t matter how much an item is marked up, if it must be marked down those markdowns come from your Gross Margin.  Of course, the reverse is also true.  When you bring in that unique item that your customers must have, you may not need to take planned markdowns.  Then you get to enjoy your higher profit.

Ways to Increase IMU% and GM
Of course, you can just raise your IMU%, but if you raise it too much above the competition, you will lose sales.  If you sell popular items that your customers feel a need to own, you may have lower than planned markdowns resulting in a higher Gross Margin.  Another good way to boost both the IMU% and the GM is to make a practice of holding some money back from your Open-To-Buy when shopping and plan to rely on some in-season purchases to see you through.  Generally, in–season purchases delivered immediately allow for a higher IMU% because you pay less for them. 

Another thing we recommend is joining a Buying Group.  Buying Groups have benefits for their members to save them time and money.  Also, when you go to market, look for a new vendor or two to try.  Generally, your customers value individuality as much as you.  Give them some items to pick from that set you apart from the pack when possible.

If you feel there is little excitement for your inventory or it is developing “sameness” in appearance, try a different market.  All vendors do not go to every market and by going to a new market you may be able to find just what you want.   New vendors may offer a unique appearance in color, fit or style that appeals to your customers.  Look for merchandise keeping with your quality line that offers a higher markup. 

Using an Open-to-Buy is a great way to plan, record your actual results and then check yourself to see how you are doing as the year progresses.  It can also help to prevent the high markdowns needed to clear out excess inventory.